The first leg of the Stars and Screens project will cover Virginia up to Maine, down through Vermont and New Hampshire, swing maybe as far out as Ohio and then come to an end in West Virginia before I boogie back home to Florida sometime before fall sets in. Over winter, when most northern drive-ins close their gates, I will slowly plod around the South visiting theaters that remain open further into the year. Once the weather begins to creep towards spring, I’ll head west for the long-haul leg.
The reason for this schedule is twofold. First, the plan allows me to move with the flow of open drive-ins. Second, I want to practice and perfect my set up before going west where the drives become longer, the country more deserted, and I know fewer people. If the camper or I fall part on the East Coast, I’ll never be too far from someone who can scoop up me and my shame. Going west, I’d pretty much have to make it back to my grad school home in Oregon to find a rescuer.
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. In states like New York, with more than twenty theaters, I’m not going to make it to all of them. I’ll seek out the best stories or unique features, and I’ll especially try to go if I’m invited, but sometimes I might pick a theater because its near my Aunt Nan’s house and Aunt Nan will let me park in her yard for free, feed me, and be a familiar face on an adventure full of new ones.
After all that explanation, here are eight drive-ins I’m committed to visiting on Leg One:
1. The Transit Drive-in (Lockport, NY)
The Transit has been enthusiastically following Stars and Screens almost from its internet inception. Owner Rick Cohen has invited the whole team (me, the pup, and even the camper) to stay at the theater! This hospitality and support would be enough to make the list, but the Transit also has a long family history stretching back to the silent era.
I can’t wait to camp at a drive-in, it is going to be a perfect mixture of the project.
2. The Mahoning Drive-in (Lehighton, Pennsylvania)
The Mahoning found Stars and Screens on Instagram and invited the project to hear their story. The theater is one of the few places you can still watch a movie on 35mm film. While most drive-in operations have been forced into digital projecting by movie distributors, the Mahoning has stood its ground. Their efforts to maintain the drive-in were recently the subject of a documentary titled At the Drive-In (available for purchase and streaming April 9th), so I’m pleased to help spread the word.
3. Skylite Drive-in (Madawaska, ME)
North of Montreal, the Skylite is the northern-most drive-in in the United States. The theater will be a great home base for exploring a part of the country I’ve been keen to visit since reading Porter Fox’s book Northland: A 4,000-Mile Journey Along America's Forgotten Border earlier this year. The long drive up Route 1 should be an adventure and will provide great camping opportunities. With any luck, a moose will stroll across the drive-in (ok, I’d be happy with a moose in the distance).
4. Fairlee Drive-in (Fairlee, VT)
One of the fascinating things about drive-ins is that no two are exactly alike, but the Fairlee is truly unique. Theater-goers can either pull their car into the parking lot or they can book a night at the Fairlee Motel. Each of the twelve rooms in the motel contains a rear-facing window looking out on the drive-in screen and a speaker to tune in. I plan on taking a break from camper life for this one!
5. Northfield Drive-in (Northfield, MA/NH)
The Northfield Drive-in straddles the state line between New Hampshire and Massachusetts, and I am enough of a geography nerd to be amused by that fact. But the thing that really draws me to the theater is its appearance in the 1998 movie The Cider House Rules. For a girl from Florida who lacks a fundamental understanding of things like seasons and layering, that movie helped form my idea of New England—orange leaves, apple picking, and a well-written narration by Tobey Maguire.
6. Delsea Drive-in (Vineland, NJ)
In 1933, Pennsauken, New Jersey saw the opening of the first drive-in movie theater. Today, the Delsea is the last drive-in left in the state. I’m looking forward to making a pilgrimage to the birthplace of drive-ins and to Delsea’s concession stand. Along with the traditional popcorn and candy, the Delsea serves healthier options like Stir-Fry Asparagus, Chicken Cucumber Salad, and hummus. After a few weeks on the road and a lot of “movie food,” I imagine asparagus will sound pretty good.
7. Wellfleet Drive-in (South Wellfleet, MA)
A Dairy Bar, mini-golf course, and old-school drive-in window speakers—the Wellfleet maintains as much of its original 1950’s charm as possible. It’s also the last drive-in on Cape Cod. Along with sampling the dairy-based beverages, I plan on sunning at the beach and eating lobster rolls while at the Wellfleet. I do worry about finding a camping spot on Cape Cod at the height of the summer season, but for now, I think I will take my chances.
8. Shankweiler’s Drive-in (Orefield, PA)
Wilson Shankweiler opened Shankweiler’s Drive-in on April 15th, 1934. It was only the second drive-in in history and it’s still open! No need for more explanation, this is a legend in the drive-in world.
These 8 drive-ins are not the only theaters I’ll cover on Leg One. If you know of a great drive-in, or better yet, if you have a connection to a great drive-in, please let me know!