June 8: Falconwood, Bellevue NE

Outdoor screen with cars lined up

photo from the Falconwood Facebook page

It’s Day 159 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. I doubled back from Newton IA, zooming west for two and a half hours on I-80 to the Falconwood in Bellevue NE, just south of Omaha.

This drive-in launched in what was Sokol Park in June 2016. (They changed their name sometime over the intervening winter.) Although they probably weren’t thinking about meeting any particular standard, it barely qualifies as a drive-in theater.

The Falconwood web site proclaims that “Falconwood Park is an all-encompassing arts and entertainment venue specializing in weddings, concerts, drive-in movies, and home of Hullabaloo Music Festival.” So movies are pretty low in the priority list. Patrons are allowed to park elsewhere and watch while sitting on the grass. The movies are old, and the erratic schedule rarely includes weekend nights.

“It would be hard to sustain a business as a drive-in alone,” co-owner Brandon Miller told the Omaha World-Herald in May 2016. “But in our case, we’ve got so many other events this summer. Weddings, concerts, festivals, company picnics and family reunions. That’s going to allow us to throw in these drive-in movie nights and see how it goes.”

Anyway, I think the Falconwood qualifies. Movies are open to the public to drive over and watch from their cars. There’s a screen in a permanent location. The schedule includes more than a couple of nights a year. So even though it looks almost nothing like a 1950s drive-in, it’s still a drive-in, and it’s a wonderful service for the ozoner-starved residents of the Omaha area.

This new wave of drive-in has some intriguing differences, including dinner from food trucks, alcohol from a bar, and the usual suspects at the concession stand. Tickets are sold on the Eventbrite smartphone app. And just like at every other drive-in, folks show up to have a good time.

As I said, the drive-in at Falconwood is unusual in that it typically doesn’t show movies on weekends. That’s why I went a little out of my way to make sure that I caught it on a Thursday movie night. Rogue One was the first movie that I saw when I started my odyssey in Florida in January, and I was a little surprised to see it again.

Miles Today / Total:  176 / 20640 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Rogue One / 75

Nearby Restaurant: I’d been sustaining myself on comfort food from small-town diners, so it was time for a change. Korean Grill Egg Rolls to Go is about as far from a diner as you can get. Amazingly authentic Korean food in large portions (okay, the large portions match the diner) and fresh ginger tea. It’s a great way to keep my taste buds from complacency!

Where I Virtually Stayed: Oh, Hampton Inn, how I had missed you! A sure sign of larger cities or busier highways, this Hampton delivered on all of its midscale, friendly Hampton-ness. Cookies and drinks waiting for me at check-in. A mini-fridge and microwave in my room. The standard hot Hampton breakfast in a spacious breakfast room. For all the days I’ve been on the road, this was the hotel equivalent of comfort food.

Only in Bellevue: As mentioned in Roadside America, at the northwest corner of Offutt Air Force Base you can gaze upon the very first military gray B-52G from 1959. It’s mounted on a pedestal, behind a fence, and it’s amongst some trees to discourage you from taxiing it away.

Next stop: Elko Drive-In Theater, Elko New Market MN.

June 4: TK-Starlite Drive-In, Neligh NE

TK Starlite Drive-In marquee lit with cloudy background

photo from the TK-Starlite Facebook page

It’s Day 155 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. It took about three and a half hours to drive from the Midway Drive-in Theatre north of Miller SD down south across the border to the TK-Starlite Drive-In in Neligh NE.

The Starlite Drive-In opened in 1952 with a single screen and room for about 300 cars. It’s been operating ever since. Current owner Stacy Klabenes purchased it from Jack March and added the TK initials “using the letters from his children’s names,” according to a 2011 article in the Norfolk (NE) Daily News.

“I want to pull more people in,” Klabenes said then. “Basically, we want to put Neligh back on the map.”

Jennifer Blackburn-Nielsen, a spokesperson for local business group Grow Neligh, told the Daily News, “The drive-in theater is also a very important aspect as far as tourism in Neligh and helps attract people from all over the state who come to enjoy the nostalgia of a drive-in theater.”

It was great to find an open drive-in on a Sunday night. I saw the latest Pirates of the Caribbean installment again, keeping my eyes busy again while I munched on popcorn and a pizza burger.

Miles Today / Total:  211 / 19976 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales / 71

Nearby Restaurant: When I read “Imperial” on the sign, I think Chinese restaurant. When I see Imperial Steakhouse, I think, y’know, steak. But it turns out that this place serves a little bit of everything, especially Mexican food. I enjoyed the “enchiladas imperial” with rice and beans and a beer margarita. Yum!

Where I Virtually Stayed: The TK-Starlite is unusual in that it actually suggests nearby lodging. At the top of its list is the Deluxe Motel. The Deluxe is nothing too fancy, but it had a fridge in the room and coffee available, two of the things I hope to find wherever I spend the night.

Only in Neligh: Roadside America also has an entry for the Deluxe Motel. According to their story, Michael Landon, then starring in the TV staple Bonanza, was the headliner at the local county fair in 1962 and spent the night at the Deluxe Motel. Now there’s a large hole in the side of the wall in Room 10 with a plaque that says after he checked out, they noticed the damaged wall. “What may have started out as a slam on a fancy-pants Hollywood star has obviously morphed into civic pride for the late great star.”

Next stop: Verne Drive In Theatre, Luverne MN.

May 30: Sandhills Drive In, Alliance NE

It’s Day 150 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. I drove two and a half hours almost due south from Roy’s Black Hills Twin Drive-In in Hermosa SD to the Sandhills Drive In southeast of Alliance NE.

According to Cinema Treasures, the Sandhills opened in 1994. It’s a single screen and can hold about 250 cars. A commenter there said in 2014 that the drive-in had made the conversion to digital projection, but Drive-Ins.com said it didn’t reopen for the 2016 season until June 24 and was still using film.

A 2007 article in the Scottsbluff Star-Herald, said that owner Gerald Bullard opened the Sandhills and had stayed with it since. “When we opened this drive-in, it was extremely successful,” said Bullard. “It used to be on a night like this we would fill to capacity, of 250.”

In that article, Sandhills manager Reva Hewgley said they average between 30 and 50 cars each night. Bullard said that reports of the mosquito-transmitted West Nile virus encouraged some patrons to stay home. But he increased the size of the screen in 2006 and hoped to keep the drive-in going for at least “a few more years.”

Some reports say that the Sandhills shows movies on Saturdays and Sundays starting in June. Then there were those other notes about still using film. The official web site and Facebook page offer no clues, but the easiest conclusion was that I wasn’t going to watch a movie here on a Tuesday night in May.

Miles Today / Total:  143 / 19293 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 68

Nearby Restaurant: Steak. Drinks. Big-screen sports. Old-school atmosphere. It all comes together at Ken and Dale’s Restaurant in downtown Alliance. The service was friendly and efficient, and the ribeye steak came out just the way I wanted it.

Where I Virtually Stayed: The Quality Inn here had everything I needed. My room had a fridge and microwave, and the continental breakfast was enough to get me back on the road.

Only in Alliance: In a word, Carhenge. Just north of town, a collection of vintage cars were formed by Jim Reinders into a replica of Stonehenge and painted gray. Carhenge was dedicated at the June 1987 summer solstice, and it’s directly in the path of the August 21, 2017 total solar eclipse.

Next stop: Winner Drive-In Theatre, Winner SD.