It’s the return of the world’s best buttered popcorn! That’s right — grab your car keys, it’s drive-in season once again in Gibson City, and that means the scent of summer is on the wind. About a forty minute drive away from Champaign and well worth the trip, the Harvest Moon is a twin drive-in movie theater on the outskirts of Gibson City on Route 47 South. In a time when over 80 percent of the nation’s movie-going public have only faceless multiplexes to house their films, the drive-in is not only a dwindling rarity in America, but a necessary novelty. Those who have never experienced a drive-in movie are cheating themselves from a wealth of memories.
To say drive-ins are of a bygone era is an unfortunate understatement. At the peak of their popularity, America had over 4,000 drive-ins, thanks to the car culture spawned by the 1950s, where you could do a number of things from the convenience of your automobile for the first time. Today, in a world where “progress” equals the bulldozing of our historical institutions, there are less than 400 operating drive-in movie theaters left. To have one of these time capsules in working order so near us is a privilege and something everyone should experience.
The Harvest Moon no longer uses the old speaker boxes patrons used to fasten to their windows — now all you need is a working radio to tune into the film’s sound. And in the middle of the huge lot is the concession stand and the burger barn, serving up every appropriate snack food you could hope for. They’ve got hot dogs, burgers, nachos, pickles, popcorn, candy, cotton candy, snow cones and favorite sodas. There’s even an old cartoon during intermission, complete with dancing food to remind you what you might be missing out on. My favorite little advertisements are the old commercials played on the radio during intermission for Rico’s Nachos and the government-inspected Grade A beef hamburgers. You’d think I was fifty years old telling you about such novelties, but these are just touches from the past returning each weekend at the Harvest Moon.
One of the most unique experiences about the drive-in is the privacy of being in your own car while still sitting among hoards of other people. While no one who can annoy you if your windows are rolled up, on the flip side, you can be as disruptive as you like as long as you’ve turned off your headlights and aren’t blocking anyone’s view. One of my favorite experiences at Harvest Moon was heckling “Mystery Science Theater” style crowd for Snakes on a Plane. I can’t remember the last time I’d laughed so incessantly during a movie, except for maybe Death at a Funeral (see that if you haven’t already). The drive-in is the perfect place to go with your big group of friends or your significant other; they even let you bring your dog! How many multiplexes can boast that?
The aura of the drive-in is laid-back and romantic. Friends toss footballs back and forth before the movie starts and fireflies waft over the rows of cars like wandering stars. A train cruises by at sunset, its low glowing eye heralding the night. It’s an experience I can’t imagine living without now that I know it.
There couldn’t be a more perfect way to call on summer than visiting a drive-in movie theater. In this infernal Illinois suffering we call winter, it’s high time we recall what sun and warmth feels like. So bring your beach towels, bug spray, and friends and prepare to make some memories on a trip back in time. Maybe if we all go, June will come that much quicker.
Open on weekends in April, May and September. Open daily in June, July and August. For more information, visit the Harvest Moon drive-in’s website to see what’s playing.
Photos by Justine Bursoni