New drive-in coming to Mississippi

Since I don’t have any pictures of the construction site, here’s a photo of John Watzke’s current gig, the Ocala Drive-In, from its web site

Here’s some good news for the New Year. Veteran drive-in operator John Watzke, currently running the Ocala Drive-In in Florida, is building another ozoner west of Bay St. Louis MS. Work actually started a few months ago on the still-unnamed drive-in, but last week we were treated to a full story about the project and Watzke in the Mississippi Free Press.

In reverse of how this usually goes, the new drive-in is being built on the site of an old trailer park. The 10-acre plot has been vacant since Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005 and did what hurricanes do to trailer parks. (Seriously, living in a Gulf Coast mobile home seems to me like walking to work across a busy interstate highway. But I digress.)

Watzke said his drive-in should open by April 2023 with a 60×34-foot screen 45 feet up. If all goes well, he’ll add a second screen a few years later. The concession stand will include an arcade, and the menu will have such Ocala favorites as muffaletts and po-boys.

The article has much more, including plenty of Watzke-provided photos, history of his family’s involvement with theaters, and a mention of controlling fire ants. (And you thought mosquitoes were the most annoying insects.) So now you know you need to go read it!

Video: Ruskin Family Keeps Going

Here’s another great example of a local TV station celebrating a local drive-in. Instead of the coming of spring (which may have no meaning in Florida, for all I can tell), it was a tie-in with the Oscars ceremony that prompted ABC affiliate WFTS, Tampa Bay’s News Leader, to run a visit with the owners of the Ruskin Family Drive-In Theatre in Ruskin FL.

“Ted Freiwald helped build the Ruskin Family Drive-In in 1952,” the story begins, and he’s been keeping it running for most of its existence. Although he made the digital conversion years ago, the Ruskin Family still has the old-school car window speakers as well as FM sound.

You really should watch this affectionate look at a local institution. And if you want to read a little more about the Ruskin, check out my virtual visit there during the year of the Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey.

Parkland FL’s Occasional Drive-In Returns Saturday

Rows of cars lined up in front of an inflatable screen

Photo from the City of Parkland

The City of Parkland FL hosts a free semi-annual drive-in at its equestrian center, and its next date is this Saturday, when it’s showing Cars 3.

According to Special Events Coordinator Alexandra Valle, the program started about four years ago, before she arrived. They rent a 33-foot high inflatable screen from Twilight Features, which also handles the projector. Local businesses sponsor the event.

Unlike a lot of places that show movies in the park for viewers on blankets, (although Parkland does that too), this is a true drive-in experience. Valle said that they’ve fit 800 cars into the area, which also has limited grassy seating near the screen. Many people sit on top of their cars to see the movie at a better view on the flat field.

Which brings me to my metaphysical question: Is this a drive-in theater? It’s always in the same place, and cars truly drive in to watch a movie. Sure, it uses an impermanent screen, but so does the Blue Starlite. But Valle argued against the notion. “We utilize the Equestrian Center large open field and raised berm to show a movie twice a year,” she said. “It is not built on a slant for a real drive-in experience. We also use this field for other special events such as our Farmers’ Market.”

I don’t think a flat viewing area or a market prevent the Parkland from being a drive-in; just think of all the drive-ins with flea markets. On the other hand, if it has only two active dates a year, that puts it in Manistique territory, and I haven’t added that one to the Carload list. I guess I need to add a minimum to the definition of an active drive-in.

In any event, it’s great to see a city provide a taste of the drive-in to its residents and visitors. I hope that more municipalities move beyond movies in the park to something more like Parkland’s almost-drive-in.