Nov. 23: Jesup Twin Drive-In Theatre, Jesup GA

Note: Despite specifically mentioning Nov. 23 on its web site last weekend, the Jesup was closed for Thanksgiving. Somehow that means I swapped my Jesup visit with my trip to the Starlight. I might work out the details later. It’s all virtual, you know.

It’s Day 327 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. These distances look a lot shorter on a map, but even staying within Georgia it took me over 3½ hours to drive from the Starlight Drive-In Theatre in Atlanta to the Jesup Twin Drive-In Theatre in Jesup of course.

The Jesup opened as the Family Drive-In, or maybe the Jesup Family Drive-In. Ward Riggins built it in 1948, according to his grandson, Ward Riggins III. The youngest Riggins said that when the founder became ill, Ward Jr. continued the business. It operated until 1960, then closed.

According to a 1999 article in the Florida Times-Union, Tim Cockfield bought the Family in 1970. He added a second screen in 1975.  “The family operation has run smoothly for almost 30 years. Of course, there was the time the brick screen tower was broken by a tornado in the late 1960s. In 1993, part of the screen blew down during a strong windstorm.” Tim Jr. and his wife Laurel were helping out at the box office and refreshment stand, and the younger Cockfield was in line to eventually take over the drive-in.

The embedded YouTube video of the day is a 2011 report from WSAV, Savannah’s News Leader, and it shows the Cockfields still running the Jesup. (For a look at what a typical movie night is like these days, check out this video from 2016.)

Not so long after that video, in 2012 Ralph and Jamie Hickox bought the Jesup, added digital projectors, and embraced the drive-in’s retro vintage. Deep South magazine wrote “Local high school students work as carhops, dressed in poodle skirts, to serve moviegoers the classics: hamburgers, hotdogs, funnel cakes and fried Oreos – a customer favorite.” All you have to do is text your order from your car.

The place caught on quickly in the Hickox household. Ralph told the Savannah Morning News, “I have a 15-year-old son. When we first bought the drive-in, he was like, ‘Whatever.’ Now he loves it.”

The Travel Channel shot footage at the Jesup in January 2017 for its Ultimate Road Trip: Top 5 special. I’m guessing that’s the Dinosaurs, Drive-Ins and Dunes episode, so check your TV listings for the next time that one comes around.

And on this Thanksgiving night, I had the choice between my fourth viewing of Justice League or my fourth viewing of Thor: Ragnarok. That was an easy choice!

Miles Today / Total: 237 / 37678 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Thor: Ragnarok / 196

Nearby Restaurant: There aren’t many restaurants open on Thanksgiving, so I was glad to find the Western Sizzlin serving up a turkey buffet with all the trimmings. I love a good buffet, and the familiar tastes of cranberries and stuffing made me feel a little better about being away from home.

Where I Virtually Stayed: The nicest hotel in Jesup might be the Quality Inn. It had coffee and cookies waiting for me. My comfortable room had all the modern amenities. The breakfast room held eggs and sausage as well as the continental standards. Even the wifi was peppy. I wish all Quality Inns could be as good as this one.

Only in Jesup: Every October, Jesup holds its Arch Fest, begun in 2003 to celebrate its restored downtown arch. The old arch had been a historic landmark since the 1940s but had to be removed for safety concerns. A duplicate of the arch was placed in front of the new city hall.

Next stop: Highway 21 Drive In, Beaufort SC.

Nov. 22: Starlight Drive-In Theatre, Atlanta GA

It’s Day 326 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. Driving from Elizabethton TN near the northeast tip of that state all the way down to the Starlight Drive-In Theatre in Atlanta GA took almost five hours. But making it to a drive-in showing a new release on the night before Thanksgiving was worth it.

When I first drew up this year-long odyssey, I had planned to finish at the Starlight, the southernmost drive-in (among the ones I didn’t visit in January) that shows movies pretty much every day of the year. Instead, I decided to use this week to sweep through the mostly weekend-only drive-ins that are left in the South, then return north to a December of mostly closed theaters.

The Starlight was opened by the Georgia Theater Company (the Oldknow family) as a single-screen theater in 1947. In 1956, when it added a second screen, it became the Starlight Twin. Four more screens came in 1983, turning it into the Starlight Six.

The Starlight survived in an urban area because of its unusual location. Like most other drive-ins, it was built on what was the outskirts of town. As residential and commercial expanded, most drive-ins fell victim to (as their owners cashed in on) rising property values. As described by Southern Spaces, “The Starlight Six did not suffer this fate because its location — adjacent to the Dekalb County Landfill, a trucking company, a cemetery, (and other undesirable neighbors) — made it unattractive to developers.”

According to the April 2004 issue of Atlanta magazine, managing partner Teri Oldknow said that many drive-ins were built without longevity in mind. “The whole concept of the drive-in was to develop it as cheaply as you could,” he said. “After 25 or 30 years, when everything is run down, you just sell it. It was a land bank, really.”

United Artists bought the Georgia Theater Company in 1985, but Teri’s father chose to keep the Starlight. But when it came time to buy digital projectors, the Starlight only employed four, so there are only four active screens out of the six still standing.

The south set of three screens, of which one is active, has become the event space for the Starlight’s festivals such as the Drive-In Invasion and Rock and Roll Monster Bash, which offer local artists, food trucks, live music, on-site camping, and classic movies in various combinations. On this night, it was just movies, and I was very happy to see the colorful new Pixar release, Coco.

The embedded YouTube video of the day is from 2009, when the Starlight still had six active screens.

Miles Today / Total: 270 / 37441 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Coco / 195

Nearby Restaurant: This long odyssey blurs together a bit, but as I looked around my hotel for dinner, I couldn’t remember previously eating at a Waffle House, even though I’ve talked about them often enough. The last time I stayed over at an Atlanta airport hotel, I remember seeing it out the window, so this was my chance to fill that old yearning. There aren’t too many places where you can get a good, yet inexpensive steak plus a bowl of grits. This is one of them.

Where I Virtually Stayed: Another sign of the Starlight’s location is the paucity of hotels nearby. Of the alternatives, the best combination of proximity and good reviews was the Drury Inn near the airport. The evening reception of snacks and drinks got me ready for the drive-in, my room had all the modern amenities, and the typically solid Drury standard breakfast would prepare me well for another day’s drive.

Only in Atlanta: In the Skylight’s corner of Atlanta, Doll’s Head Trail at Constitution Lakes Park is part wildlife refuge, part hiking trail, part snake pit, and part art exhibit. As described by History Atlanta, “It’s called Doll’s Head Trail because of the in situ artwork created with trash, many of it doll heads, that is left over after the South River floods.” Check out the photos, and if you walk the trail, “watch out for copperheads and deer ticks. Seriously.”

Next stop: Jesup Twin Drive-In Theatre, Jesup GA.

Mar. 19: Tiger Drive In Theatre, Tiger GA

It’s Day 78 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. US Highway 76 is twisty enough that it took about an ahour and a half to drive 65 miles between two classic drive-ins, from the Swan in Blue Ridge GA to the Tiger Drive In Theatre in Tiger.

The Tiger opened in April 1954 as a single-screen drive-in that could hold maybe 200 cars. It stayed alive for almost 30 years then went dormant for a couple of decades. Soon after someone offered to buy the lot to use as a cemetary, the daughter of the original owners reopened the Tiger in 2004. With such a small percentage of those original small-town drive-ins still in operation, it’s always nice to see one restored to its former glory.

This classic drive-in serves classic drive-in food plus a lot more. I can’t remember the last time I saw a Philly cheesesteak sandwich at a concession stand. I was so happy to see the drive-in open on a Sunday night that I didn’t mind watching the latest King Kong reboot for the second night in a row. It really does make a great drive-in movie!

Miles Today / Total:  65 / 9436 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Kong: Skull Island / 43

Nearby Restaurant: On a Sunday in March, the best choices in Tiger were closed, so I tried Clayton less than three miles away. I chose The Rusty Bike Cafe, which serves breakfast all day. After “The Roadster” country fried steak, eggs, grits, and a biscuit, I was ready to spend the rest of the day waiting for the drive-in to open.

Where I Virtually Stayed: There weren’t any hotels in Tiger, but I was fortunate enough to get one of the refurnished rooms at the Quality Inn in Clayon. There was a fridge and microwave in my room, the wifi worked, and there was enough breakfast in the morning to get me started on another day.

Only in Tiger: There’s this place called Goats on the Roof that has, well, you know. The goats roam from building to building over suspended bridges. Tourists can load feed in a cup on a chain drive, then pedal a bicycle to drive it up to the waiting, forever hungry goats. And there’s nitro ice cream, but only for the tourists.

Next Stop: Swingin’ Midway Drive In, Athens TN.