“Christmas at the Drive-In” is coming

A scene from Christmas at the Drive-In, copied from the Great American Family channel web site. The outdoor concession stand pictured in the background doesn’t fill me with hope for an accurate ozoner depiction.

Christmas is a time where there typically isn’t a whole lot of drive-in theater news to report. There are scattered holiday markets or expanded flea markets, but that seems mundane. I found something else that sounds odd, but at least it might be interesting.

The Great American Family channel premiered an original movie, Christmas at the Drive-In, on Thanksgiving weekend this year. (It’s showing again on Thursday, Dec. 8, and probably again later in the season.) The synopsis says the movie is about a woman who returns to her home town, Chesterfield NY, to save its drive-in theater by helping it acquire historic preservation status or something like that. She becomes frenemies with the new owner, who just inherited the Chesterfield Drive-In from his late father. Could there be holiday romance brewing? Will they need to work together to save the beloved drive-in?

(I confess that I don’t understand the allure of this kind of Christmas movie, and I especially don’t understand why dozens of them flood the airwaves every holiday season. Is there some special factor about them, or are they strictly for folks who enjoy reading lots of romance novels? Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But I digress.)

I was surprised at the amount of detail I could find about its shooting locations at The Cinemaholic site, though it left me with more questions than answers. All of the photography took place in northern Ontario in September 2022. Most of it was at North Bay, on the shore of Lake Nipissing, with some scenes shot in Sudbury. Those are great places to get cold in early autumn, but what’s missing from those locations is anything that would look like a potentially historic drive-in theater. The Horizon Drive-In travels northern Ontario with a pop-up screen that it inflates at various locations, but surely they wouldn’t use that, would they?

I haven’t seen the movie. I saw a 30-second trailer on YouTube; there are issues. From glimpses in the background of the small viewing field, it looks like they really are using that inflatable screen. A photo at the official movie web site shows the protagonists in front of an outdoor concession stand. I know that such outdoor stands used to exist, but it’s much more common for even historic drive-ins to serve up their snacks indoors.

What I find ironic is that, although the real town of Chesterfield NY never had a drive-in, right across Lake Champlain in Colchester VT, the Sunset Drive-In has been active since 1948 and is still open. That would have been the perfect stand-in for a fictional historic drive-in; too bad it’s more expensive to film in Vermont than in Ontario.

Anyway, if you want to see a modern-day depiction of what someone thinks drive-ins are like, feel free to tune in this season.

A pleasant night with a surprise

Technology Robot sci-fi woman Cyborg android in front of grid background
© DepositPhotos / abidal

It was a beautiful summer evening, the sun was setting, and the warm breeze was blowing. The perfect night for a drive-in theater.

I had been to drive-in theaters before, but this one was special. It was a great way to spend time with friends, family, or just by yourself.

When we arrived, we were greeted by the friendly ticket booth attendant. He told us which movie was playing and gave us directions to the best spot to park our car. We found the perfect spot and before we knew it, the movie was starting.

The night sky was lit up with the glow of the movie screen. We all sat back in our cars and watched the movie with the windows rolled down. The sound of the movie came through the speakers in our cars and we could feel the bass of the music as it shook our cars.

We all laughed and cheered at the right moments, and when the movie was over, we all felt a little bit closer. Being in the comfort of our own cars made us feel relaxed and comfortable, yet we still had an amazing movie experience.

The night air was filled with laughter and conversation, and we all felt great just being able to spend time together.

  • The preceding was written by an OpenAI chatbot in response to my prompt to write a story about the fun of a drive-in theater. Looks like pretty soon we bloggers will be out of work.

The ways that Stuckey’s history = drive-in history

In-store display of Stucket's pecan log rolls and hard candies
The best part of the Stuckey’s on I-70 east of Paxico KS.

Thanksgiving often means (for me) a trip from Carload World Headquarters in Denver to Kansas City MO for a family dinner, and that’s the way it went last week. On the way back, my family indulged me with a stop at the last active Stuckey’s restaurant, gas station, souvenir shop in the state of Kansas. That’s where I took a picture of the only six feet of real Stuckey’s in the whole building – a small display with several varieties of pecan logs, some hard candies, and a bag of pecan pieces.

The experience reminded me of a lot of the Route 66 icons that I visited just a couple of years ago. All too many of them are just faded suggestions of what they looked like in their heyday, the way that several buildings along I-70 are clearly repurposed or abandoned Stuckey’s. You can tell by their ceiling ridge.

And that got me thinking that just as Route 66 history parallels that of drive-in theaters, so does Stuckey’s history, sort of. Like drive-ins, Stuckey’s was invented in the 1930s, (by William Stuckey, of course), and most were built in the years after World War II. Eventually the total hit 368 restaurants in 30 states. (You can find a wonderful 1975 location guide preserved today on Flickr.) Although Stuckey’s locations numbered less than a tenth of total drive-in theaters, they too were found along major highways. They were also known for wide structures, in this case plenty of advertising billboards to lure motorists.

According to a March 2022 article in the Washington Post, the Stuckey’s chain might have begun fading in the 1960s when it was sold to Pet Milk. It definitely suffered after the late 1970s after Illinois Central Industries (ICI) bought Pet Milk in a hostile takeover. ICI closed and sold many Stuckey’s locations; by the time the family repurchased the chain, it was down to 75 stores. They’ve grown by a few dozen since then. More than ever, they’re concentrated in the southeast. The location near Paxico KS is the third-farthest north, behind outliers in Rockport IA and North Stonington CT, and about 35 miles east of the western-most full-sized Stuckey’s, in Italy TX.

As with drive-ins, I remember visiting Stuckey’s stores when they were still active, though past their prime in retrospect. Unlike drive-ins, the experience today is a lot different. In the past, Stuckey’s splattered its name and pecans all over each store and built-in restaurant. Today, you’re more likely to find a Stuckey’s fragment – the company calls it “the store-within-the-store concept” – than an old-time free-standing location. Even in Paxico’s Stuckey’s, with its tall roof ridge, most of its generic Kansas souvenirs could be found anywhere in the state, and the quiet restaurant showed no signs of pecans.

Like drive-ins, Stuckey’s was an American icon, albeit not as ubiquitous. Most of them are gone, and many of the remainders are not the way they were. They’re another relic of the postwar highway boom, and last week, I was happy to get just a glimpse of its history in action.