July 1: Skyview Drive-In, Litchfield IL

It’s Day 182 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. This day was a naked ploy for more active drive-in nights as I strive to reach my goal of 200 for the year. After I left Earlville IL, I drove past Springfield’s Route 66 Twin Drive-In, which will be open again on Monday, to Litchfield’s Skyview Drive-In, which is strictly Fridays and Saturdays. It took a bit under three hours to get there.

Retired educator Dr. Walter “Chick” Bishop says in the 2013 video above that the Skyview opened in June 1950. It’s the only US 66 drive-in that’s been in continuous operation since it opened.

The Frisina Amusements Company was the Skyview’s first owner. Norman and Del Paul bought it in the 1980s and owned it until they passed away in the 2010s. Their daughter and her husband sold the Skyview to a pair of couples, Nick and Mindy Pastrovich and Mike and Debbie Pastrovich, in March 2016. Mindy told the Route 66 News, “We plan to run it as a drive-in indefinitely.”

The Pastroviches are keeping the Skyview grounded in the past, including the dancing hot dog animation that it shows between movies. “It’s almost like a trick dog, and it’s on a podium, and it does flips, and then it jumps into the bun,” Mindy told The State Journal-Register. “I have had multiple, numerous requests to make sure that the dancing hot dog did not go away. The dancing hot dog is not going away.”

I settled in to watch and question my old friend, Cars 3. We met again for the 10th time. As I munched on my chicken strip basket, I wondered, if there are no humans in the Cars universe, why do they have door handles?

Miles Today / Total:  192 / 23193 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Cars 3 / 98

Nearby Restaurant: I had hoped for a meal at the Ariston Cafe, across from the Route 66 Welcome Center, but it was closed for the Fourth of July weekend, so I went next door to the equally historic Jubelt’s Bakery & Restaurant. Back to healthy eating, I tried Jubelt’s signature garbage salad with ham, turkey, bacon, and eggs, along with some healthy greenery. I celebrated my balanced diet with a fresh baked cheese danish for dessert.

Where I Virtually Stayed: Normally I’d default to a nearby Hampton Inn, or maybe the Holiday Inn Express. But the Quality Inn is so very close to the Skyview; it’s within easy walking distance if you ever wanted to walk to a drive-in. It was also noticeably less expensive than those alternatives. My room was clean, had the full set of amenities, and the hot breakfast was a cut above some other Quality Inns. Woohoo!

Only in Litchfield: Really I should talk about the Route 66 Welcome Center, but 31 miles away, the DeMoulin Museum in Greenville was having its Family Reunion Weekend celebration just a couple of weeks after appearing on the History Channel’s American Restoration show. As described by Roadside America, the DeMoulin Co. was once the world’s biggest provider of fraternal lodge initiation pranks. They included a bucking “ferris wheel goat” and such fake trials as the “molten lead test.” DeMoulin is still in business in Greenville, now as one of the world’s biggest suppliers of band uniforms.

Next stop: Cinema 67 Drive-in, Spencer IN.

June 30: Route 34 Drive In Theatre, Earlville IL

It’s Day 181 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. When I was putting together this leg of the trip, I saw that the Route 34 Drive In Theatre in Earlville IL would be open from the previous Friday through the Tuesday Fourth of July and somehow mistook it for a seven-day schedule. That’s why I took a two-day detour to northern Indiana for my Wednesday and Thursday night shows, and why I needed a three-hour drive from Knox IN to the Route 34 for to rejoin my previously planned route.

The Route 34, then owned by Charles Dyas, opened as the Dyas 34 in June 1954. He kept it running until selling it to Ron Magnoni Jr. in 1994, which is probably when the drive-in’s name changed. That’s Ron above in an excellent 2015 YouTube video, extolling the virtues of a rural drive-in with its lack of ambient light.

That video interview comes in the middle of the conversion to digital projectors. In a 2014 article in DeKalb Daily Chronicle, Magnoni talks about raising funds for the new system, replacing film projectors “made of a combination of parts from the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘70s.” He also said business improved a few years after he bought the 34 when stopping showing R-rated movies and lured in more families.

In the video above, Magnoni talks about the preparation work he had done to modernize the projection booth. About switching away from film, he said, “All my friends (in the business) tell me they hated it at first, then they loved it. Well, I don’t think I’m going to love it.”

Then an April 2016 article in the La Salle NewsTribune, Magnoni announced that the Route 34’s transition was almost complete. “I should be able to play anything from any film company now,” he said.

Tonight marked my second consecutive night of Despicable Me 3, which was nothing compared to my Cars 3 marathon. The concession stand sells fried chicken, which I think is a terrible food to bring in but a real treat to eat when it’s freshly cooked. (Not to mention that it’s much better to support the concession stand whenever possible.) Life is good!

Miles Today / Total:  164 / 23001 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Despicable Me 3 / 97

Nearby Restaurant: For some surprisingly complex and flavorful Italian food in the middle of a small Illinois town, you’ll want to go to Francesca’s Restaurant. I enjoyed some baked spaghetti for lunch, and I almost wish I’d come back for some cod in the Friday night fish fry.

Where I Virtually Stayed: There aren’t any hotels in Earlville, so I had to take US 34 to I-39 for Mendota IL’s Comfort Inn. I’ve been so spoiled by in-room mini-fridges at similar chain hotels that I was surprised by its absence in my king bed room, which was otherwise everything I needed, including wifi and a coffeemaker. Breakfast in the morning was up to the typical Comfort Inn standards. Just another typically great night.

Only in Earlville: Every September they hold the Fiber in the Park festival in Shabbona Park here. “Bring your projects or your spinning wheel, and spend the day listening to live music, far from the city.” Plus they have alpacas.

Next stop: Skyview Drive-In, Litchfield IL.

June 27: Cascade Drive-in, West Chicago IL

It’s Day 178 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. Ah, Chicagoland! Even though the fastest route was only 38 miles, it took a little over an hour to drive the suburban highways from McHenry to the Cascade Drive-in in West Chicago IL.

The Cascade opened in 1961, and it’s huge. The lot can hold over 1200 cars, all pointed at its single screen.

Cascade owner Jeff Kohlberg told the suburban Chicago Daily Herald in 2013 that as a kid “he regularly went to work with his dad, who operated drive-ins in Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan.” (One of those was the drive-in I visited the night before, then called the Skyline.) Jeff was able to buy a digital projector for the Cascade. “I’ve been doing this since I was 8 years old, so this is worth it to me,” he said.

Like too many other drive-ins, the Cascade doesn’t own the land it’s on. It dodged a bullet last year when West Chicago denied the landowner’s request to redevelop the site as a truck terminal facility. “The Cascade is one of the busiest movie theaters in the country,” Kohlberg told the Daily Herald in January 2016. “It’s not like it’s a dilapidated drive-in.”

With all that room and being so close to a huge metro area, the Cascade attracts classic car shows. In July 2015, it was Classic Car Appreciation Day. This coming August, it’ll be Volkswagen Night. You get the idea.

This was my 26th consecutive active movie night. (Hooray!) And the eighth time in 12 nights that I watched Cars 3. (Oh no!) Really, it’s a good family movie, but Cars 3 starts losing its appeal after four or five viewings.

Miles Today / Total:  38 / 22707 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Cars 3 / 94

Nearby Restaurant: Before heading to the Cascade, the Volkswagen club said they’d meet at Augustino’s Rock & Roll Deli. Good choice for staying with a retro theme. With all the vintage memorabilia on the walls, it’s easy to overlook the excellent Chicago-style Italian sub sandwiches. Yummy!

Where I Virtually Stayed: There really aren’t any hotels in West Chicago, but it was only about four miles to get to the Hampton Inn in Carol Stream. It’s a pet-friendly hotel, so if you brought your dog, you’ll want the sixth floor. I didn’t, so I didn’t. My room was clean, full of the standard amenities, and the breakfast was standard Hampton, which is pretty darned good.

Only in West Chicago: If the retro feel of the Augustino’s in West Chicago wasn’t enough, check out its Carol Stream location just up the road. As described by Roadside America, the entrance is a giant replica of a Wurlitzer jukebox, complete with animated bubble tubes, a nostalgic playlist, and stacks of “records” just waiting to be played.

Next stop: 49er Drive-in Theatre, Valparaiso IN.