Sunday, September 04, 2005


One of Jeff Thurman's Technalight marvels projects its magic Saturday night at the Mission Tiki in Montclair, California

The girls and I were lucky enough to spend a wonderful evening together Saturday night piled in the back of our van at the Mission Tiki Drive-In for a double feature of Sky High and, gulp, Herbie: Fully Loaded (this was my THIRD time seeing this visionary masterwork in a theater since its June release), and we couldn’t possibly have had more fun. The little ones spent the last half of last week quizzing me at the start of each day: “Are we going to the drive-in movie today?” So when Saturday finally came and we piled in the car around 6:00pm for the drive to Montclair, they began a stream of excited chattering that didn’t really seem to stop until they fell asleep in the car during the midnight drive home. Even my wife had more fun than she thought she would, in a chair outside the van laughing at Sky High, which far exceeded either of our expectations, or inside during the second feature, laying back on pillows and blankets and serving as a trampoline for our crazy, happy kids. It was their second visit to the Mission Tiki this summer, and my third, and it really seems like my hope of connecting with my daughters over movies and creating good memories for them of time spent with Mom and Dad at a drive-in theater might just be coming true. One thing’s for sure: the Mission Tiki has fast become one of my favorite spots since stumbling upon it with my nephew Evan earlier this year. Forget Kevin Costner's corn patch: this four-screen lot is the real field of dreams.

It’s also become the de facto flagship theater for the Southern California Drive-In Movie Society, which is experiencing a little excitement of its own as the summer season begins winding to a close. Saturday, August 27, found us gathering at the Van Buren Cinema 3 Drive In in Riverside, which is a bit further of a skip (at least for this Glendale resident) than is the Mission Tiki. It was great to see Chris Utley, Kathy Byers and Lanna Pian again after our first meeting, and to meet Kyle Muldrow (unfortunately, another key member, Sal Gomez, was unable to attend). All of us were very enthusiastic about spending some time with the regular customers at the Van Buren, getting the word out about our efforts, as well as getting to talk with Frank Huttinger, film buyer for DeAnza Land and Leisure Corporation, owners of the Van Buren, the Mission Tiki, the Rubidoux and many others.
From left, Kyle, Kathy, Lanna and Chris (Sal couldn't make it that night), plus me behind the camera, proud members of the Southern California Drive-In Movie Society

Frank had plenty of stories and lots of exciting information about renovation plans in store for the Mission Tiki this coming fall and winter, and was fairly encouraging about the prospects for a few more seasons at the Van Buren, despite the encroaching condo developments looming directly across the street. We also got to meet a drive-in enthusiast nonpareil from my part of the country—Steve Swanson, a filmmaker and employee at the 99W Drive-In in Newberg, Oregon for the past three years, was on a vacation drive-in tour and made the Van Buren part of his plans simply because he found out we were all going to be there. Steve brought films and other goodies from the 99W, as well as a vast knowledge of drive-ins all around the country which he shared with all of us. You know you're in good company when you don't mind sitting in a steamy snack bar for three hours at the end of a 105-degree day, shooting the breeze with fellow enthusiasts, talking with paying customers, and getting hungrier by the minute smelling the freshly grilled carne asada which is the cornerstone of the Van Buren's excellent snack bar menu, by far the most delicious and far-ranging of all the drive-ins we've seen so far this summer-- in fact, it may be the best drive-in snack bar I've ever seen or tasted. It's no exaggeration to say that after the Saturday night meeting we were all buzzing with possibilities for the future, for the club and, more importantly, for the drive-in movie experience in Southern California.

By sheer coincidence, the very next morning the Los Angeles Times printed a very interesting article about a small drive-in revival in Texas, word of which had spread amongst us on the Yahoo! drive-in movie discussion group. It was a very good article, but I wondered why the Times hadn’t used the opportunity to investigate and promote the mini-renaissance of drive-ins that has been going on right under their noses. The answer, I concluded, must be that they didn’t cover them because they didn’t know about them. Well, this was a job for the Southern California Drive-In Movie Society! Before evening’s end I had written a letter to the Times, and today it was actually printed in the paper’s Sunday Calendar “Letters” section (if you don’t have a copy to refer back to, you can read it by clicking here). Lanna and I have brainstormed a few other avenues for coverage which seem to be panning out (more on those as they come to fruition), and it looks like there’s going to be some TV news coverage waiting for us when the Society convenes at the Mission Tiki again in October. And Sal has come up with the best idea of all, one I won’t jinx by mentioning too early—- suffice it to say that we’ve got a really good core group of people here with organizational, filmmaking, writing, and art design skills, as well as several good contacts (who have contacts, who have contacts), that could really, if all continues to go well, result in some high-profile exposure for our beloved drive-ins in the year to come. Comments like this one, from Mission Tiki manager Jeff Thurman (posted on the Yahoo! discussion group today), really make it seem like we’re on the right track:

“Just wanted to let you all know how much all (the Southern California Drive-In Movie Society’s) efforts on behalf of the Mission Tiki are appreciated. Every night we are getting more and more new customers, and it's due to your efforts… It's publicity like this that will keep the drive-in experience alive and well.”

Thanks, Jeff. And thanks, too, for the terrific job you continue to do every night at the Mission Tiki.

If you want to get involved with SoCal DIMS, or get on the mailing list to keep up-to-date on upcoming events, you can contact founder Chris Utley at The next meeting is scheduled for Saturday, September 24, at the Vineland Drive-in in City of Industry. We hope to see you there!


Anonymous said...

I am going to have to convince my son to join me on a field trip to the Mission Tiki.

I am glad that you enjoyed SKY HIGH. I was surprised myself when I worked on it. It had more on the ball than a lot of movies of its type, and in particular, I enjoyed the performances of Kurt Russell (a wonderful lunk/overaged jock of a superhero), Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Danielle Panabaker.

And good for you for setting the LA Times straight. Out of touch. Big surprise.

Virgil Hilts

Thom McGregor said...

That was, indeed, the best time at the drive-in I've had in years. I've never been much of a drive-in chick-- I don't like eating in the car; I don't like cars-- but you and the girls have made it very fun for me. The Mission Tiki is a great place. And I really liked "Sky High." Virgil, I guess sometimes you're right. (Pagoda!)