Stars and Screens is Back!

Stars and Screens is Back!

After a six-week hiatus from the project and social media, I’m logged back in and ready to begin the second leg of Stars and Screens. Before I hit the road once more—and tackle some serious writing sessions—this feels like the right moment to recap the summer leg of S&S, explain my pause in the project, and make plans for the upcoming fall trip.

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The Northfield Drive-in: Crossing Lines

The Northfield Drive-in: Crossing Lines

An invisible line runs through the Northfield Drive-in, a boundary where one set of rules ceases to be relevant and another takes its place. The division was intentional. The theater’s ticket booth and concession stand do business in New Hampshire, a state with no income tax, while most of the parking lot lies in Massachusetts territory. This state straddling is smart business and adds to the theater’s quirky charm, but today, the drive-in is facing a new line, a generational one.

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5,000 Miles and Counting: An Update on Honeybear the Camper

5,000 Miles and Counting: An Update on Honeybear the Camper

When I hitch-up Honeybear in the morning, especially when I hook the safety chains into place and wind the jack foot back into driving position, I sometimes imagine she’s a Conestoga and we’re headed for the frontier—then I hope I find a McDonalds with a spacious drive-through I can steer her around so I can get an egg McMuffin.

After a few ticks of the odometer over 5,000 miles, I can hitch and unhitch without second-guessing myself too much and I don’t have to remind myself to mentally add thirteen feet to the back end of my truck when changing lanes. I’ve become a better camper and the camper has taken care of me, but the miles have taken a toll on Honeybear. In order of appearance, here are the biggest camper issues I’m managing right now.

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Becky's: My Search for a Woman-Owned Drive-in

Becky's: My Search for a Woman-Owned Drive-in

In my quest to document stories of America’s surviving drive-in movie theaters, I quickly realized that the niche industry is dominated by men. And by “dominated,” I mean except for a few husband and wife teams, I could not find a single drive-in theater controlled by a woman. Women are not absent from drive-ins; I’ve met women who’ve worked the ticket booth of their theater for decades and women who bear the responsibility of knowing the secret recipe to the perfect French fries. But a woman alone at the top of the drive-in food chain remained difficult to find. The longer I searched for a woman-owned drive-in and couldn’t find one, the more important finding one became. I wanted to know how a woman in charge changed the dynamic of a theater, or if it did at all, if they talked to me differently. From the name, Becky’s Drive-in Theater in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley sounded like my chance to find out.

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The Bengie’s and D: An Echo

The Bengie’s and D: An Echo

D Vogel—just the letter D, no e’s or ea’s—positions himself ten feet in front of The Bengie’s Drive-in concession stand at exactly the building’s mid-point. He gazes across an open field of empty parking spaces at the largest drive-in screen left standing, a behemoth constructed before shopping centers encroached on its territory and low flying helicopters raided its sound space. No equation could calculate the number of times this man and this screen have faced each other like this or the number of times they’ve performed this trick.

D balances his coffee on the “No Smoking” sign and claps.

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Florida to Massachusetts: 10 Lessons from Three Weeks on the Road

Florida to Massachusetts: 10 Lessons from Three Weeks on the Road

Three weeks ago, I hitched up my camper, headed north, and thought “What the hell am I doing?”  Waving goodbye to my family, I suddenly seriously questioned my whole plan. “I’ve only ever driven this thing an hour and a half down the road. I’ve never even pulled it through a gas station.” The most reasonable plan was to circle the block and pull back into the driveway, but the only thing scarier than going through with this journey was giving up on it, so I gripped the wheel a little tighter and left home behind.

Since then, I’ve learned so much about the realities of full-time RVing that my memory of my first day feels like the distant past—way back when I knew next to nothing about this lifestyle, a whole twenty-one days ago.

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"It’s a Family Thing:" The Family Drive-in Theatre

"It’s a Family Thing:" The Family Drive-in Theatre

This initial rush into the lot is the most hectic moment at a drive-in theater. Experienced viewers dart to their favorite spots in the middle of the middle rows or to the easy-to-exit last rows, while newbies lose their way between the signs for Screen One and Screen Two and park yards away from the speaker—all while a growing number of children flee their parents cars for the playground or the concession stand. At the Family Drive-in in Stephens City, Virginia, this disorganized herd is managed by a team of teenaged car wranglers.

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At the Drive-in: A Must-See Drive-in Documentary

At the Drive-in: A Must-See Drive-in Documentary

When Hollywood distributors announced that they’d be converting entirely from film to digital movies, they essentially issued an ultimatum to America’s remaining drive-in movie theaters—convert your projection booths for the hefty fee of 50,000 dollars or die. For many locally owned theaters, this demand came as a final blow to an already struggling business model; they played their last shows and sold their lots to real-estate developers. Those that did make the switch did so by crowdfunding, forming community non-profit groups, grants, and dogged determination. The Mahoning Drive-in Theater, near Allentown, Pennsylvania, decided to stay alive and stay on film.

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The End of the Beginning: Where the Project Began and What’s Left To Do

The End of the Beginning: Where the Project Began and What’s Left To Do

After five months of preparation, the Stars and Screens project is just a few weeks away from its launch date. The first leg has been set in my sights for so long, it’s hard to believe that one day soon I’m actually going to hitch-up the camper and start driving north. When I slow down and think about it, I feel all the usual emotions of beginning a great adventure—excited, nervous, want to pump my fist in the air Breakfast Club-style-happy, but I also try to remind myself of the origins of the project and how much is left to do in this final stretch. So, I’m taking stock of the last five months and what’s ahead.

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Building Community, 250 Cars At A Time: Dave Meyers’ Drive-In Dream

Building Community, 250 Cars At A Time: Dave Meyers’ Drive-In Dream

Arizona’s boundless black dessert sky makes for an ideal drive-in movie setting—a business dependent on open spaces and dark nights. In the past, when Americans were moving west in station wagons, the state was home to more than fifty theaters with names like “The Cactus” and “The Golden Valley Drive-in.” Today, only the West Wind Glendale 9 remains in operation, but Dave Meyers has a plan to begin reviving the drive-in tradition in Arizona.

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Less Waste in Less Space: My Commitment to Create Less Waste in My Camperlife

Less Waste in Less Space: My Commitment to Create Less Waste in My Camperlife

April Twenty-Second marks the 49th annual celebration of Earth Day, so it’s a good time to address an obvious contradiction in my decision to move into a camper. I’m giving up the comforts of a stationary house because I want to wake up in a camp spot shaded by fir trees still fresh with morning dew and see a lake, or a mountain, or a family of deer from my window and then move to another beautiful camp spot with a different beautiful natural view. I value my time in nature more than I value square footage—aren’t I such a progressive Earth lover. But my adventure is dependent on a gas guzzling, 6,000 pound, V6 engine truck. The further I roam, the more crap I’m spitting into the atmosphere and the more fossil fuels I’m sucking from the earth. In an attempt to offset the damage I will be doing to our planet, I’m committing myself to think more deeply about the waste I’m producing.

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Honeybear and Me: It’s Complicated

Honeybear and Me: It’s Complicated

My relationship status with Honeybear the camper has moved from “head over heels in love, through thick and thin, “Here’s looking at you, Kid’” to “it’s complicated.”

For the last month and a half, I’ve spent almost all my free hours working on Honeybear. I’ve worked by lantern light after my day job, I’ve put in 10 hours days during my time off, I’ve listened to entire podcast seasons fixing problems, and I’ve been to the hardware store more times than I can count…

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8 of My Must-See Drive-ins on Leg One (And Why I Picked Them):

8 of My Must-See Drive-ins on Leg One (And Why I Picked Them):

The Project Rules:

I dreamed up this project one night in the midst of a depressed sleeplessness, so the only rules are the ones I set for myself. This what I’ve settled on.

Rule 1: If a state has a drive-in, I’ll go. So, Wyoming—one drive-in—I’m going. That’s it, the only rule.

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How I Turned a Camper Disaster into a Positive: Part Two

How I Turned a Camper Disaster into a Positive: Part Two

In my last post, “How I Turned a Camper Disaster into a Positive,” I described repairs made to Honeybear after discovering a water leak. At the end of those repairs, the camper was structurally sound, but not livable. Plywood stood for a floor, raw walls displayed my inability to cut a straight line, and the bed was a sketch on the back of an IKEA receipt. Today, the camper needs a few minor adjustments, but it looks a whole lot better than it did a week ago.

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How I Turned a Camper Disaster into a Positive

How I Turned a Camper Disaster into a Positive

I refused to believe them. I was not going to completely rebuild the damn camper; it survived for thirty-five years, now I just needed it to last one more. That weekend, I decided to replace the section of the wall, re-caulk around the window, and call it a day. I’d finish the whole project in time to see Captain Marvel at the drive-in.

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Under the Stars in Bangalore: One of India's Only Drive-in Theaters

Under the Stars in Bangalore: One of India's Only Drive-in Theaters

After attending an open-air movie screening, Abhijit Shah came up with a crazy idea—open a drive-in movie theater in his hometown, Bangalore, India. He shared his idea with a few friends and soon, “Under the Stars Cinema” (UTS) was born.

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Thinking Outside the Screen: John Watzke and the Ocala Drive-in

Thinking Outside the Screen: John Watzke and the Ocala Drive-in

Daylight was already sinking down the main screen when I arrived at the Ocala Drive-in. Owner John Watzke had agreed to meet for an interview but was running late, leaving me time to explore. Walking around a drive-in during the day feels like being backstage at a theater; you have to be “in” to get invited.

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The Silver Moon Drive-In: A Side Hustle

The Silver Moon Drive-In: A Side Hustle

Like many twenty-six-year-olds, Chip Sawyer, a financial advisor for Publix Supermarkets with a master’s degree in Business Administration, has a side hustle—he owns two of Florida’s seven remaining drive-in movie theatres. The soft-spoken, curly-haired Sawyer inherited the Silver Moon and Joy-Lan Drive-ins after his grandfather’s death in 2017.  I met him in his office behind the Silver Moon’s original, 1948 screen.

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Why Travel in a Tiny, Antique Camper?

Why Travel in a Tiny, Antique Camper?

Stars and Screens is about drive-ins and the journey in-between; it’s a classic American road trip story. I’m expecting the trip to take more than a year, to cross just about every state in the Lower 48 (sorry Delaware—you’re out of the way and you have no drive-ins), and to be in near constant motion. So, you wouldn’t be crazy to wonder why I’m undertaking this adventure with only a tiny, thirty-five-year-old camper for shelter?

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