Smile Politely

A night (or two) at the drive-in

My family has a long history with Harvest Moon Drive-In in Gibson City. My spouse and I grew up in Bloomington-Normal, which is just about the same distance from Gibson City as C-U, and we discovered the fun of the venue when we were in high school. Over the past several years, we’ve enjoyed bringing our kids at least once a summer.

The news that Harvest Moon was going to be able to open was thrilling. There’s been a trend across the country of drive-ins both established and pop-up — filling an entertainment void in a relatively safe way. Here was a possibility for a little of the summer fun and normalcy. We’re fortunate that our local drive-in has stuck around through the years, even through trying financial times. I knew it wasn’t going to be the same, but what is right now? Our typical experience involved putting out our chairs, bringing a grill, the kids running around in the grass playing outdoor games while waiting for the movie to start; and this time we would be required to stay in our car for viewing. Unfortunately we don’t have a truck or a vehicle with a trunk big enough for all of us to fit. But, we were ready to adapt to actually go to a place and do a thing. 

After one trip I was ready to put this down as a regular activity on our summer schedule. We’ve now gone twice, each experience slightly different because of loosening restrictions.

Night one: Twister

Of course it will not be the typical summer of new movies, so Harvest Moon is bringing back various audience favorites. Twister came out in theaters in 1996 and we actually saw it at the drive-in back when we were youngsters, so it seemed like a fun idea to bring the kids to see it there too. 

A large outdoor movie screen is visible through the front window of a car. There is a wood fence below it, and a grassy area in the foreground. Photo by Julie McClure.

Photo by Julie McClure.

Our first trip out was definitely unlike our typical drive-in experience. We had to stay in our car, and since four of us couldn’t really squeeze into the hatch, we pulled in facing forward and let the kids sit in the front seats while we took the back. Isn’t that how they did it in the “old days” anyway? We splurged on a front row spot  which means an extra $10 — to ensure a better view. Typically we do that anyway because we like the space it affords in front of the car. Our backseat view was a tiny bit obstructed, but that was fine. We’d seen this movie more than a few times. 

Before this excursion, we’d stuck to family walks at Allerton and the various forest preserves, so we were all pretty excited to do something different. The drive-in is operating at half capacity, so that there is only one car in between the posts that mark out the spaces. They are requiring masks if you go to the concession stand or restroom, and have markers set out to help people stay spaced in line.

A view of the inside of a brown paper bag filled with popcorn. Photo by Julie McClure.

Photo by Julie McClure.

Not knowing what to expect, we went ahead and paid the “bring your own food” fee of $5 and brought our own movie candy and popcorn. It was a pretty full night, since the movies were Twister and Wonder Woman, so we figured we’d avoid dealing with standing in line. For any movie theater, concessions are crucial income, so if you decide to forgo buying anything, might I suggest giving them a donation at the ticket booth to help a business during a difficult time? If you have the means, that is. 

Night Two: Shrek

The 15 year old was adamant about making a return trip for Shrek, so a week later we made another trek out to Gibson City. Saturday was past the “move into Phase 3” date, so this time we were able to bring chairs and sit out in the grass behind our car. We still had to stay in our own space but that was fine. It was great to be able to stretch out a little more. 

Several people are standing in front of a small concession stand shed. Photo by Julie McClure.

Photo by Julie McClure.

We still brought our own snacks, but when we go back (and I’m sure we will) I’d be willing to grab something from the concession stand. They seem to have the system down, and people are working within the guidelines. 

I’ve been extremely impressed with the way the theater has adapted and clearly communicated it’s plan to open this season. I know it’s not easy. But it’s clear they are doing all they can to stay open and be able to provide people with a little fun and distraction and sense of normalcy in a time when nothing is normal. And, in both of our trips out there, attendees were respectful of the guidelines.

A few things to know: 

  • Take some time to read their FAQ page to familiarize yourself with their guidelines and how to purchase tickets. 
  • You can purchase tickets there, they set aside 25% of their spaces for onsite sales, but if you’re going to make the drive I’d just get them online to be sure you have a ticket. There is a small convenience fee. 
  • Spots are general admission, unless you get a front row reservations. The screen is easily visible from everywhere, but I’m a fan of the front row spot if you can swing it.
  • Restrooms are open, and regularly sanitized, but they aren’t that big. You’d be better off limiting your soda intake and just waiting until you get home.

You can keep up with their coming attractions by following them on Facebook or checking out their website.  

Top photo by Julie McClure.

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