Milky Way provides another kind of drive-in

photo of the Milky Way Drive-In screen at twilight
Photo from the Milky Way Drive-In Facebook page

From as far back as the 1950s, there were “inventors” promoting various schemes and systems to allow drive-in theaters to show movies during the day. Some of them, such as reflective screen coatings, added just a few minutes of twilight time, but most of them were just buckets of air.

I thought of that as I surveyed the news about Franklin WI’s Milky Way Drive-In, which doesn’t depend on darkness for its shows. Its secret is a 40-foot LED wall, so it doesn’t even need a projector.

The Milky Way opened on May 22, 2020, another pandemic-fueled return to the natural ventilation and social distancing of our favorite way of watching movies. It’s set up in the parking lot of the stadium of an independent baseball team, the Milwaukee Milkmen, so it uses the stadium’s infrastructure for concessions and rest rooms.

We’ll continue to talk in the weeks ahead about what is a drive-in theater and what isn’t. Although it uses a shared parking lot without ramps, the Milky Way is clearly on the right side of the line. A permanent screen and regularly scheduled showings ensure that it belongs on the Carload drive-in theater list.

Sorry that I had overlooked this one for so long. (Tip of the hat to OnMilwaukee’s Matt Mueller, who listed the Milky Way with all of the state’s active drive-ins except Shawano’s Moonlight Outdoor.) There were so many pop-up drive-ins in 2020 that it was hard to pick out the deserving ozoners. A drive-in without darkness is still a drive-in, a type that exhibitors have wanted for over 70 years.

Video: Starlite 14 May Close Permanently

WMTV, Madison WI’s News Leader, reported some sad news last night. The Starlite 14 Drive In in Richland Center may showing movies for just a couple more weeks, according to an announcement by its owners, Lisa and Bill Muth.

In a post on the drive-in’s Facebook page, Bill Muth wrote, “We have decided to retire from the theater business. … The Starlite 14 Drive-In will close permanently after the completion of the 2019 season on September 1, 2019.” He added that he would soon attempt to sell the Starlite and his indoor Center Cinema.

Muth’s description of the situation in the WMTV video sounded just a bit more positive. “If nobody buys the theater, and they don’t buy it and reopen it next year, it will be permanently closed, and it will be gone.”

Personally, I see a lot of room for optimism. The Starlite 14 has digital projection (already paid off, Muth wrote), and it’s still mostly surrounded by farm land. While it’s true that it won’t reopen if no one ever buys it, the site doesn’t look attractive for warehouses or apartments, so I’d say its best use is still as a drive-in theater. Here’s hoping some buyer agrees with me some time this off-season.

June 21: Sky-Vu Drive-In, Monroe WI

It’s Day 172 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. It took me less than an hour and a half to drive an assortment of two-lane highways from Jefferson WI to the Sky-Vu Drive-In just south of Monroe WI.

According to Isthmus.com, the Sky-Vu opened in 1954 and has been operating ever since. It boasts “The Largest High Reflective screen” in the Midwest since it was replaced in 1976. The Sky-Vu installed FM stereo sound in 1986, although the folks at Cinema Treasures say that any claims that it was the first drive-in to switch to FM are exaggerated. The Sky-Vu installed digital projectors in time to start the 2012 season.

Isthmus wrote that the Sky-Vu brings in a lot of drive-in faithful from neighboring Iowa and Illinois. “We’ve had people come in motorcycles,” sais owner Duke Goetz. “I’ve had the highest-quality Mercedes-Benz and Lexus roll in there. I’ve had other cars that should have been part of the cash-for-clunkers program. I’ve had the semi tractor-trailer guys come in. It’s everybody.”

I was sure to save room for the famous Sky-Vu pizza, and if I brought in any cold water in my car, I was discreet about drinking it. This night, I had my fourth viewing of Cars 3, including my third night in a row. The more I watch, the more I wonder why there would be a school bus in the Cars universe.

Miles Today / Total:  70 / 22163 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Cars 3 / 88

Nearby Restaurant: For a great little restaurant facing the courthouse, Pancho & Lefty’s Outlaw Grill is a great choice. Since I ate healthy the day before, I had the Pig on Pig sandwich with pulled port and two thick slices of bacon. A seriously large margarita might not have been necessary to accompany the meal, but I enjoyed it anyway.

Where I Virtually Stayed: All right! After a few nights of hobnobbing with more upscale lodging, I returned to another familar face, the Super 8. I was fortunate that this is another of those really good “Pride of Super 8” locations with a fridge and good wifi in the room and the standard “Superstart” continental breakfast with hot entrees if you count the waffle iron and the toaster. It was all I needed at a great price.

Only in Monroe: According to the Insiders’ Guide to Madison WI, Monroe has hosted Green County Cheese Days every September of even-numbered years since 1914. The festival can draw over 100,000 visitors and includes “a parade, tractor pull, arts and crafts fair, polka music, yodeling, and absurd amounts of cheese and beer.”

Next stop: 61 Drive In Theatre, Delmar IA.