Welcome to my rabbit hole

Although no one asked for it, here’s a story of one day’s drive-in theater research. This morning was a typical session, so I’ll share it with you while it’s still fresh on my mind. It’s my journey down a research rabbit hole, which began with finding the location of one dead drive-in and led to the unearthing of a second.

CinemaTreasures is a frequent stop along my online rounds. In particular, I like to see whether another CT user has added a previously unknown drive-in to its long list. So it was this morning; “50sSnipes” had contributed the short history of the Lafayette Drive-In in Lafayette LA. I read that the drive-in had been somewhere on US 90, that it opened sometime in 1947, and that it closed in 1955.

Because of my long experience with certain tools, I wanted to help find more details about the short-lived Lafayette so I could contribute them to CT. First, I tried the University of Colorado’s link to an online Boxoffice magazine database, but that didn’t turn up much. (It’s missing a lot of issues.) Next, I swung by HistoricAerials to look for unaccounted-for drive-ins in old aerial photos and topo maps. That’s where I spotted a drive-in about two miles west of Lafayette on US 90. That was promising!

Then I dug into my subscription at Newspapers.com. Those folks happened to carry old copies of Lafayette’s local newspaper, The Daily Advertiser, and a local historian had already highlighted the drive-in’s grand opening ad from June 1, 1947. Great! However, that ad clearly showed that the drive-in was three miles east of town on US 90.

I needed more information, so I turned to another great source, the Media History Digital Library hosted by the Internet Archive. Searching on the Lafayette Drive-In, I found the following snippet from The Exhibitor magazine, March 9, 1955:

“The Lafayette Drive-In, Lafayette, La., will close for good advised E. R. Sellers, one of the owners. Hub Drive-In Theatres, Inc., operators of two other drive-ins in that city, the Hub and Twin.”

The Twin already had an entry in the CT list, but not the Hub. That must have been that drive-in west of Lafayette! Now I had to look elsewhere for the Lafayette Drive-In, and to gather more info about the Hub.

Back to The Daily Advertiser. The first appearance of the Hub Drive-In was in 1948, but that was a drive-in restaurant serving cold beer and sandwiches. The first mention of the Hub Drive-In Theater was in a year-end ad, Dec. 30, 1949, saying that it was under construction. Long story short, the Hub opened on March 21, 1950 on the “Scott Road” (US 90 west of Lafayette). Its last ad in the Advertiser was on Oct. 22, 1956. A year later, the former Hub’s land was listed for sale in the classifieds.

That was enough to submit the Hub Drive-In to CinemaTreasures. Later, I found another magazine note, from Nov. 21, 1956, saying that the Hub was still closed “for rebuilding of the screen tower which was flattened during a severe wind storm.” I don’t know the date of that deadly (to the Hub at least) storm; I couldn’t find a matching story in the Advertiser.

Then back to HistoricAerials to find the Lafayette Drive-In, the reason I started down this rabbit hole in the first place. As I learned from topo maps, US 90 didn’t really go east out of Lafayette, it was more south-southeast. Once I knew which road to follow, I got lucky again. Three years after the Lafayette closed, it was still in pretty good shape in a 1958 aerial photo. After matching the site with a modern-day address, I was able to post a comment outlining the exact location, along with those open and close dates.

Why did I spend so much time tracking down two Louisiana drive-in stories? I can’t imagine ever using them in any of my books. Maybe it started with curiosity, and then I felt a sense of responsibility to put my notes in the hands of some future historian who might write a Louisiana drive-in book. It’s satisfying to learn something that no one (at least on CT) had known about before. And it feels good to feel the fresh air on my face when I finally emerge from one of those rabbit holes.

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.

Updated Drive-Ins of Route 66 now shipping

Drive-Ins of Route 66, expanded second edition, front cover

The updated, expanded, sometimes corrected Second Edition of my first book, Drive-Ins of Route 66, is now available from Amazon and your local bookstore (if you ask them to order it for you). Sorry I didn’t mention it earlier, but I’ve had my head down working on my next book.

Years ago, when I wrote the first version of this book, I was rushing to meet deadlines to exhibit it at the Frankfurt Book Fair. I was hoping that someone in Europe would want to publish a translation, the way I hoped that the PowerBall ticket I bought this past Saturday would make me a millionaire. Like that ticket, my German excursion only gave me the fun of taking part in the game.

Even as I was writing that first edition, my approach was evolving. I started with simple, straightforward descriptions of each drive-in with brief notes. As I worked my way west, I told longer anecdotes of the people behind the drive-ins. I carried that idea forward in my second book, Drive-Ins of Colorado, where I tried harder to focus on the owners’ stories. Humans are more interesting than buildings, even screen towers.

Meanwhile, that first book was becoming a little embarrassing. Nobody complained, but I could see a few mistakes. The first whopper was an omission – Marshfield MO was home to the Skyline Drive-In, with an entrance right on US 66. It didn’t last very long and never appeared on any topo maps, but Boxoffice had mentioned Marshfield’s Skyline a couple of times, so I felt bad about its absence. Then I saw that in using an incorrect third-party maps of old Route 66, I had overlooked a bunch of St. Louis-area drive-ins that were close enough to an old Alt-66.

In addition to adding the drive-ins that I’d flat-out missed before, I widened the search to include any within three miles instead of the arbitrary two and a half. I started writing the expanded version without a hard deadline, which was good because the soft deadlines I marked for myself went whizzing by as I kept looking for another photo or a new detail. The result was a book that I’m proud of, 95% rewritten with more drive-ins, more photos, and better stories.

On the other hand, the new book’s only been out a few weeks, yet I’ve already found a few areas that could be improved. I’ve got a new way of covering that – a corrections and updates section on the official book page here on Carload. This will also be a nice way for me to link to some great online photos that I couldn’t add to the book itself.

Anyway, please go buy my book and tell your drive-in-loving friends about it. When my next book comes out, later this year, I’ll tell you more about that one too.