It was a hot summer night that called for something cool and mellow. Drive-in movie theaters had intrigued us for a few summers now. It was time to see what the historic hype was about at the Vali-Hi theatre in Lake Elmo, MN.
We packed a cooler of beverages and some licorice and headed out around 6:45. As a prequel to the theater and along a drive-in theme, we stopped off 94 and White Bear Ave to order up some shakes from the Dari-ette Drive-In off Minnehaha Avenue in the St. Paul Dayton’s Bluff area. We backed into our spot and the kids immediately hopped out of the back seat to check out menu stand on the driver’s side of the car. The closest experience they could recall was ordering a smoothie at McDonald’s and having to park in a designated space to wait for an employee to hand deliver it to us. For two very large shakes that the four of us planned to split, the total was just under $8.
We corralled them back into the car for the full drive-in experience. The Dari-ette, 58 years and going strong, had some pretty messy items on their menu – italian everything (meatball sandwiches), finger lickin’ chicken and saucy ice cream concoctions. Miraculously, we spilled nothing.
The night was still young. We arrived around 8:00 to Vali-Hi and breezed through – $8 per adult and $1 per kid ages 6-12 (5 and under: free). We drove around a little perplexed about the protocol at first. We checked out our neighbors and settled in. Then we discovered they were downing Coors Light sitting atop a blow-up mattress in their flatbed. Things were going to get weird.
The doors had opened earlier, so we were about three-fourths of the way back from the screen. Large groups of people congregated in mass tailgating style, all of the mini-van hoods locked in up position. Anything went – grills, coolers stocked with alcohol – - the works. People played football, frisbee and any mobile game possible. Some people had tiki torches staking out their space. Trucks with overstuffed sofas were strapped in their truck beds. I think the kids’ jaws dropped open at that one. We tried to fit into the scene with our Subaru and two portable chairs.
Prior to the movie, we played frisbee and checked out the arcade games, classic pin-ball machines and a fortune teller (like in the movie Big) at the center snack building. My 7 year-old son insisted on popcorn so we joined the growing line of people getting their last snacks before movie 1. I marveled at the young kids here (including our own 7 and 9 year olds) for a series of PG-13 movies. Apparently no matter for them.
First in the series of three was Spiderman. Dusk settled in and the movie began. In our car the audio was great, outside the car in our seats, we relied on the sound from neighbor’s speakers which was less clear. I had my doubts that this crowd’s socializing could be silenced, but then I realized, they were totally into the movie and this whole scene.
Another miraculous happening – - not one mosquito bite. Granted we had our Burt’s Bee’s on… but still. As my husband and son began packing up before the credits rolled, my daughter and I calmed them, We are watching the movie in its entirety. With our two items packed, we zipped out right after the credits. But not before my husband shined our brights on the people behind us who ran their car engine with car windows closed through most of the movie and probably couldn’t have told you what movie was even playing. What do you expect? It’s free reign at the drive-in.
It was far from the mad rush out we anticipated. Then it dawned on me, most of these people were in it for the long haul. They were staying for Men in Black and the next flick featuring Adam Sandler: the Triple Feature. It would be after 4:00a.m. when some of them rolled out. As I passed a couple in their front row papazan, I wondered Did they bring their skillets for and egg and hash breakfast?
The kids were too jazzed to fall asleep on the ride home. There was already talk about hitting the Cottage Grove Drive-In for IceAge: Continental Drift soon. I loved the nostalgia of the night, but the glimpse into the summer drive-in subculture was a bit of an eye-opener for me. The lot was packed which told me that the drive-in movie theatre concept is alive and well. If and when we go back, we’ll bring along our entourage and the right stuff (coolers, couches and kids) to make the most of all the modern day drive-in has to offer.