Summer adventures: the drive-in

Summer adventures: the drive-in

Things I will not do the next time we take the kids to the drive-in:

— Go on the opening night of “Cars II,” along with the entire population of Gibson City.

— Go too late on the opening night of “Cars II” with the entire population of Gibson City and have to park along the side of the lot.

— Try to get concessions before the movie starts with the entire population of Gibson City, although I will say I made some good friends during that 45 minutes — including the guy who started narrating his own story line when “Green Lantern” came on the second screen. “There was a planet, and it had a green light, and then there was a big boom, and this lantern thing...”

Don’t get me wrong. I love going to the Harvest Moon. Is there anything more nostalgic?

According to the website, the number of outdoor movie venues in Illinois has dwindled from 120 in the late 1950s to just about a dozen today.

There’s been a resurgence of sorts across the country in recent years, with new drive-ins opening and others resurrected, including the Route 66 Drive-in at Springfield.

We had a drive-in close to our house when I was growing up, where my brothers would, yes, routinely sneak friends in via the trunk. Where my mom inadvertently took my friends and me to a somewhat inappropriate movie at age 12. “Close your eyes, girls!” she kept saying. Where we’d play on the swingsets during intermission and hear the dancing popcorn and soda commercials. Altogether now: “Let’s all go to the lobby ... (or concession stand, as the case may be).”

There’s nothing better on a cool (or hot) summer night: kids piled in the back of the van, huddled under blankets (or sweating profusely), munching popcorn and candy, the smell of bug spray in the air. Ahhh.

This year, I discovered a new tradition on my way to the concession stand/second home.

While the kids twirled sparklers and glow sticks and played baseball in the fields, I saw parent after parent sitting in their car or truck bed ... texting. Indignant, I walked back to our van, only to see my husband and a friend checking baseball scores on his smartphone. (I might have been tweeting, but my phone was dead, as usual.)

Ain’t technology wonderful.

We try to go to the drive-in once a summer, at least, and it’s always memorable. A couple of years ago, I wrote about a man who proposed to his girlfriend on the screen in a movie he produced himself.

On the ride to Gibson City, you can see the wind turbine farm on the horizon west of town, which at nightfall turns into an eerie set of synchronized red blinking lights. It always reminds me of an alien landing.

You can bring your own snacks, or line up at the concession stand and watch them pop huge bins of popcorn in the same room where the giant movie reels spit out the film. Or you can order from the pizza place across the street and have the pizza delivered to your car.

And on the way home, your kids will fall asleep — dirty and sweaty, perhaps, but asleep just the same.

On this particular night, the screen was far away, the sound was sketchy at times, the bathrooms/porta potties weren’t exactly first class. No one cared.
And at the end of the night, we got to enjoy another memorable drive-in tradition: the ritual jumping of the car battery.

Yes, the sound was sketchy for a reason. And we weren’t the only ones pulling out the jumper cables when the movie ended.

Good thing our friends were parked nearby. Unfortunately, their gas tank was nearly on empty, so they almost ran out of gas waiting in the line of cars leaving the premises.

So here’s a bit of advice: If you go, wait for the second weekend of a popular show. Arrive early. Time your snack purchases well and/or be friendly in line. Take your jumper cables. And fill up the tank.

And turn off the smartphones for two hours.


Julie Wurth writes and blogs about family issues, social services and the University of Illinois for The News-Gazette. Her column appears in the paper every other Tuesday. Leave a comment below,  contact Julie at 351-5226 or or follow her on Twitter at

Photo: The sun sets behind one of two movie screens at the Harvest Moon Drive-In in Gibson City. News-Gazette file photo


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