The Busselton Drive-In

I'm usually good about not losing data in crashes, but I did just lose this entire post when I tried to upload some photos. So let's start again.

Funnily enough, I'd been writing about another time I lost data. (Not, maddeningly, to a crash, but to my failure to remember to back up one directory before reformatting my hard drive.) I had just posted a Google Earth file full of narratives about all the libraries in my life, and so to follow-up I'd created a similar file of stories about all of the cinemas in my life. (Five years later and I still haven't had the heart to re-make it.)

One place I wrote about was the drive-in of my youth and - upon reflection - possibly the only drive-in I ever visited in my life until last night: the Van Dyke Drive-In

I spent literally years trying to remember the name of the place I hadn't been to since I was a kid in the 1970s. I kept telling people (and I'm sure the internet has archives somewhere - oh, here we go) that it was the one that had the "Butterfly Lounge," and eventually the internet spoke and the name and the memories came back.

On several sites, people speak of the "Butterfly Sports Complex" outside the Van Dyke Drive-in. I don't remember that. I remember there were some go-karts or mini-golf out front, or something, but I can't even remember if they were there in my heyday or if they were something I remember noticing as we drove past the drive-in, perhaps on our way to the movies at Lakeside Mall. 

But I do remember the drive-in's enormous roadside sign with the butterfly underneath advertising the "Butterfly Lounge." It beckoned with the era's come-hither of pantsuits and glitter, although for all I know, it was more of a Ron Burgundy/jazz flute scene. (I'll leave the comments open in case someone who actually visited the lounge ever stumbles upon this site.)

I knew that someday, which back in the 1970s meant when I turned 18, I would be old enough to sit in the lounge before the show... and possibly crane my neck to silently watch one of the other screens from time to time. I want to say I recall a time before the Van Dyke having three screens, but maybe I'm wrong. (Apparently I am.) In any case, it seemed like drive-ins were a growing given at the time, but of course we now know the peak had already past and the end was near. (The Van Dyke closed in 1986, the year after I moved away from Michigan. By that time, I reckon I hadn't visited in about five years. I don't know if it was just a change in taste or me growing older or that we'd moved ~35 minutes away.)

On Sunday, Mike suddenly proposed that we go to the drive-in, the Busselton Drive-In, and one of the last drive-ins in Australia. (Western Australia is comparatively rich in surviving drive-ins and, according to Wikipedia, may have even had drive-ins before the United States.)

Honestly, I was excited, but I did not have high hopes. The website spoke with pride of the snack bar's refurbishment... in 1994.

When I was a kid, I'd lie on top of the station wagon with pillows to enjoy the show. Or sometimes Dad would reverse the car in and open the back so friends and I could lie down and watch. (Not sure where Mom and Dad were. The Butterfly Lounge?! Nah, they probably brought lawn chairs like so many others.) Did I really want to sit in a little box and listen to tinny audio while watching two movies through the semi-permanent grime across the windshield? (Having finally mailed in my 80-page visa application yesterday, I suppose I should say "windscreen.") I mostly went in the spirit of nostalgia and fun, and not with any hope of enjoying a movie.

Busselton Drive-In

And so I'm absolutely pleased to report that we had a great time and will definitely be going back.

Busselton Drive-In - Original Speakers

The sound was great (through the radio, but the original speakers are an option, and they sell original non-working speakers at the ticket office), the picture was bright and clear, and the snack bar was adorable. (However, I don't share Australia's love for squid or dim sim, so I was glad for the splurgy can of Pringles I'd bought at Coles earlier. Yes, splurgy. Pringles are kind of the designer potato chip here and at $4/can cost more than all the others.)

Busselton Drive-In Snack Bar

Our double feature was the James Franco Oz movie (eh) and Iron Man 3 (hmm), but just like the old days, I found myself twisting my neck to catch a silent screening of another show. This time it wasn't a movie, but instead God's own glitter tray spilled across the sky, with threads of the Milky Way throughout.

So it was all kind of magical, yeah.

The gate opens at 6:30 and the first movie starts promptly at 7, so I didn't get a chance to photograph the playground at the base of the theatre before it was dark. I remember when the Van Dyke closed (and maybe even removed?) their playground. Little naive me thought that a sad future was ahead - one where all the drive-ins might be playgroundless.

Mike was as charmed as I was, and on the drive home we of course got to talking about what killed the drive-in and how shortsighted it had been to destroy almost all of them. If enough drive-ins had survived, surely they'd be seeing a renaissance! People of today would love them!

But then I thought about how we never went to the drive-in that remains in Las Vegas, what with it being on the bad side of town. (Yeah, talk about Aliante all you want, but North Las Vegas is North Las Vegas.) I don't think we live in a world where drive-in theatres can be mainstream. In the US, you'd have to go in a SUV just to be able to see over all the other SUVs, and even then there'd still be some jerks sitting in lawn chairs on top of the SUV. Meanwhile, you'd be locked inside your car to avoid whatever groups were roaming between the cars. And the light from all the iPads lit up inside the car because the kids were bored... eh.

I'm a pessimist, but if drive-ins are ever to rise again, it will surely begin in the smaller communities that once loved them so (Busselton: pop. 22,000.), particularly the ones where you can still see the stars.

Busselton Drive-In - Credits Roll

We'll be back.

09 July 2013 |

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