Thunder in the City roars back | News

Carol Rhoades and her fiance, Tony Demitras, set up their chairs on the grass at the western edge of Diamond Park on Saturday.

The perch overlooked their vintage “his and hers” AMC Ramblers, part of the Thunder in the City classic car show. It also gave them the perfect view of gawkers making their way down the row of rare vehicles that all seemed to be part car, part time machine.

Like the mid-20th century vehicles, the event as a whole felt like a return to the past for many participants.
“It’s better than last year,” Demitras said, contrasting this year’s Thunder to the abbreviated one-day version that took place last year. “It’s nice to see it coming back.”

Glancing down the line of cars toward the southern end of the park, the couple didn’t have to look far to see friends.

“This is a great event,” Rhoades said. “We love it.”

“It’s a nice place to see everybody from Meadville,” Demitras said.

The reaction, according to Christa Lundy, was typical as the event, which was canceled in 2020 and intentionally downsized last year, returned to a two-day format for the first time since 2019. Lundy is executive director of Meadville-Western Crawford County Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the event.

“We were thrilled with the event and heard so much positive feedback from the folks participating,” Lundy said Sunday in a message to The Meadville Tribune. “We will begin planning this week for next year and have many ideas and plan to build on the success of this year.”

Lundy pointed to several new events that contributed to the positive reception, including the Thunder Color Bubble Rush, a mile of fun with colored bubbles, powder and foam, that took participants down a closed-off Market Street to station after station of bubble and foam machines mixed with brightly colored powders.

A new poker run that sent participants to five area restaurants to collect cards that they assembled into a poker hand also drew more than 50 participants, Lundy said.
While it was a step back toward pre-pandemic versions of the event with regard to size, in other respects the event had a noticeably changed atmosphere from 2019. The most obvious change could be seen in terms of crowd size. The atmosphere was also different: Gone were the beer drinkers lined in front of various Chestnut Street establishments and the crowds packing the closed section of Park Avenue where the music stage was set up just north of Chestnut Street.

Instead, a somewhat more sedate — or perhaps family friendly — crowd lined Diamond Park in front of the smaller stage set up this year. There was still some thunder, of course, in the form of motorcycles roaring into town and around the Diamond as well as the live music that entertained crowds in the park Friday evening and from noon to 9 pm Saturday

In a meeting with city officials shortly after the 2019 Thunder in the City, a cross-section of downtown small business owners questioned the “family-friendly” nature of Thunder in the City. Several of the owners described witnessing firsthand various forms of troubling behavior that year, from garden-variety rudeness to underage drinking — followed by underage vomiting, fistfights and public urination.

A quick walk through this year’s event during the final musical performance showed no such behavior on display.

And earlier in the day, it wasn’t rude behavior people were gawking at but outlandish paint jobs.

As passersby approached Demitras and Rhoades’ “his and hers” AMCs, they couldn’t help but be impressed by the condition of the two cars, both more than a half-century old. But it was the true-to-the-original red-white-and-blue paint job of the “his” vehicle that really bowled them over.

“It catches a lot of eyes,” Rhoades said of Demitras’ 1969 AMC SC/Rambler and its broad red stripes down each side contrasting the bright white base and a blue stripe running down the middle of the roof and trunk.

“These two are the rarest of what we’ve got,” Demitras said, explaining that the cars are part of a fleet of seven classic vehicles the couple has restored. His SC/Rambler is one of 1,512 produced while Rhoades’ 1967 AMC Rambler Rogue convertible was among fewer than 200 produced with a V8 engine.

“It drives so nice. I try to keep up with him,” Rhoades said of Demitras and his 315-horsepower SC/Rambler, “but I don’t.”

Plans for next year’s version of Thunder begin this week, Lundy said on Sunday.

“A lot of effort,” she said of the event. “We are all exhausted today, but so happy that a free community event went well for thousands of people! People have no idea what goes into behind the scenes and planning for things like this.”