Parents and other elders can’t figure it out. It seems like just a waste of gas and tires and time. But they’ll be out there, the teenage inhabitants of country towns on the plains, Friday night, Saturday—dragging Main.
Understanding this social custom requires some background in history and geography. Nearly all towns on the plains were railroad towns to begin with, and they were laid out as what geographers call T-towns. In a T-town the main thoroughfares map out as an upside-down T resting atop the railroad line.
In the classic pattern, the railroad ran east and west. Running parallel just to the north was an important avenue often called Broadway; it was the base of the inverted T. Crossing it was the important north-south street, commonly called Main. Since the business district developed north of the tracks, North Main was the stem of the T. South of the tracks was a more seedy area.
Dragging Main is not what it used to be. In the automotive era, most highways across the plains have run east and west and commonly have passed through towns along the old Broadways. During the past couple of decades, as downtowns have declined, more and more businesses—especially those of the fast-food and no-service variety—have located on the east-west thoroughfares, creating neon-lit strips that hurt your eyes when you drive through in the middle of the night.
More and more, kids don’t even talk about dragging Main; they speak of “cruising the strip.” No more rumbling down old brick Main Street; it’s the smooth highway asphalt for them. They go where the lights are bright.
This is a moral crisis, I think. What most elders have failed to understand in the past is the moral and psychological function of dragging Main. You have to remember that from age fourteen to twenty-two or so, kids are confused, ethically and otherwise, most of the time. These are the seven lean years, with no abundance of wisdom in storage to draw upon.
At a time like this, when your personal compass is spinning, it’s important to line up on something. In the Great Plains, this square-cornered land of unobstructed section-range-township, what you line up on is the North Star. And Polaris hangs right above North Main.
Dragging Main in a plains country town—twenty, forty, eighty circuits in a night, whatever it takes to straighten things out. The North Star through your windshield, turn around, the North Star in your rearview mirror. It’s good for you.
There are places yet where this is done in truth and purity—places like Hays, Kansas (or Hays, America, they like to say). Friday or Saturday night frequently finds Main there gripped in a gridlock, college kids from Fort Hays State, high school kids from all over western Kansas, horns honking at everything or nothing, cars trapped on the Union Pacific tracks, drivers from side streets vainly waiting to cross Main.
Do what you can, you constables, counselors, scoutmasters, Sunday school teachers. Get our young people back on track. Dragging Main.