Route 66 in the News

Drive-In Date on Route 66

2010-06-28 12:27:00

LITCHFIELD, Ill. - Saturday night, while anxious teens were prepping for the vampire romance "Eclipse" at a Union Station fanfest, my wife and I were enjoying a real eclipse at the Skyview Drive-in in Litchfield, Ill., on old Route 66.

The occasion was the Skyview's annual classic-car cruise, and this year it coincided with a full moon, a partial lunar eclipse and a screening of the Steve McQueen classic "Bullitt."

For the weekend of festivities, hot rodders and roadside aficionados converged on the 60-year-old drive-in from the north (Chicago, 250 miles away) and the south (St. Louis, 50 miles away).

The St. Louis contingent started at the west side of the old Chain of Rocks Bridge on Friday morning, when the gatekeepers from Trailnet opened the bike-and-pedestrian-only bridge for a rare automotive caravan. On the east side, our first stop was the Al Capone-era Luna Cafe in Mitchell, a joint that was once a speakeasy and brothel and is still authentically retro enough to serve Schlitz and Pabst Blue Ribbon to Teamsters at 10 a.m.

The itinerary also included a stop at the Henry's Rabbit Ranch, a souvenir stand (and bunny breeding ground) in Staunton, Ill. While I was there, I picked up some postcard art by Bob Waldmire, a beloved Route 66 historian who died last December. Bob, whose family invented the corndog and ran the Cozy Dog Drive-In restaurant in Springfield, Ill., was an affable hippie who inspired the character in the Pixar 'toon "Cars" called Fillmore (the VW bus voiced by George Carlin). Bob was a vegetarian, and he didn't want his name associated with hamburger Happy Meal toys, so at the last minute the character's name was changed from "Waldmire."

I had work to do, so Kathryn and I returned to St. Louis (with a stop at the Twistee ice-cream stand in Livingston, that cone-shaped building alongside I-55, next to the spaceship, the pink elephant and the giant boy in his skivvies).

But on Saturday I fired up my mighty, white '66 Fury and we drove to Litchfield, where the Skyview was packed with gorgeous old cars.

A group called the Wolfpack Car Club sponsors the annual event, which also includes a cruise through downtown Litchfield, oldies music, vendors and several juried car competitions.

Five years ago, I almost convinced actor Elliott Gould, who was in town for the Jewish Film Festival, to join me at the Skyview for a screening of "American Graffiti"; but his handlers talked him out of it.

Four years ago, a screening of the existential race-car flick "Two Lane Blacktop" doubled as my wedding reception (for which none of my friends showed up).

This year, on behalf of the car club, my friend (and fellow drive-in fanatic) Kirk Johnson secured a print of "Bullitt," the 1968 cop thriller that features the Moissouri-raised King of Cool and the greatest car chase of all time. I had last seen the movie about four years ago, on the beach at Cannes, which has outdoor screenings to placate the public that can't get into the glittering film festival; but seeing it in the good old U.S. of A. under a full moon and surrounded by vintage roadsters was a revelation.

I had come to the drive-in with a for-sale sign in my car's back window, but by the end of the night, I took it down. Kirk told me that the (unrelated) Skyview in Belleville has solidified plans to add a third screen and committed to remain open for at least another ten years. So as long as there are drive-ins within my reach, I'm going to need a suitable car to match my beautiful blonde co-pilot.

Joe Williams, STLToday.com

 

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