Project Drive-In

Today I want to talk about something very near and dear to my heart: Drive-ins.  The drive-in really embodies all that was wonderful about mid-20th century America, and it is an icon that is disappearing, but there is something we can do!

I love going to the drive-in.  It’s one of the few moments that makes me feel like I almost am back in time and I can’t help but smile the whole time I’m there.  I love the open space with the speaker posts, families tossing around a football as popcorn wafts from the concession stand and as dusk arrives, hunkering down with blankets to catch a double feature.

Sadly, this icon of the 50s is disappearing, and fast.  At their peek, America had over 4,000 drive-ins, but today, less than 400 survive, and by the end of the year, even less may survive.  This is due to the fact that motion picture studios have decided to quit producing film to distribute to cinemas, this then forces cinemas still operating with film projectors to spend around $80,000 to switch to digital.

But Honda is stepping up to the plate with Project Drive-In.   Normally, I wouldn’t give any attention or credit to Honda, but I greatly admire them for what they are doing.  So what is Project Drive-In?  Honda will be donating a digital projector to five drive-ins.  Yes, only five.  So, what you need to do is vote for your drive-in! The five drive-ins that receive the most votes will receive a digital projector.  Don’t see your drive-in? Then I would ask that you consider voting for the 99W Drive-In.  The 99W may not have the best video on the site, but their heart is in the right place.  The 99W been owned and operated by the same family since it was built in 1953.  It’s the closest drive-in to the Portland-Metro area, and fills up to sell-out crowds during the summer weekends.

You can also show your support through sharing via Facebook, Twitter and good ol’ e-mail and by donating, all proceeds will go to the remaining drive-ins.

Please don’t let these American treasures go dark.  They are a part of our culture and heritage, and we cannot lose them.

Drive-In Tips

Earlier, I blogged about going to the drive-in with some of my friends.  I also encouraged those of you who live near a drive-in to attend, so I figured I would also give you some tips for your next trip to the drive-in.

-First things first.  Don’t let the above image happen to you! I have been to the drive-in in the rain, and it wasn’t pleasant.  So be sure to take a look at your weather forecast!

-Visit your drive-in’s website or call ahead with any questions.  Many drive-ins have rules and restrictions.  For example, the 99W does not allow alcohol, BBQs or fireworks, but does allow pets.

-Restrictions regarding outside food varies from drive-in to drive-in.  Check ahead.  But do give the concession food a chance.  The majority of the box office money goes to the studios, so it is the money spent at the concession stand that goes directly to the drive-in.

-Some drive-ins may only take cash. Check ahead and be sure to bring the proper amount.

-Drive-ins no longer use the hanging speakers.  Instead you tune into a radio station.  Bring a battery powered radio so you do not have to use your in car radio.  I have observed many cars in need of a jump at the end of the night.

-If you drive a coupe, I recommend sitting outside of your car.  Bring along folding chairs to set up in front of your car.

-If you drive a hatchback, you can back in to your spot, and lift your hatch up and sit inside the back.  Bring along string or something similar to pull your hatch down to an appropriate level, so those behind you can see the screen.  Common courtesy, folks.  The 99W has what I call the “Twine Police” who go around checking on hatches and give you string to bring your hatch down.

-If you have a pick-up, give consideration to an air mattress.  I’ve seen everything from air mattresses to real mattresses to sofas in the back of pick-ups.

-Regardless of what you drive, remember blankets! And maybe a few pillows too.

-Arrive early to ensure getting a good spot.

-Bring along games or a football or something similar.  You are going to be hanging around awhile while waiting for dusk to arrive.

Have fun and enjoy the show!

Picture Perfect Day at the Drive-In

In the months following the passing of Patrick’s father, we were very busy dealing the necessary duties, so things such as my birthday understandably fell to the wayside.  But yesterday, Patrick surprised me with a “birthday” trip to the drive-in, complete with ice cream and birthday announcement!  We went with two of my dearest friends, Angelina and Lizzie, and had an absolute swell time.

We picked up bubbles and a paddle ball (which is harder to do than you think!) at the Fred Meyer’s next door and enjoyed the sunshine (Patrick in his new sunglasses) as we waited for dusk to arrive.

The drive-in has an immensely special place in my heart, and sometimes I find it hard to put into words.  I guess one of the reasons I love it so much is that I find it one of the few things from the by-gone 50s that seems utterly unchanged and has not become a caricature like many diners and and even car shows have become.  For those in the Portland area, Newberg’s 99W is the closest to you.  Oregon is also home to three other drive-ins, one in La Grande, another in Milton-Freewater and the Motor-Vu located in Dallas.  For those outside Oregon, I recommend visiting to located a drive-in near you.

Gingham Blouse: Buffalo Exchange
Ponderosa Ranch belt: STARS Antique Mall
50s Jeans: Hollywood Babylon
Penny Loafers: Thrifted

Stars and Stripes at the Drive-In

Last night, Katie, Pat and I went to the 99W drive-in for a second viewing of Captain America.

One of the things I really enjoy about the drive-in is the pride the Francis family takes in their ownership of such a nostalgic novelty.  After opening the gates, third generation owner Brian Francis stood near the ticketbooth, fists on hips, a slight smirk on his face as he watched cars roll in.  You could tell he is really proud of this place.

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A Return to the 99W

Saturday night, I made a long awaited return to the 99W Drive-In, in Newberg.  The 99W had been a wonderful treat during high school, and was long missed in my four years away at college.  In our first year back in the Portland area, Patrick and I didn’t make it to the 99W due to our lack of automobile (for where we live having a car is rather impractical), and lack of friends with a combination of interest in going and car.  Thankfully, my friend Katie has since been able to fill that void.

The 99W is one of four remaining drive-ins in Oregon (others include Dallas’ Motor-Vu, Milton-Freewater and La Grande – not in Oregon? Locate your local drive-in here).  Located 22 miles outside of Portland, the 99W is a nostalgic refuge for people from all over the Portland-Metro area and even those in Vancouver, Washington.  Owned by the same family for over 50 years, the 99W is proud of its history and its status as an American icon.  Prior to showings, Brian Francis, the owner, offered a hearty welcome, announced birthdays and their wonderful vintage reel of the “Star Spangled Banner” glittered across the massive screen.  What is so wonderful about the 99W is that it is fully aware of its fragility.  Prior to each screening is a reel that shows images of dilapidated and closed drive-ins throughout America, stating that at one point America had over 4,000 drive-ins, and today just over 400 remain.  The reel thanks the patrons for their support and provides concrete evidence of the intense need for people to continue to support their local drive-ins, lest they disappear.

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Let’s All Go to the Drive-In…

Surviving the journey.Yesterday afternoon and evening was a very Ellis family moment…being the car buffs and retro enthusiasts that we are, my dad, my brother, Jeremy, his wife, Erin, my boyfriend, Patrick and myself made what I would deem a pilgrimage to the Dallas Motor Vu drive-in to see American Graffiti and Grease. My dad drove his little ’29 Model A, and Jeremy drove his latest toy. After Mapquesting the trip, we drove all 77.15 miles from Eugene to Dallas along old Highway 99. Patrick really didn’t have much experience riding in the Model A, but I had, so I rode the trip in the rumble seat, while Patrick took the front seat by my dad where there was less wind. Even with my hairclip, the wind whipped my face and a tangled mess ensued. (I don’t use scarves, since they always blow off) But thankfully I remembered my hairbrush and at every stop, I brushed it out.

Once we arrived, we were the third and fourth cars in line and took the opportunity to take car pictures in front of the sign. The Dallas opens its gate at 7 pm, so for this night, that was roughly an hour before the movie would start. Other cars began to crawl into the line, and we talked with other patrons.

We ended up being the only old cars there that night...

The lot began to fill up as the evening grew darker, and while the cruise in was to be the next night, we figured some other vintage car owners who were in our same situation (unable to come that night) would show up, but they didn’t, and we ended up being the only old cars there, which my brother said was okay, since “It was neat being the center of attention.” Before the show started, we went to the Snack Bar where we purchased the usual drive-in treats (I’ll admit, I was disappointed, my corn dog was soggy, my Coke was flat, and I didn’t much care for the popcorn – a very far cry from the quality at the 99W). We also took opportunities at taking pictures (more available on my Flickr) and chatting with other folks, and much car talk was exchanged. But darkness crept upon us, and before we knew it, it was showtime…

Oregon's Largest Movie Screen

When I lived in Tigard, my mom and I enjoyed weekends at the Newberg 99W drive-in. I loved every second of it, aside from the entire experience, the 99W went all out. Once the sun set, the owner would announce a hardy welcome, birthdays of patrons (which gave an opportunity to honk horns and flash headlights), followed by a vintage reel of the “Star Spangled Banner” (another time to honk and flash headlights) and then a reel about the decline of drive-ins. It showed various abandoned drive-ins followed by a bold “CLOSED”. At the end it read, “America used to have 4,063 drive-ins – Only about 400 survive today” and thanked us for coming to this one. No such experience existed at the Dallas Motor Vu. The first thing that came up on the giant screen was an ad for Olay body wash, then the previews. No announcement, no “Star Spangled Banner” – nothing. I was sorely disappointed. I guess one could say I was spoiled, but I didn’t think so.

Oregon has only four surviving drive-ins (Dallas Motor Vu, Milton-Freewater, La Grande and the Newberg 99W), and I see them as a true American icon. A reminder of a time that in reality was quite complicated, but at the drive-in, it is easy to forget about the red scare and the cult of domesticity, especially while watching flicks that offer up the rose tinted version we all like to remember and look upon with nostalgia.

In the 1950s, the drive-in was a place for teenagers to escape from the clutches of their parents. Drive-ins experienced a downfall in the late 1960s, and were often resorted to XXX cinemas by the 1970s, but today, the drive-in is making a comeback, and it is now a place to bring the family. There are more pick ups and hatch back cars where families fold down backseats and pack in the pillows.Radio stations have replaced the iconic speakers (mainly due to theft) but still, the experience is the same. So, if you have a drive-in close to you, please attend it. Click here to find a drive-in close to you.

Living in a time that's long since gone