A big buttered popcorn and an extra large coke;
A few chili dogs and man I’m goin’ broke
Down at the drive in.
“Drive-in,” the Beach Boys
Reading through the obits Monday night, I noticed one of the decedents had once worked for a now-defunct mid-valley business whose name was going to lend itself well to a little quiz for my longtime DH neighbor, news editor Kim Jackson.
“Hey Chief,” I said, “can you tell me, and I’m sure you probably can, the name of the drive-in that used to be in Lebanon?”
“The Motor-Vu,” Jackson responded immediately, as I knew he would. He’s not The Guy Who Knows Stuff for nothing.
The Motor-Vu faded into history not long after the second Walmart — the supercenter — came to Lebanon around a decade ago. The supercenter’s parking lot is where the theater once was.
When the Motor-Vu went by the boards, I think there were only something like a dozen drive-ins still left in Oregon. The Midway, between Albany and Corvallis on Highway 20, where my college roommate Casey Russell worked in the mid-1980s, had already been gone for maybe a decade. Years earlier, Albany and Sweet Home had lost their drive-ins.
“What’s killing the drive-in?” I asked Jackson. “I mean, it is kind of a unique entertainment experience.”
“I don’t know,” he said. “It is a unique entertainment experience. I guess people just don’t want to see movies in their cars any more.”
Myself, I made a handful of drive-in visits as a kid of varying ages.
In Gladstone there was the Super 99 drive-in, and I can remember seeing “The Jungle Book” there as a really young kid. Maybe also “The Love Bug.”
Fifteen years later, with my leg in a cast thanks to an ankle dislocation, I went with college buddy Mike McPherson and a half-case of beer to one of southeast Portland’s drive-ins — Foster Road, maybe, or 82nd Street — and watched “Trading Places.” The film was funny, but mainly what I remember was how hard it was to crutch my way to the bathroom across the vast gravel parking lot.
According to drive-ins.com, there have been 55 such theaters in Oregon, and only four remain: Another Motor-Vu (in Dallas), plus theaters in Newberg, Milton-Freewater and La Grande.
Learning that, it kind of makes me want to visit Dallas or Newberg before it’s too late.