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.  

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