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Man with a Dream

Just south of Enderby BC on a rainy Monday afternoon a week and a half ago I stopped to admire the tall white letters spelling STARLIGHT on the low hill to my right.  I had happened upon one of the few remaining drive in theatres in Canada. 

 I haven’t been to a drive in since 1978 in  Ontario  but  still have  high school memories of sneaking some friends into one  in Surrey in the trunk of my mom’s car.   Imbedded fondness came flooding back –the  crappy speakers you hung to the window of your car. The dumb animated jingle “LETS ALL GO TO THE SNACK BAR” with the hot dog getting all up close and personal with the bun . And of course, watching  horny youngsters retiring to the back seat of a parent’s sedan  and steaming  up the windows. Ah ---those were the days!

As I was returning to my car after taking a few pictures, up pulled another vehicle  and out jumped a  most ebullient fellow . “We’re not open for the season yet – but if you want pictures –come on in and take all you want” This was Brian ,one of the owners, who instructed me to “drive all the way down by the screen  and be sure not to miss the balcony”  then meet him in the snack bar.

I did just that - but rainy day pictures don’t  do it justice – it’s a vast outdoor temple  missing some  vital ingredients – the darkness -the cars  - and the vast screen all lit up- but still, it was cool.

Back at the snack bar, Brian  launched into his love of the Starlight Drive In with the  joyous zeal of a  mad man with a dream.  He’d poured everything he owned into the place and lived in a trailer in the back.  “I want to bring back 1963” he said and had spent the last decade or so doing just that.  He had the classic cartoon hotdog ,fries and popcorn smiling at us from outside wall like the 3 amigos of junk food. Pepsi had gotten behind his venture so there were the vintage Pepsi bottle cap signs greeting you.   He plays the classic “Let’s all go to the snack bar “ cartoon at every showing – complete with cued car honking when the hot dog enters the bun.   He’d spent hours cutting out dozens  of plywood stars painting them white and nailing them up all over snack bar and outsides of the building and fences. “Look – we only charge half of normal snack bar prices, we want it to be affordable for a family. “  “We almost went under in 2012, Then out of the blue we heard about this new digital system-so now we’ll be state of the art for years. “ 

Of course now there are no crappy speakers – you tune into a station on your car radio.  2 movies for 11 bucks . Theirs is the largest outdoor screen in North America4000 square feet.  And the balcony?  He rented an earth mover and did some re-landscaping so there is now a section at the back of the viewing area  that is above the others.   ‘” We pay our staff more than minimum wage. If they’re young we go to their parents and tell them we’re going to work them hard but we’re going to treat them right and pay them well. We want them to buy into the idea of this thing!  And they do. We’ve had kids who have worked here from the age of 14 into their 20’s “

Then he presented me with Starlight Drive In schwag  - a frisbee and a keychain flashlight . I offered to pay for them. “No” he said “People who show your kind of interest don’t pay."   The last thing he said to me was delivered with a particularly deep joy. “ Ross- I’ve never worked a day in my life” A mad man with a dream.   And judging by the sign on the road –  a sense of humor.  May he thrive.




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