Vanishing America: The Drive-In Theater

It’s one of the icons of American civilization, combining Hollywood with car culture. The drive-in movie theater was once a mainstay of every American city, and plenty of small rural towns too. In the 1950s there were more than 4,000 of them. They were a place for families to enjoy a night out together, and for teenagers to be initiated into the games of adulthood.

Now the drive-in theater has fallen on hard times. According to The United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association, there are currently only 366 drive-ins in the United States with a total of 606 screens. The states with the most theaters are Pennsylvania (33) and Ohio (31). Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii and Louisiana sadly have no drive-ins. Many other states are in a precarious position with only one or two.

Competition from cable TV and movie rentals along with rising real estate costs have seriously hurt the drive-in theater industry, yet it clings to life. It’s gone from that great American hero – the success story – to that other great American hero – the underdog.

The first drive-in opened in New Jersey in 1933 and the idea soon caught on. Their heyday came in the economic boom years of the 1950s and ’60s. They began to feel the pinch in the 1970s with the spread of more TV channels. With VCRs and cable TV becoming popular in the late 1970s and early ’80s, things got even worse.

%Gallery-155976%Now most drive-ins are gone. Others have remained as spooky abandoned lots that offer the photographers in this article’s gallery the chance to lend atmosphere to their images. Visiting a dead drive-in theater is a bit like visiting a ghost town. It leaves you wondering about the people who used to spend time there.

Unlike with ghost towns, many of us can remember being one of those people. I remember going to the DeAnza Drive-in in Tucson, Arizona. My friend and I used to put a futon on top of her VW van and watch movies under the Arizona starlight. The DeAnza is gone now, and all that’s left is a webpage of memories.

But don’t despair, movie fans, there’s hope. The remaining drive-ins are keeping the flame lit. There are places like Hollywood Drive-in, which has been showing movies on Route 66 near Troy, New York, since 1952. New technologies like video projection are making it easier to open up drive-ins in any location where there’s a blank wall or the space for a screen. My favorite indie cinema, Ragtag Cinema in Columbia, Missouri, has done some outdoor shows in a nearby parking lot. Check out the photo gallery to see a cool Belgian drive-in using an inflatable screen.

As the great Joe Bob Briggs always says, “The drive-in will never die!”

(Clarification: The Hollywood Drive-in is on New York State Route 66, not the more famous Route 66. Plenty of businesses in New York like to play off the Route 66 designation, though, and why not? Retro entertainment is more important than nitpicking!)

Budget travel tips from the girls of Sixpenny Globe

sixpenny globeLast year, recent college graduates Kelsey Ogden and Kristen Refermat set off on the adventure of their lives — a four-month, 12-country backpacking trip — armed with two packs, four cameras, and a desire to document the ups and downs of traveling on $30 per day.

The result is Sixpenny Globe, a Kickstarter-crowdfunded travel documentary series following Kelsey and Kristen on their budget round-the-world trip. Episode 1 premieres on February 12 on their website and Blip.TV, with a prologue providing the girls’ backstory launching the week before. I caught up with the girls to see what inspired them to create Sixpenny Globe, how they made it happen, and what their tips are for traveling on a tight budget.

What inspired Sixpenny Globe?

We both had always wanted to do a huge trip. We’d both traveled quite a bit and lived abroad, but we’d never traveled for a truly extended period of time. So six months after we graduated from college, the time felt ripe for the Big Trip, but we were both pretty broke. Voila, the $30-a-day budget was born. As far as the web series aspect goes, there just seemed to be this gaping hole in travel documentation. There’s that romantic, idealized open road you read about in Kerouac, where all you need is 2 bucks in your pocket. Then there are the travel shows you see on TV where the perfectly manicured host is cracking canned one-liners about bratwurst from the comfort of her chic boutique hotel room. You can either read about bohemian broke people having adventures or you can watch Hollywood’s fake versions of adventures. But there seemed to be very little video documentation of real people traveling cheaply. Tons of people do it, but very few have endeavored to tell the story for the screen. So we figured we’d give it a go!

Once you decided to take the plunge, what were your first steps?
Our first step was buying the ticket! We had just casually emailed a round-the-word ticket broker to get a quote. It wasn’t as expensive as we’d expected, so we spent a couple days tweaking the itinerary and then just impulsively bought the ticket on credit, bandaid-removal style. Then once we decided to do the web series, we raised some money on Kickstarter for the cameras and equipment, got our visas sorted out for the countries that necessitated them, and got our shots and vaccines! That’s pretty much it. We really had absolutely no plan, aside from the set dates of our flights.

Where did your travels take you?
We left Los Angeles on February 28, 2011. We landed in Paris and spent almost a month going overland through France, Austria, Germany, and Denmark. We left out of Frankfurt but ended up with a detour through Cairo on our way to Amman, Jordan. Next came India, then Thailand. We went overland from Bangkok, through Cambodia, and into Vietnam. Left out of Ho Chi Minh City, landed in Sydney. Flew out of Melbourne back to LA after four months away. Compared to everyone else we met traveling, we went extremely quickly!

How did you survive on just $30 a day?
It wasn’t always sunshine and daisies, especially in Europe and Australia, where everything is so expensive. We Couchsurfed, hitchhiked, tap danced in the street with a hat out, slept in hallways of hotels we weren’t staying at, accepted a lot of hospitality from friends and strangers, and probably broke a few laws. We couldn’t do a lot of the museums or the other attractions with hefty price tags, but I think that actually made the whole trip better. We spent a lot of time walking the streets and a lot of time bonding over cheap wine. Since we couldn’t afford to have a rigid schedule of activities to stick to every day, we ended up actually enjoying time instead of worrying there wouldn’t be enough of it.

What budget tips can you give other wannabe globetrotters?
1. STAY AWAY FROM PACKAGE TOURS. No matter how much they tell you they’ll give you a good price, you can always arrange the same thing on your own for a fraction of the cost.
2. Stay at hostels with free breakfasts and LOAD UP. If you stuff yourself properly, you might not be hungry until dinner.
3. Don’t take taxis. There’s always a bus.
4. Learn to trust people, but follow your gut. If someone offers you help, take it, but if you start to feel like something’s fishy, bail out of that car and roll.
5. Just roll with the punches. When you’re on a budget, something will always go wrong and you won’t necessarily have the cash to fix it. It’s a lot more fun to laugh at it than cry about it.

Photo of the day: Playing Chopsticks

Photo of the day
If you can think of a movie scene set in a toy store, odds are it’s the Chopsticks scene at New York City‘s FAO Schwarz from Big. Though the movie is now over 20 years old (!), few can resist sliding across the big keyboard and recreating Tom Hanks and Robert Loggia’s duet medley of “Heart and Soul” and “Chopsticks.” Today’s Photo of the Day by Flickr user snowjumpr shows how fun it can be to play in a toy store, no matter how, er, big you are.

Have you recreated any movie moments on your travels? Add your photos to the Gadling Flickr pool to be chosen as a future Photo of the Day.

The Way: Martin Sheen treks the Camino de Santiago

I’m often skeptical when Hollywood forays into the realm of ‘travel films’.

Don’t get me wrong; there have been some wonderful movies in recent years that capture the true essence of the world of travel & the beauty of venturing on a grand journey: Lost in Translation, Into the Wild, L’Auberge Espagnole, Before Sunrise, Up in the Air, and The Beach (did you really think I wouldn’t mention it?) are just a few examples of travel narratives done right.

But those successes aren’t enough to stop the certain feeling of dread I get whenever I learn that Hollywood has again attempted to tackle the travel theme. Perhaps certain blasphemies like Sex & the City 2 or the recent rendition of Gulliver’s Travels keep this fear alive every time I shell out $11 to go on a two-hour cinematic adventure.

That being so, when I first heard about The Way; a film directed and developed by Emilio Estevez and starring his father, Martin Sheen, I expected the worst. An adventure film produced on the magical wings of nepotism? Sounded like the perfect storm.

But Wednesday night’s New York City premiere in partnership with the Walkabout Foundation promised a dazzling list of A-listers (Former President Bill Clinton, Ivanka Trump, Dhani Jones, Wyclef Jean, & the Sheens, among others) and promised to benefit a good cause, so I packed my cynicism away for a few hours and decided to see the film.


So, is it worth the trek to the theater? Click on through to find out.

The Way is the story of a Tom (Martin Sheen), a father that loses his intrepid son, Daniel (Emilio Estevez) as Daniel sets out in the French Pyrenees on a solo journey along the historic Camino De Santiago. Devastated by the loss and desperate for a way to reconcile their distanced relationship, Sheen’s character decides to embark on the Camino himself, carrying his son’s ashes every step of the way.

In brief, the Camino De Santiago (or the Way of St. James) is a 500-mile trail that starts in France and ends near the Northwest tip of Spain. It was first trekked in the 9th Century by pilgrims hoping to visit the remains of the Apostle St. James upon their initial discovery. In the early days, it was an arduous undertaking; weather, meager provisions, and difficult terrain all took their toll on the dedicated peregrinos. But by the 14th Century, it’s estimated that 25% of all Europeans walked the Camino and today, over 200,000 hikers complete the pilgrimage every year; for many different reasons.

Through Tom’s journey and the friends he makes on the trail, a very poignant illustration of the Camino De Santiago is presented; the beauty of the environment is vivid, the community among pilgrims is familiar to anyone that’s bonded with strangers on the road, and over the course of the film, the mood of sun drenched afternoons walking, eating, and drinking through the Spanish countryside is tangible. The characters all feel genuine and there’s enough clever humor throughout to make the film a fun adventure to be a part of.

One of the best parts of the film is that the story feels real; from a traveler’s perspective, it’s relatable and stays true to its roots of telling the story of the Camino. It strays from the typical over-dramatized treatment that Hollywood loves and instead tells a very real story that will resonate with many people who have trekked the Camino & anyone that’s ever ventured on a journey to cope with a personal battle. For this reason, I think it joins some of the other great travel narratives as a movie that’s definitely worth seeing for those interested in adventure.

The Way succeeds in staying true as a travel story partially because of how it was produced; Estevez insisted that the crew was never larger than 50 people (including actors), a large part of the film was shot on the go using a versatile Super 16mm setup, and the actors actually hiked a good portion of the Camino throughout the course of production.

In all, I give The Way 4 out of 5 St. James’s Shells. It opens for a limited release in theaters today and a wide release on October 21st. So long as you don’t have to make a pilgrimage of your own to go see it, give The Way a second look this weekend.

National Geographic builds Pixar’s Up floating house

Pixar's Up floating house
Did the floating house from Pixar‘s animated film Up inspire you to fly to South America? This weekend, somewhere east of Los Angeles, a house tied to 300 helium-filled balloons flew 10 stories in the air. Each of the 8′ weather balloons contained an entire container of helium. Inspired by Up, a crew from National Geographic Channel‘s new show How Hard Can it Be? filmed the house reaching an altitude of 10,000 feet. The 16′ x 16′ house remained airborne for an hour, presumably not weighed down by an old man, a Wilderness Explorer, or a talking dog.

[Photo courtesy National Geographic Channel via My Modern Met ]

Thanks to Legal Nomads‘ Jodi Ettenberg for the link.