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Drop the top, crank tunes, and cruise - anywhere but Hollywood

Hollywood, the city that immortalized driving up and down Main Street with its production of the movie ``American Graffiti,'' now has a cruising problem of its own. Dice are gone from the rearview mirrors. But the cars, in all chromium shapes and sounds, are still there - too much so, for many local residents and merchants.

As a result, police are trying to wrest back control of the two most frequently traveled strips, Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards. Each weekend, armed with laptop computers and a tough new anticruising ordinance, police fan out to stop youths from making motorized rounds.

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``We were getting to the point where it was a parking lot out here,'' says Sgt. Steve Yadon of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Virtually every city and town has its thoroughfare that adolescents and even some adults cruise up and down to see and be seen. But few strips, arguably, are as well plied as Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards. The two streets benefit, or suffer, as the case may be, from two seemingly inexorable forces: the southern California car culture and the allure (most of it mythical) of Tinseltown.

On weekends, the two boulevards are a mecca for the trendy and raffish alike. There are the moviegoers at Mann's Chinese and other theaters, the tourists ogling the Walk of Fame, the night club set, restaurant patrons, pimps, prostitutes, ministers in cowboy hats, hucksters, and Hare Krishna followers.

Add the cavalcade of cars and you have a cultural promenade diverse even by Los Angeles's standards of excess.

On a Friday night it can take an hour to drive 24 blocks down Hollywood Boulevard. But the concern is more than gridlock. Police claim gang members are now among the cruisers, and a number of weapons have been confiscated from cars pulled over. There have also been problems with drinking and with legions of the curious crowding sidewalks.

Authorities first tried blocking the two boulevards to all vehicles on weekends. But that didn't go over well with area merchants. Lifting the barricades, however, has brought back the cars and their attendant problems, such as restaurant patrons who take up booths to watch cruisers rather than eat vermicelli.

``We have gatherings of 300 to 400 people in an intersection watching the cruising,'' says Sergeant Yadon.

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The Los Angeles City Council, which oversees Hollywood, recently passed an ordinance limiting cars to one round trip every six hours on streets where police determine cruising is a problem.

Authorities now set up checkpoints along Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards on weekend nights, pulling over occasional cars. The drivers are warned, their license number is tapped into a computer, and, if they return too quickly, a citation is issued that could lead to a $250 fine.

On this night, the ticketing is meager - only two given out for cruising - but the yield for other things is lucrative: 130 cited for everything from bad mufflers to illegal lane changes to bald tires.

This, of course, makes people who cruise the area, many in high-top hairdos driving in low-rider sedans, think the dragnet is heavy-handed or just a ruse to fatten city coffers.

David Gabrielyan, who was ticketed this night for having too small tires on his pickup, says he will just cruise elsewhere.

Over at the Jack-in-The-Box, motorcyclist Ron Raya didn't get cited but says he doesn't like the sight of so many badges.

``If they take away cruising,'' he says, ``everybody is going to go out and do something else - probably cause trouble.''

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