It was something to do
We went to the drive-in last night. It was the first time we’d left the house in two months, other than trips to the grocery store or the post office. Our Boston Terrier, Briar, sat in the backseat. She needed an outing. So did we.
In Austin, where we live, “going to the drive-in” means The Blue Starlite Drive-In. Blue Starlite started in someone’s backyard years ago, and has a kind of gritty DIY makeshift feel, like things used to in Austin before the tech zombies invaded. People are going to be dying for something to do over the next few months, or years, that doesn’t involve contact with other people. By going to see an old movie in a vacant lot, I visited the future.
My wife Regina and I pulled into the driveway next to a preschool. A guy wearing a mask was leaning on the side of an SUV. There was a cardboard box on the roof of his car. I pulled up next to him and put on my own mask. He had my name on a list. After some brief haggling, he handed us a box of Mike and Ikes, a box of Junior Mints, and a small bag of popcorn. Next time we go to Blue Starlite, we’ll make our own popcorn in advance and buy our candy at Walgreens. “You gotta see what they have at least once,” Regina said. Well, we did. It cost us $35. Without the snacks, the ticket was $20, plus tax.
This was not the main drive-in, it was an “Alley X-Perience.” The main drive-in feels more like an actual drive-in. They also offer an X-Perience in a “haunted forest” where you set on blankets and watch scary movies. But I feel like we’re just too early into the era of social distancing for me to feel comfortable doing something like that. Plus, there would almost certainly be annoying kids running around. The best part of the pandemic is that I haven’t had to deal with other people’s annoying kids.
This X-Perience one had room for 18 cars. We got there early because we always get everywhere early. Only two other people were ahead of us. The attendant directed us to a spot facing the screen at an angle, directly in front of a radio antenna. We tuned our radio to 93.1 FM, and the sound of vintage drive-in ads began to play in our car. It was still daylight out, so we couldn’t see the picture on the screen yet. Regina, Briar, and I settled in for a glamorous night on the town.
“Who would have thought that drive-in movies would one day AGAIN become the most attractive option for going out?” Blue Starlite wrote in a very long set of instructions to go along with the ticket that I purchased online. “While the coronavirus is a very serious thing and we are all taking steps to minimize its impact, who knows how long the threat will last and how many events will be cancelled? Are we all supposed to stay home for weeks or even months to come?”
The Nissan Murano in a Labyrinth
There was the matter of what we wanted to see on our big night out. Blue Starlite shows a rotating selection of revival movies and drive-in favorites, like Raiders of The Lost Ark and Back to the Future, alongside a small selection of horror flicks like Cabin in the Woods. The most recent movies on the roster are Underwater, the Kristen Stewart undersea horror flick, and Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, along with a selection of shorts that would have shown at South By Southwest. I love Once Upon a Time, but given that the drive-in does not have bathrooms, that was pretty much out. I had to piss twice while seeing that movie in a regular theater, much less at a drive-in during a global plague.
My tastes favored a comedy like The Three Amigos or The Big Lebowski. And I really wanted to see Dazed and Confused, but Regina says we’ve seen that movie too many times. “I would see Princess Bride,” she said, and who wouldn’t? But that was sold out. Star Trek: First Contact was only showing at 11 PM, and we’re getting too old to stay out that late.
Dude, I don’t care,” she said. “Something to do that’s not in the house or walking the dog? I’m all in. Every day. As long as it’s not Dazed and Confused.”
Labyrinth was our compromise. Regina loves David Bowie. That was fine with me. Anything to give us the illusion of having something to do. “Dude, I really don’t care,” Regina said. “Something to do that’s not in the house or walking the dog? I’m all in. Every day. As long as it’s not Dazed and Confused.”
A brief note on the vehicle we took to the drive-in. For the last eight years, for some reason, I’ve been writing car reviews. A fleet company brings me a car most weeks, I drive it, and I write it up. It’s a life hack, and I’m a hack for life. But the last couple of months, I haven’t been driving except occasional grim slog to the grocery. But I didn’t really want to sit in our old Prius at the drive-in. It’s a reliable workhorse, but it’s kind of grim and stinky at this point.
So we got a bright-orange 2020 Nissan Murano. It was new, the company had sanitized it within an inch of its life and mine, and it didn’t have a bunch of old receipts and coffee stains gumming up the interior. Plus, and this is always very important at the drive-in, it had really good sound system. So if you’re looking to go to the drive-in a lot over the next couple of years, sure, I recommend the Nissan Murano.
Also, if you’re going to the drive-in, consider having a car with a strong battery. Our car was new and smart, so it kept shutting down if it sensed we were over-draining. Other cars aren’t going to be so conscientious. The Blue Starlite can jump-start you in case your car battery drains. That’s the drawback to depending on car-stereo sound systems. And to drive-ins in general.
People Are Still Annoying
The lot filled up, the sun went down. We saw some previews and a lame Simon Pegg/Nick Frost sketch about social distancing. Then David Bowie started singing in his codpiece.
We all had our windows open because we couldn’t have our cars running, and it was warm outside. To our right sat a small sedan housing a heavily-tattooed lady couple. They wouldn’t shut up. They talked the whole time. Maybe they were just excited to see a 30-year-old kids movie in a dirt lot behind a shuttered preschool. I mean, who wouldn’t be? Fucking idiots.
To our left was a Chevy Bolt containing a beleaguered-looking mom, a ten-year-old boy, and a teenage girl who spent the entire movie with her phone light on while she did needlepoint. The boy kept moving from the back seat to the front seat. He made a lot of noise. What was wrong with him?
When the plague ends, people will still be terrible at the movies.
Also, though the sound quality was excellent, Blue Starlite didn’t block out the street lights. So every time there was a dark scene, the screen flooded with a very unappealing orange glow, and lots of tree shadows.
The X-perience was pretty haphazard. People are as terrible as ever. And I would much rather have been watching Spaceballs. But compared to my recent visit to an actual movie theater, my time at Blue Starlite was a pleasure. I will definitely do it again, probably multiple times this summer. Regina and I talked about going again tonight, to the Blue Starlite location up in Round Rock, closer to our house. It’s in an actual parking lot, which is where you should have drive-ins. In fact, I predict that 75 percent of all American parking lots from abandoned businesses destroyed by Coronavirus will soon become drive-in movie theaters.
But tonight they’re showing The Empire Strikes Back. While that’s certainly one of the great drive-in pictures of all time, the screening is going to be full of stupid, wiggly kids. Time to once again shelter in place, safe at home.
Tomorrow night is Dazed and Confused, so we know that’s out. But it doesn’t matter. There are no new movies. Blue Starlite will be showing the same films in rotation all summer. And maybe forever. If I really want to see Dazed, I’m sure Briar would be willing to keep me company. I keep getting older, but the movies stay the same age.