Oct. 21: Transit Drive In, Lockport NY

It’s Day 294 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. I drove for almost an hour and a half to get from the Vintage Drive In Theatre, just east of Avon NY to the Transit Drive In south of Lockport NY.

Rick Cohen is a national treasure. I just want to say that right up front. The owner of the Transit is a huge fan of all drive-ins and backs that love with hard work and community outreach to benefit the whole drive-in universe.

But first, let me touch on the origins of the Transit, which opened on August 1, 1952, built by a group of Buffalo businessmen: Anthony Ragusa, George Tater, Louis Battaglia, and John Battaglia. The group also operated the Lockport Drive-In, which had opened in 1946 in neighboring Gasport. In 1957, Irving and Mary Cohen bought the Transit, and it’s been in their family ever since.

According to the Transit’s excellent History page, Irving and Mary’s older son, Gary, managed the Transit from 1957 to 1963. Macy, their younger son, managed the theater from 1963 to 1986, increasing the parking capacity from 600 to 990 cars by 1973, introducing in-car heaters and a 12 month schedule from 1972 until 1977. Rick, who is Macy’s youngest son, recalled those years in an article in The Daily Beast, “Man, we packed them in there in the middle of the winter, 10 degrees out, to see adult movies.”

The History page continues, “In 1987, Rick began managing the Transit, and immediately began a more aggressive, dedicated approach to the business.” Rick converted the drive-in to FM stereo sound, installed a platter film system, and rebuilt the original 1950’s neon marquee. An even nicer marquee was installed in 2014 after someone crashed into the old one.

The Transit installed a second screen in 1994, a third in 1996, and a fourth in 2001. Most recently in 2016, they added a fifth screen mainly to avoid turning away customers during popular movie weekends.

But Rick Cohen doesn’t just improve his own drive-in, he reaches out to help others. In 2010, he held a fundraiser to replace the burned-down screens of the Admiral Twin in Tulsa OK. In 2015, he walked back from Florida to raise money for a digital projector for the Auto Vue in Sidney OH. His motto on that History page is “What (the world) really needs are more dedicated, loyal drive-in theater managers.” And I would say, like him.

The YouTube video of the day comes from WIVB, Buffalo’s News Leader. I’d also recommend checking a little promo video from 2011 featuring an uncredited rooftop cameo by Carload’s friend, drive-in movie critic Joe Bob Briggs.

With those five screens available, I had a lot of choices, so I picked a movie I hadn’t seen but which didn’t have a hint of terror in it. Unless you’re scared of ponies.

Miles Today / Total: 60 / 33505 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: My Little Pony: The Movie / 182

Nearby Restaurant: I found another diner! Tom’s Diner has the black and white checkerboard tile floor, though not enough red vinyl furniture for the full effect. On the other hand, there is a jukebox, and that more than makes up for it. For lunch, an open-faced roast beef sandwich seemed very appropriate for its surroundings.

Where I Virtually Stayed: Oh yeah, there’s a Hampton Inn in Lockport. Sometimes it’s nice to sample those different mom and pop motels, and sometimes it’s nice to stay somewhere that feels familiar even when you’ve never been there before. My room had all the modern amenities and USB charging ports. Breakfast was the fine Hampton standard. This place is the hotel equivalent of comfort food.

Only in Lockport: Way back in April, I told you about an underground boat ride in a former mine in Missouri. Here, the Lockport Cave has that beat with “America’s longest underground boat ride” through the water tunnels under Lockport. “The tunnel was the invention of Birdsill Holly, a mechanical genius, whose inventions were manufactured using Erie Canal water power provided by this tunnel.”

Next stop: Sunset Drive-In, Middleport NY.