Editor’s Note: Since this story posted, the Harvest Moon Drive-In was able to acquire the necessary funding to upgrade their sound and projection system. They are open for business as usual, and we couldn’t be happier!
by Kate Sly
For 10 months out of the year, our family has a pretty strict routine—one we follow sometimes to a fault. But for two months every summer, we throw caution to the wind, bending, and sometimes, disregarding those routines altogether. Within reason and our budget, we can do what we want when we want to. It was one of our summer whims that resulted in us taking a trip to Gibson City to see Brave at the Harvest Moon Drive-In.
My husband, Matt, and I have two daughters; one is 5 and three-quarters (as she always specifies) and the other is 2 years old. The day that we went to Harvest Moon, we had our 5-year-old take an afternoon rest and pushed our 2 year-old’s nap to a later time in the afternoon. We ate dinner, had the girls put on their pajamas, and piled into the car at about 7:30 p.m. The estimated start time that night was 9:00 p.m., and the theatre opens at 7:45 p.m. on weeknights. With a 30- to 40-minute drive, we wanted to get there in plenty of time to get a good spot and look around, but not too far ahead of start time.
When we arrived at the drive-in, I drove up to the attendant’s booth to pay. The cost of the movie was $6 per person, and children under 4 are free. The attendant handed us our tickets and a small bag to collect any trash we produced while there, and as Harvest Moon Drive-In features two screens, he also directed us to the screen for Brave. As I pulled around to the screen, I easily found a great spot. We were right in front of the screen but far enough back that all of us could see the entire screen from our hatchback. With plenty of time before the movie started, we got out to walk around the grounds, get snacks, and take in the action.
Before this visit, I had only been to a drive-in twice—both of which were before I became a parent. As we walked around, it was clear to me that I was a drive-in novice. Some families had brought frisbees and other outdoor toys to play with in the green space between where the cars park and the screen stands. Some families sat eating dinner at the picnic tables in that same area. I was a bit functionally fixed in thinking that going to a drive-in meant sitting in the car while watching the movie. Other more seasoned moviegoers had backed their minivans or trucks into their spaces and had set up chairs and blankets under a popped hatch or in a truckbed from which to watch the show.
During the time before the show, we made our way into the snack bar. The drive-in doesn’t make much money from ticket sales, so concession sales are what earns them their revenue and keeps them in business. They offered a wide selection of snacks at reasonable prices. We grabbed drinks, some popcorn, and a bag of candy. It was tough to turn down the freshly spun cotton candy, but I did. While we were in the snack bar, we got a peek in the projection room and saw the enormous projection set-up and film reels—a behind-the-scenes view we aren’t generally privy to in a standard theater.
We headed back to the car to settle in and tuned the car radio to the frequency for our screen. Pre-movie music played in the background. We rolled down the windows and enjoyed the beautiful weather. Once the film got rolling, they played a cute animated short, which was a great way to pull our attention to the screen as the light level outside reached optimal darkness. Then, they started the feature film. The girls really enjoyed the movie, and when the older one got a bit scared of the evil bear or the younger one got restless, the drive-in experience allowed us to handle those things without worrying about disturbing other moviegoers. Halfway through the movie, they stopped the film for a 15-minute intermission. During this time, they turned on the lights so that people could make their way to the restrooms and another trip to the snack bar. With two screens, they did a great job of spacing the intermission times so that the lines at both places weren’t too long.
At the end of the film, the cars started rolling out of the lot. As novices, we had already thrown our small trash bag into a bin outside of the snack bar, so we didn’t get to try to hit the target above the flat bed trailer set up near the exit to collect the bags. The girls made it through the movie without dozing off, but they were asleep by the time we turned back on to Route 47.
Our experience at Harvest Moon Drive-In was a great and memorable one. The girls have been asking to go back, and we will probably head up there to see Ice Age 4 before these two glorious months are over. When we do, we will be a bit more prepared. Matt and I will take chairs for ourselves and back in so that the girls can curl up on blankets in the back of the hatchback. We will take a couple of toys to play with in the grass before the sun goes down, and I will definitely go hungry enough to be able to enjoy that freshly spun cotton candy.
Author’s Note: Due to new movie industry standards, the Harvest Moon Drive-In is at risk of closing after this year. Starting in 2013, all movie theaters must be able to show digital film and meet digital theater compliance standards. In order to make this transition, Harvest Moon must raise between $150,000 and $180,000. To help, you can support the drive-in by going to a movie, buying concessions, buying drive-in merchandise, making a donation, and more. Visit their website at www.harvestmoondrivein.com for more information about the drive-in itself and for more information about saving the drive-in.
Kate Sly is a counselor at Champaign Central High School. She and her husband, Matt, have two daughters, Darwyn and Ramona. Kate enjoys running, irregularly practices yoga, and has a passion for good vegetarian food.