Thursday, September 2, 2021

Our Drive-In Adventure (Part 5)

Joe Bob says, “Check It Out” 

Joe Bob did suggest checking out Part 2 of this story on Twitter. You can catch up with the story in Part 1, Part 3, and Part 4.

When we met Joe Bob on Thursday night, I’d told him that one of our priorities on this trip was to go to church Sunday morning. On our 2016 trip to visit a church (and bar… and movie theater) in every state, we went to a truck stop chapel for our worship service. But that Sunday, the only people in attendance were the chaplain, Mindy, and me. 

Joe Bob pointed out that when missionaries started work in a village they publicized the time and place of meetings. If no one came, they would go ahead with the service nonetheless. We appreciated his point, but we were still set on going to church in Lehighton.

So after a restful night (and showers), we enjoyed our hotel breakfast (my bowl of Raisin Bran had the biggest flakes I've ever seen), packed up, and headed back to drive-in territory.

The Lehighton town square is surrounded by a number of lovely and imposing church structures. We opted against the Episcopal Church that announced a 1 am service on their sign. There was a Presbyterian Church, but (as we told Joe Bob) that's where we worship almost every week these days. We also considered  Bethany E.C. Church, Zion Church of Christ, and The Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Church.

We decided on Ebenezer United Methodist Church because the 9:30 service time worked for us, and we appreciate the boldness of any church that continues to use “Ebenezer” in its title (though the word, of course, means “a commemoration of divine assistance,” most folks only know it as Scrooge's Christian name). 

Only a score of people were in attendance, but they certainly outnumbered 2016's truckstop service. The organist was out of town, so musical accompaniment for hymn singing was provided by Youtube (with the pastor’s wife manning the laptop). Pastor Dale gave an encouraging sermon, and the people were welcoming. We had a good time talking with people at the snack/fellowship time following the service, too.

There was still an hour or so before we could get back into The Mahoning, so we went to the local Aldi supermarket (not something found where we live, and Mindy insisted). To my great delight, they had large, cheap tubes of braunschweiger. I can find liverwurst, but never braunschweiger in Seattle. Bless these Germanic peoples! The store also had boxes of discount donuts, so we bought a large supply to share with fellow campers the next morning.

We drove back to the drive-in and set up our tent in a different spot -- one on a little higher ground -- but left our sleeping bags and pillows in the Rogue. We were careful to be on site as early as possible because we'd seen this information on the Jamboree website among the privileges for those with VIM (Very Important Mutant) tickets: "Exclusive on-set photo op by a professional photographer with Joe Bob and Darcy under the Mahoning’s famously massive screen. The 8x10 will be printed immediately afterward. Digital copies will be available for an additional fee. (Please note: V.I.M. ticket-holders must be on the lot by 1 p.m. to take advantage of the photo op.)"

That's not exactly how it worked out. We asked staff (Mahoning staff and Shudder staff) about where we were to line up for the photo op. There was a wonderful set built complete with giant ants (in honor of the giant insect classic playing that night, Them!) We were among the first in line, but we weren't sure it was the right line. Some people said it was the autograph line. There was much confusion.

Unfortunately, there was even some question of whether Darcy would be able to join Joe Bob for the day’s events. Word was circulating that she was under the weather and might not be coming back that day. Darcy was, in fact, not well, but she came out, donning a mask (a mask with a sinister smile).

The photographer set up while we waited in one of the two lines that eventually formed outside the snack bar.  They first took pictures of the Mahoning staff behind Joe Bob and Darcy, who were seated in folding lawn chairs. We saw that no 8x10 photos were being printed up “immediately afterward.” We soon took our place for photos but no one asked for our names or did anything else that indicated our photo would be easily separated from others.

Eventually, all the photos taken were posted online, therefore our digital photo was “free,” but this was not at all as advertised. I certainly understand the difficulties of pulling off something like this, having been involved in countless youth events through the years. This was the first time for the Mahoning and Shudder to work together on an event of this scale and there were bound to be bugs (not just giant ants) along the way. And it was a little sad to hear the drive-in staff blaming Joe Bob’s crew and vice versa. All things considered, though, they all did amazing work. And really, we prefer digital copies to printed ones. 

While we waited in line, we watched the crowd for cosplayers. Beetlejuice and Lydia were there all weekend as was an Incredible Two-Headed Transplant Patient (who hawked Mutant Mama “cannibal” goods), but there were more around on Sunday, including Carrie and Tommy (from 1976’s Carrie).  I wore a raptor mask as the VelociChaplain, an homage to 2018’s The VelociPastor. We were disappointed that we missed the call for cosplayers to gather in the early evening.

The Last Drive-in
producer John Brennan also leads a band, The Bigfeet. I missed out on joining other cosplayers when he called them to the stage, but it was still great fun to hear the band play the show's theme song, "Joe Bob is Back in Town" and to hear the audience shout the Drive-In Oath: “Blood, Breasts, and Beasts!”

I was delighted to find that Linnea Quigley had remained and was signing autographs in the snack bar. She was quite gracious with all who came along. I didn’t get an autograph, but it was still fun to be able to greet Spider of Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama.

It was apparent we wouldn’t have another opportunity to talk with Joe Bob and Darcy. The demand was overwhelming and had run the two of them ragged, but we had brought a couple of items we wanted to pass along to them. Fortunately, a staff member for Joe Bob was taking in quite the haul of items for them. (FWIW, our son wanted to pass along a copy of Chainsaw Man to the world's foremost scholar of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and I wanted Darcy, the hostess of the Mutant Family to have a copy of my book, Attack of the Mutant Fruit).

The evening’s event was a wonderful thing. It was promoted as the family-friendly event of the weekend, featuring two 1950’s classics: House of Wax and, as previously mentioned, Them! When darkness fell, Joe Bob’s Drive-In of Dread began.

Joe Bob and Darcy appeared on the Mahoning big screen, supposedly live from the projection booth (though I could have sworn I simultaneously saw a much more weary version of the duo still signing autographs in the snack bar).

As Joe Bob was introducing the first feature, Darcy was trying to warn him (and the audience) about reports of strange creatures coming toward the drive-in. She seemed very concerned, but Joe Bob went on with his drive-in totals (the numbers of dead bodies, fights, and assorted carnage to anticipate in the film).

In the promotional material, all were warned that mutants would be roaming the drive-in and that if we wanted to avoid being startled during the show we should let them know ahead of time. But why would anyone want to spoil the fun?

As he does on The Last Drive-In, Joe Bob interrupted the film to provide trivia and rants on a variety of pet peeves, but Darcy continued to warn about the coming peril even as the projection room underwent mutant attack.

As we sat in lawn chairs by the Rogue, mutants snuck up from behind us for cheap but satisfying scares. Mindy screamed all three times she was surprised, but each scream was followed by laughter (on her part. And mine).

It was a wonderful night, a very fun way to close out the event. By the time the second feature ended, Joe Bob and Darcy had turned in for the night for a well-earned rest. For the first time of the weekend, Mindy and I slept well in the tent. In the morning we shared our donuts and then made our way to the airport (after another stop at the laundromat).

So concluded the First Annual Joe Bob Jamboree, and a good time was had by all. The Mutants had a chance to meet in person rather than online, and a community was made stronger. Will there be a second Jamboree? I have no idea, all I know is what Joe Bob says is true, “The Drive-In Will Never Die!”

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Our Drive-In Adventure (Part 4)

If you want to catch up on the saga, go to Parts
One, Two, and Three)

No Ticket

One disappointment about the trip came when Mindy couldn’t get tickets for Saturday. The day's events, including a live episode of The Last Drive-In, were the biggest draw of the Jamboree, and tickets sold fast. All kinds of activities were planned for the afternoon and evening, including photo ops and other activities around the drive-in property. We heard they expected the biggest crowd they'd ever had. 

Which meant we had to clear off the lot by 11:30 am, but as I mentioned in part 3, the car wouldn’t start. A dead battery seemed like the most likely cause, but the Rogue dashboard was giving messages like “Key not in ignition” for a keyless start vehicle and “malfunction.” Even though many of the staff and volunteers (and other Mutants) kindly offered a jumpstart, we were uncomfortable thinking of liability issues with a rental.

So we called the rental car company, and they called an AAA truck. We told Mahoning staff that a truck was coming (and they let us know which entrance the truck should use, but on the phone, the driver assured me he'd jumpstarted and towed cars at the Mahoning many times.  

I used Mindy’s phone to make all these calls. My phone kept informing me it had moisture within -- and it was no longer charging. When I'd gotten soaking wet the day before, the phone hadn't had a happy time either. I had to nurse its limited battery life for the remainder of the trip.

The AAA tow truck came and a jumpstart did the trick. Our tent and sleeping bags were packed, so we drove to the nearby campground where Mindy had made reservations months before. While I stayed in the car to keep charging the battery (and incidentally enjoying the air conditioning), Mindy searched for the park hosts. We learned that the tent site was on a hilltop and wouldn’t protect us much from predicted strong winds (or the rain that was also expected).

We decided to forfeit our campsite deposit fee and find a hotel -- hot showers and clean sheets sounded a lot more pleasant than wet sleeping bags or another night in the Rogue.

Finding a hotel took some time. From what we could learn with phone calls and internet searches, there weren't many rooms available nearby. Eventually, we found a Sleep Inn 45-minutes away that had one room remaining. 

As we drove the back roads from Lehighton to Allentown, we noticed a sign for the Appalachian Trail. We pulled off the road and found the trailhead a few steps away. We were happy to see full water containers under the signboard and walked a few feet along the trail. While we were taking a selfie, a hiker came up, so we chatted for a minute before moving on. It was very hot, and he still had a long way to go before nightfall. 

Our hotel room was all we expected (clean, dry, and containing a bed and an indoor toilet). We walked across the parking lot and enjoyed dinner at Aroogas (we recommend the Amish Pierogies). As it turned out, that night's storm wasn't much, but we appreciated the bed and the showers anyway. 

The next afternoon we heard that on Saturday night, Joe Bob and Darcy had hosted Linnea Quigley and featured Quigley’s beloved zombie parody, Return of the Living Dead. We saw our new friend, George, who told us that several things were said that would definitely need to be edited out if the event is aired on Shudder. Once again, Joe Bob and Darcy had made themselves available after the show until the sun was about to rise.

It all sounded delightful, but as far as we were concerned, the delights of spending the night at Sleep Inn were a more than sufficient trade-off.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Our Drive-In Adventure (Part 3)

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

You might be wondering, "How did they get here?" Check out parts 1 and 2 for a little background.

On Friday morning, we woke up in slightly damp sleeping bags. We'd tried to put our tent on one of the higher spots available, but we hadn't noticed the rivulets -- maybe they were springs? running under the tent. And it was quite hot and humid. It was totally possibly the dampness had something to do with the sweaty people sleeping in the tent. We had to leave the drive-in for the day while they set up for the main events of the Jamboree, so we decided to visit the local laundromat to deal with a few days worth of dirty clothes We thought maybe the sleeping bags would dry out in the hot tent, so we zipped it up and headed to town.

The first stop was Walmart. Mindy wanted coffee (campfires, quite reasonably, weren't allowed at the drive-in), and the in-store Subway had it. Fruit and bread were all we needed for breakfast, and we also bought a couple of camping chairs, figuring they'd be a big improvement over the picnic blanket we'd spread in a puddle to watch the show the night before. 

The laundromat was a delight. We're big fans of clean and dry, and they even had a bathroom for convenient tooth-brushing and clothes-changing. 

Refreshed, we drove down the street for lunch at the Boulevard Drive-In Diner, a pleasant place that was obviously locally popular. There were plenty of out-of-towners who'd come for the Jamboree -- they were wearing t-shirts featuring Jason from the Friday the 13th films or Freddie from the Nightmare on Elm Street films or Joe Bob and Darcy. I wasn’t wearing such a shirt, so it was up to me to let them know we were in the same camp, leading to pleasant greetings and short conversations.

The local library was nearby, so we went there to enjoy their free Wi-Fi (How we loved libraries and their free Wi-Fi on our year-long visit to all the states in 2016. Possibly even more than we loved Walmart's $1 loaves of French bread). We wrote about our visit to the George Romero Dead sites in Pittsburgh and posted it to our Movie Churches blog, then headed back to the drive-in. The tent -- and our sleeping bags -- seemed to be dry, but we left our clean clothes and brand-new pillows in the car just in case. 

We'd noticed the event tents set up on one side of the grounds the night before, and now there were canopies and a couple of food trucks as well. The vendors were primarily selling horror-related products: posters, jewelry, toys, new DVDs, and old VHS tapes.

The event tents were set up for lectures and screenings. Makers of films such as Castle Freak (the 2020 remake) and the sequel to Class of Nuke ‘Em High, Subhumanoid Meltdown offered tips for aspiring filmmakers to be able to work economically. There was talk about researching tax breaks in the United States and finding unfilmed places in Eastern Europe. I particularly enjoyed this piece of advice: “It doesn’t cost anything to ask. Or to ask again. Keep asking until you get a firm ‘No,’ and then say, ‘Alright. But if another project comes up in a year, I’ll be asking again.’ And sometimes when you ask again in a year, they say ‘Yes.’ But if they say ‘No’ again, it still didn’t cost you anything.”

We also watched some short films made by attendees. In the months prior to the Jamboree, independent filmmakers submitted their low-cost (and zero-cost) films for appraisal. Two feature films were chosen for the Friday night program to be followed by ten short films. Some of the films that were judged worthy, but not Friday night worthy, were shown in the tents that afternoon.

As Mindy and I were watching one of those films, Mindy noticed the wind changing, and we started to hear raindrops on the tarp overhead. She volunteered to go back and check the tent. I, as a bad husband, let her go off to do this alone (she wasn't particularly interested in the films, to be fair).

After a few moments, everyone in the tent heard more than a little precipitation on the roof. There was a sudden deluge. Water pounded on the tent making it difficult to hear the film, and I knew I had to go back to help Mindy. As I left the big tent, I saw wind begin to carry off vendors' canopies. I ran to help recover one that had blown away and tried to assist in pinning it back in the ground.

By the time I got to our tent, Mindy and I were both soaking wet. She was holding down our tent, making sure it wouldn’t blow away, and laughing. She'd done her best to fasten the rainfly and to weigh the tent down so the pegs (which we hadn't hammered in very well) wouldn't pull out.

The rain downgraded from monsoon to shower and then to a drizzle, so we decided to wade to the food truck to get our barbecue for dinner.

This is the first of a very few places where I'm going to complain about the event not living up to the advertising. VIM (Very Important Mutant) ticket holders were given tickets for barbeque dinners Thursday and Friday, and the information on our tickets sounded like we would be eating with the cast and crew of The Last Drive-In. This wasn’t the case, and I can understand why: the cast and crew needed that time for rest and prep. Considering everything, (especially with Friday’s meteorological conditions) it would have been foolish for the cast and crew to eat with the Mutant Family (as we were called), but the information we were given ahead of time was misleading. 

We carried our new camp chairs and our food to the same place where we'd laid our blanket the night before close to the Mahoning big screen.  The ground was pretty soggy; the area directly in front of the stage was ankle-deep in muddy water.  We enjoyed our dinner and waited for the evening show. We chatted with the folks around us and wondered whether the lightning would lead to more rain. Then the rain started coming down again, and we went to our rental car and sat inside, hoping the rain would stop before the evening’s show. It didn’t.

Here was the plan for the evening's entertainment: Joe Bob in his best suit and Darcy in a red evening gown would present the awards to the winning feature films and shorts from the stage next to the giant screen. But the rain kept pouring, and thunder and lightning continued to threaten. The stage wasn't a safe place to be, but at least the films could still be shown. 

For decades Joe Bob has been awarding the “Hubbies.” These awards are engraved on authentic Chevy hubcaps, and in the past, these awards went to exploitation films released to drive-ins. Winners included such films as Brain Dead or Invasion U.S.A. Arnold Schwarzenegger was one of the few actors to actually show up to collect his Hubbie (for the first Terminator film). But this night was going to be something different. These Hubbies were going to films that hadn’t gotten a distributor, films made on microscopic budgets, and these awards might give their makers a break in the business (at least a showing on Shudder down the road).

But the rain continued. After several attempts, Down Jersey, an eighteen-minute film about the Jersey Devil's visit to an East Coast diner, got started. Both funny and frightening, it was a worthy winner, but the awards ceremony had to take place in the projection booth, out of sight of the crowds. All the awards that night would be given out with much less of a red carpet touch.

And we in our car were having technical difficulties of our own. We had brought a portable radio that we couldn’t get to work. We used the car radio but it kept shutting off every ten minutes or so. I tried to find directions in the owner's manual without much success. Worst of all, while trying to work with the car I twice committed the greatest of drive-in faux-pas of turning on the headlights, which shone directly on the screen. We also had a problem with the front window fogging up (and not for the fun reasons one normally associates with the drive-in).

Mindy and I watched the Grand Prize Winner, Tennessee Gothic and a second short film, Stalked. But she fell asleep in the back seat during the second feature, Loss Prevention, and after that film ended, I was tired of fighting the window fog and the sound system, so I went to sleep as well. It was an uncomfortable night in the car for both of us. We agreed that our minivan had been a more spacious place to sleep. Throughout the night, winning shorts were playing on the screen.

The sun woke us in the morning. The skies had cleared.

I wasn't the only one who'd been anticipating "Darcy's Toon Tent" ever since I'd first read about it in the promotional material. Darcy had planned to host a good old-fashioned Saturday morning cartoon watch accompanied by the finest of sugared cereals, but because the vendors had lost their tents, (along with the dry ground under them), Darcy had donated her tent for their use. We got cereal and milk (and they were much appreciated), but the morning wasn't what we'd expected. 

We hurried with our breakfast, though, because we needed to leave. When tickets went on sale in April, we'd only been able to sign up for Friday and Sunday night. Saturday night had sold out already (Thursday night was added in June). We needed to get off the lot, wet tent and all. 

The problem was, the car wouldn't start.  

Monday, August 30, 2021

Our Drive-In Adventure (Part 2)

We All Need Saving

Part 1 of our adventure is an attempt to explain traveling from Seattle to Pennsylvania to watch a few movies (and see Mindy's dad). You might want to read it first.

By the time we got to the drive-in, we knew it would be closing. Not that night. We had no reason to think the Joe Bob Jamboree was canceled, but from what we could learn, the Mahoning Drive-in would be gone before long.

We learned about this drive-in long before we made plans to go to the Jamboree. A year or so earlier, we'd stumbled on the 2017 documentary At the Drive-In, which told the story of the Mahoning, and we were fascinated. 

When most theaters (outdoor and indoor) had made the transition to digital projection, the Mahoning was unable to raise the money for the new equipment, so a group of film fans decided to try to keep the place alive anyway. by showing 35 mm films (meaning only old films would be used, no new releases) with volunteer labor. 

Before we left Pittsburgh on Thursday morning, we started seeing #SaveTheMahoning on social media, We did a little research and learned that the property's owner (not the partners who own and manage the drive-in) had arranged to sell the property to a solar energy company for use as a solar farm. This would mean the end of the Mahoning Drive-In.

When we got to the drive-in on Thursday afternoon, cars were lined up along the road outside the entrance waiting to get in. No tickets were sold at the gate, so we all needed to show our phones or a ticket printout along with I.D.s in order to get in. Before long, we were given wristbands and followed the instructions of an organized series of volunteers to move through the maze of cars. The Mahoning is on a large field with graveled parking/driving lanes in the midst of a lot of grassy areas. There aren't any stanchions with speakers (people need to tune in to the FM signal), but The Mahoning still has the graduated bumps typical in drive-ins. We were directed to the back of the field to park with the other campers. All of us would be in tents along the back of the field.

We parked our rental car (a Nissan Rogue) in line with the others, with a volunteer making sure cars were parked tightly together. Several cars had signs reading, “Save the Mahoning!” We set up our tent behind the cars in the flattest grassy spot we could find (avoiding a few swampy spots), then wandered the property, admiring items available in the Mighty Mahoning Merch Tent, checking out a couple of photo op setups, and looking around the snack bar. 

While in the snack bar, we could peek inside the projection room. We asked the young guy in the room whether we could come in and look around. He introduced himself as Robert and invited us in. I worked in a number of theaters back in the day and so the projector and the cans holding the films were happily familiar. The walls were decorated with movie memorabilia. Back in the day, in theaters where I worked, a truck would drop off films on Thursday for Friday start dates. But since the playbill in constant flux at the Mahoning, films are always coming in and out. Robert said sometimes films are sent to his home when there won't be anyone to pick them up at the theater.

Eventually we noticed a line forming near the snack bar. As in the days of the Soviet Union, at events like this people learn to join lines, then ask what it’s for. This turned out to be an autograph line for Joe Bob Briggs, so we stayed in our spot. 

And we chatted with the people in front of us about horror movies, cons, and Joe Bob. Looking ahead in the line (we were a long way back), it seemed like almost everyone was in conversation. People talked about favorite filmgoing experiences, scary books, and saving the drive-in. We met George, who made the publicity poster for the Mahoning for the weekend. He wanted Joe Bob to sign his copy and give Joe Bob a copy to keep. His friends were vendors who would be selling their merchandise at the next day's event.

None of us were complaining about the line being (incredibly) slow. It was obvious that Joe Bob was taking time with every person who came his way, listening to their stories, answering their questions, and telling his own stories. Joe Bob didn’t even have any “people” to rush fans along. Mindy left the line for awhile to set up our blanket in front of the screen for the night's program, then came back. As we got closer, there was great excitement in the crowd as Joe Bob was joined by Darcy the Mail Girl (who had been posting her travel woes on social media over the past day or so). 

Joe Bob has always had a mail girl. Back when he hosted Monstervision on TNT, an attractive, scantily clad woman brought him letters and postcards that had arrived via the U.S. Postal service, and Joe Bob read and responded to them on air. But times change. 

On Joe Bob’s current Shudder show, Darcy brings emails and other correspondence while also posting on Twitter and other social media. Darcy also argues with Joe Bob about movies and frequently bests him in the movie trivia department. She has a community of friends and followers through social media and is, like Joe Bob, beloved by those in attendance at the Jamboree (and yes, she is usually scantily clad). 

Darcy is also a fan of cosplay, and in honor of that night's screening of what Joe Bob calls “the greatest film ever made” (Smokey and the Bandit), Darcy was dressed as Burt in the film, complete with a mustache.

As the dinner hour approached, a member of Joe Bob’s crew came out to say that Joe Bob and Darcy would be taking a break, but that people wouldn’t lose their place in line. We were given numbers to hold our spots, and we were number 4. So we headed off to get our plates of food.

We got our plates of barbecue from the food truck, and headed to our blanket in front of the huge Mahoning drive-in screen. At dusk we were delighted to watch the fireflies, quite the treat for west-coasters like ourselves. The ground was a bit damp and mushy but we didn’t think that was any big deal. In the distance, there was a little lightning and thunder, but it looked like we would be okay. (For you literary theory fans, this is a little something we call foreshadowing.)

This night was a kind of pre-event for The Jamboree -- a lecture entitled, “How Rednecks Saved Hollywood.” Joe Bob has given this lecture for years throughout the country, often at movie theaters, but this was the first time he had given the lecture at a drive-in. He had been uncertain about whether he could use his laser pointer on the big Mahoning screen, and he was especially concerned he wouldn’t be able to see the audience and their reaction. Happily, we were in the front row and he could certainly see us.

One of the first questions that Joe Bob asked as he began the presentation was “Are there any Presbyterians in the audience?” 

Mindy and I raised our hands. (Mindy is an official Presbyterian church member while I’m just a Presbyterian attendee, but I held up my hand nonetheless.) Joe Bob assured us that we would be offended that night.

Before telling about Hollywood, Joe Bob gave a history of one group of Presbyterians who went from Scotland to Ireland to America, where to become what we know as Rednecks. He went on to tell about how Rednecks were portrayed in films from the silent screen through the days of exploitations, Al Capp's Li'l Abner to Ma & Pa Kettle to child brides to moonshine to the kid picking the banjo in Deliverance. The final point of the lecture was the fact that God Love Rednecks  -- as illustrated by a clip from one of my favorite films, Tender Mercies.

After a mesmerizing nearly three hour presentation, we watched Smokey and the Bandit in a 35 mm print on the big screen. I’ll admit it's never been one of my favorite movies, but these were perhaps the best conditions in the world to watch the film and it was fun.

It was 2:30 am when the film ended, and Joe Bob and Darcy went straight to the autograph table. We took our place in line and didn’t have to wait long. We introduced ourselves as the Presbyterians from the front row, and Joe Bob is either very good at seeming interested in what fans have to say or is, in fact, interested. It's impressive either way. We appreciated, too, having the chance to thank Darcy for the work she does fostering a sense of community among fans.

But there were other people waiting, and we didn't want to take more than our share of time. Even if that night had been the whole reason for our trip, we felt it would have been worthwhile, but we were tired and headed for our tent and the sleeping bags we'd purchased at the Monroeville mall that morning. We learned later that Joe Bob and Darcy continued chatting for a couple of hours more, almost until sunrise.

The next morning, we learned that the Rednecks weren’t the only ones who saved something. The Mutants had saved the Mahoning Theater. 

It seems that the solar energy company wanted to buy the land because they'd assumed that the drive-in was dead. The response they received from thousands of fans showed this was not the case. The solar company pulled out of the deal, and the Mahoning partners were given the option of buying the land from their long-time landlord.

So the first day already had a happy ending. The plot complications came on the second day of the Jamboree.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Our Drive--In Adventure (Part 1)

“You’re Going Where?”

Mindy and I have grown used to puzzled looks when we announce our travel plans.

Us: “We’re going to the Fun Spot in New Hampshire, the largest arcade in the world!” 
Puzzled-face friend: “You’re taking the kids?” 
Us: “No.”

Us: “We’re going to Flannery O’Connor’s childhood home in Savannah!” 
Befuddled person: “Who’s that?” 
Us: “Have you read Wise Blood?” 
Person: “No.” 
Us: “The Violent Bear It Away?” 
Befuddled: “No.” 
Us: “A Good Man Is Hard to Find?” 
BP: “I think I had to read that in high school.” 
Us: “Well, there then.”

Us: “We’re going to visit churches throughout California used in movies!” 
A face with some genuine interest: “Oh really, what films?” 
Us: “The churches in High Noon, The Graduate, and Sister Act!” 
Continued interest: “Oh, really!” 
Us: “As well as Robin Williams’ License to Wed and I'm in Love with a Church Girl!” 
The confusion returns.

Admittedly, when we told people we planned to go to a church and a bar in every state there was some genuine excitement. We even got a shouted “F*%@ yeah!” from a restaurant hostess in San Francisco. We also had a friend tell us, “I have no idea what you’re doing or why you’re doing it.”

But the usual confusion turned to utter bewilderment when we told people we would be going to Joe Bob Briggs’ Drive-In Jamboree in Lehighton, Pennsylvania. 

It was difficult to know where to start to explain the event. Start with Joe Bob himself? A fictional persona of writer John Bloom, Joe Bob is the self-proclaimed nation’s foremost drive-in movie critic. I’ve been reading Joe Bob since the early 1980s as he exalted the work of Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme. I watched his show on The Movie Channel back in the day, when it featured exploitation films. Now he hosts a show on Shudder, a horror streaming service.
That's another place where I could begin the explanation: the Jamboree was a gathering of people who love horror films -- everything from the eerie Universal Monster films of the 1930s to the blood and guts of 1980s slasher films to current twisted psychological thrillers. I’ve liked horror films since I was a kid, but if you ask Mindy how she feels about horror films she'll tell you, “They scare me and I don’t like being scared. I have nightmares.” But she says she was all for this trip because “It sounded like dumb fun.”

Perhaps the best place to start in explaining why we wanted to do this trip is to say that when we wrote about bars and churches we were really writing about community, and this trip was certainly about community. Most of those who ventured to camp out at the Mahoning Drive-In for the Jamboree consider themselves part of the Mutant Family, a diverse collection of horror fans who have found each other online and wanted to meet in person.

Sometimes, though, we chose to avoid explaining the trip at all; we said we were flying to Indiana to visit Mindy's family (and not mentioning the side trip to Pennsylvania). It was sort of true. We were looking forward to spending time with her dad and her sister and brother-in-law and some Indiana friends. As it turned out, that part of the trip was abbreviated -- and quite different than we'd planned.

Mindy had made our flight plans to Indiana and arranged for a rental car which we planned to use to drive to Pennsylvania. (This is how we usually plan trips, and I greatly appreciate her taking care of it. This time, though...) Our flight left on the afternoon of July 13th, with a planned arrival in Indianapolis shortly after midnight. And she made arrangements to pick up a rental car on July 13th, at 12:30 AM. 

Some of you seasoned travelers see the problem here. 

We donned our masks for the trip (reminding ourselves that it's possible to stretch a bag of pretzels and a cup of Coke for a very long time when the mask got irksome), and eventually found ourselves in Naptown (sorry, Indy) at the rental car desk. Where they told us they didn't have a reservation for us -- Mindy had made the reservation for the 13th and it was now the 14th. We asked if they had anything else available, they said no, maybe tomorrow, so we Ubered our way to Motel 6 (where the reservation was for the correct night).

In the morning we began checking rental car agencies. None were available in a thirty-mile area from the airport. Mindy talked to a national rental agent who said that in other years, an agent would get around 150 calls on a busy day in the height of the summer vacation season. He told her that since March 2021, rental agents with his agency were averaging 200 - 300 calls a day.

We'd planned to drive to Pittsburgh that night after spending the day with Mindy's dad and meeting her sister and brother-in-law for dinner, but no car meant our plans would have to change. We found we could rent a car at the airport in Pittsburgh, so we booked a flight to arrive there that evening.  We were able to book a rental car in Pittsburgh, so we booked a flight there that afternoon. The only one of our plans we were able to accomplish was lunch with her dad (which was delightful), then a quick Uber to the airport. 

We donned our masks again, and Southwest Airlines took us to Baltimore (because where else would you stop between Indianapolis and Pittsburgh? We recommend Zona Cocina for TexMex at the Baltimore/Washington International Airport), then another late-night arrival -- this time in Pittsburgh. And this time we could drive our rental car to a hotel.

In the morning we were able to pay homage to the great horror director George Romero by visiting the cemetery from Night of the Living Dead and the mall from Dawn of the Dead on the way to the drive-in. (Don't worry, I see that puzzled look on your face). 

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Being Welcomed to a Movie

For some, movie watching is an isolated event, especially watching a movie on television. But there is a long tradition of hosts who keep home viewers company along with Bogart and Bacall and Don Knotts.

The first TV host I remember watching as a kid in the San Francisco Bay Area was Pat McCormick hosting KTVU’s Dialing for Dollars. When I was home sick (or faking sick), Pat was a much better option than the afternoon soap operas. Old films were interrupted by commercials and McCormick phoning random people from the phone book asking if they knew the amount of money being given away (starting with $100 and going up into the thousands if no one answering their phones gave the correct amount).

I don’t really remember the movies I watched, but I remember McCormick because he also hosted kids’ shows in the afternoon: Captain Cosmic and the puppet show Charlie and Humprey.

But then KTVU added another movie host with movies I do remember. Saturday night became the night for Creature Features with host Bob Wilkins. Many horror hosts of that time had their hosts take on phony names and creepy personas (such as Sammy Terry in Indianapolis, whose real name was Bob Carter. He attended the same church as my wife Mindy did). Wilkins was just a guy with his own goofy persona, wearing thick glasses and smoking thick cigars.

He would interview horror celebrities (Anne Rice plugged her new book, Interview With a Vampire) and talk about upcoming films (I remember him talking about an upcoming sci-fi film, Star Wars, which I had doubts about because the big ape’s costume wasn’t as cool as the apes in Planet of the Apes.)

Usually, my parents wouldn’t let me stay up for Creature Features, but I could watch it when I stayed overnight at Pat Haskins’ house.

I can’t forget the movies Wilkins showed. He had some classics that he praised, such as the Universal Monster films like Frankenstein and The Wolfman, but he also mocked the bad films he showed like The Vulture and Horror at Party Beach. I loved watching the bad as much as the good.

It was some time later that I found my favorite movie host in the newspaper. A syndicated columnist named Joe Bob Briggs claimed to be the nation’s foremost drive-in film critic. He wrote about films that tended to be ignored, such as Street Trash or Basket Case or Humanoids from the Deep. He would rate these films by the number of dead bodies, car crashes, and breasts, but most of the paragraphs of the articles were tales of his red-neck adventures at drive-ins, bars, and football games.

When our Minneapolis apartment cable inexplicably gave us The Move Channel, I was delighted to find that Joe Bob was hosting a weekend late night movie show, Joe Bob’s Drive-In Theater. It showed action and horror films (which I watched) and sex comedies and soft-core porn (which I skipped) -- pretty much the films rural drive-ins showed in the seventies (minus the family films).

We were only in that apartment for a year, so I didn’t regularly see Joe Bob. We tended not to have cable through the years, so I missed MonsterVision, the show he hosted on TNT.

But I’ve been watching Joe Bob again on Shudder (the streaming horror channel that’s a subsidiary of AMC). The show’s called The Last Drive-In, and as in the days of ye old Creature Features, there are many bad films (looking at you, Sledge Hammer and Spookies) and some genuinely good films such as Train to Bushan, Heathers, and One Cut of the Dead.

This coming weekend, Mindy and I are going to see Joe Bob Briggs as he hosts movies in person at the Mahoning Drive-In in Lehighton, PA. The first night he’ll be giving a lecture on “How Rednecks Saved Hollywood” followed by what Joe Bob calls the greatest film ever made: Smokey and the Bandit. Over the weekend there will be plenty of films, good and bad, concluding Sunday night with two films that could have played on Creature Features: the Vincent Price classic, House of Wax; and the greatest giant ant film ever made, Them.

Of course, instead of the viewers being home alone, Joe Bob will be hosting hundreds of fans together, proving the truth of Joe Bob’s mantra, “The Drive-In will never die!” And neither will movie hosts, I hope.