Save your local drive in!
My hometown didn’t have much of anything. One stop sign, two grocery stores, two butcher shops, a handful of beauty shops and taverns and lots of churches.
Town pretty well closed up at 5 p.m. and if there was a heavy snow and the farm kids couldn’t get into town, school closed for a day or two.
But we had something that no one else in the area had. We had a real working drive-in movie theater. And the Route 34 Drive-In, opened in 1954, is still operating today.
There are only 357 drive-in movie theaters in the entire nation. There are 10 drive-ins operating in Wisconsin, including the Keno Drive-In at 9102 Sheridan Road in Pleasant Prairie. It opened in 1949 and is celebrating its 65th season.
There’s one in McHenry County at 1510 Chapel Hill Road. They opened in 1955 and are still going strong. There was once 120 drive-in movie theaters in Illinois. Today there are 12 still operating.
And there’s a real chance we are going to lose these great old theaters.
In three months American drive-ins will face a big expense, one most won’t be able to afford. The movie industry is switching the drive-ins from film to digital. Upgrading to a digital projection costs about $80,000.
If you’ve never gone to a drive in, take time to do so. Throw the kids in their pajamas and fill a garbage bag full of popcorn, put some drinks in the cooler. Most drive-ins have a car full special so you can pack them in. Some people bring lawn chairs and sit out in front of their cars.
Pull into the drive in and pick your spot. Pull your speaker into the car. Settle in for a night under the stars.
There’s something magical about watching movies from your car. The sunsets and the movie screen flickers to life.
I can’t speak for the other drive-in’s but Earlville’s concession stand has the best fried chicken and cold drinks. There’s other things on the menu too; pigging out if part of the fun.
When you’re a teenager, it’s about the best place to hang out; you get to see what everyone else is doing, play the pinball machines or maybe air hockey.
When you are a young couple on a tight budget, it’s a great way to take the family out for the night without breaking the bank.
And if you are on a date, there’s nothing like smooching under the stars.
At the Route 34 Drive In, Mr. Dyas, who owned the drive in until he died, would walk around with a big flashlight to make sure that smooching didn’t go any further. He would shine that big light right into the car for everyone to see what was going on in there. Usually he didn’t have to do it twice.
Don’t forget to lay on the horn the minute the film breaks, as if the poor projectionist doesn’t already know it.
Enjoy the giant shadows the moths throw on the screen as they dance across the projectionist window.
If it rains, stay put. Usually the rain passes and it adds to the experience.
If you stay for the double header, you can laugh at the old concession stand count down ads. “You have four minutes before our next feature begins. Why not head to the concession stand for an ice cream bar?”
My best friend Pam’s aunt was featured in a fashion show during the intermission. That was about one step away from being Jackie Kennedy back in 1967 when that film feature ran.
The drive-in is one of the last great entertainment Mecca’s and it would be a great loss to see them fade away.
There is a way to save a few. Project Drive In, sponsored by Honda, is giving drive-in fans a chance to vote for their favorite drive-in and the top five vote getters will receive a donation of the digital equipment they need to stay open.
You can vote every day from your computer and phone. Log on to www.projectdrivein.com and find your favorite theater and vote.
Voting ends Monday, Sept. 9.
After you vote for your favorites, I’d sure appreciate it if you voted for the Route 34 Drive-In in Earlville. It’s a pretty special place. Thanks.
See you at the movies!