Mike Sangiacomo's Drive-In Diary, 2
Tales of the Starlight Drive-In
To promote my new Image graphic novel Tales Of The Starlight Drive-In , I’m going on the road like Peter Fonda but without the motorcycle. Over the summer I’ll be visiting drive-in theaters around the Midwest and East Coast and one in San Diego during the Comic-Con. I’ll be visiting drive-ins in no particular order, signing copies of the book along with any stray artists I can pick up along the way.
The historic Lynn Drive-In in Strasburg, Ohio.
If Aut-O-Rama outside Cleveland had to be my first stop on this tour, the Lynn had to be the second.
The Lynn opened in 1937 and never closed, making it the second oldest operating drive-in in the world
In 1957 Richard R. Reding and his son Richard W."Dick" Reding purchased the Theatre. In 1970, Richard W’s son, Rick, joined the family business. The Lynn is now run by Rick's sons, Rich and Jamie, making it a fourth-generation business.
The Lynn inspired huge chunks of Starlight and one story (“Cadiz” with Francesco Francavilla) came directly from a true story told to me by co-owner Rich Reding. The theater’s beautiful, humming 1940 projector is the model for the one used in Starlight.
Co-owner, Jamie Reding, the projectionist, looks so much like Neil from Starlight it’s scary. They even play their own mix cds during the show. Ah, great stuff.
More than that, the Lynn is the kind of family operation that drive-ins are famous for.
Strasburg is one of those “where is it? Where is it? Whoa, you missed it.” towns in eastern Ohio, about 25 miles south of Canton.
It’s in an area settled by the Amish that has somehow escaped encroachment from neighboring cities, though Wal-Mart has managed to creep in. I was disappointed that there weren’t any Amish buggies in the audience.
The night before the signing the area was hit with a massive thunderstorm. Power was out for thousands of people all night and was only restored the afternoon of the signing.
“It was touch and go there for a while whether we would have a show for not,” said Rich Reding.
But around noon the sun was out and all was well.
The Lynn is one of the few grass lot theaters left in the country, nothing but acres of tough clover, which can withstand years of cars and trucks and come up green.
The main screen was built with unusual, bendable joints, so that the screen could be lowered in the event of a twister. Rich said the ability was never used and now the joints are rusted over, so they take their chances with nature.
Rich had advertised the signing on the theater’s website and sent out the info to folks via their weekly
Lynn is the tightest drive-in operation I’ve ever seen. There is a squat, one-story concrete block building in the center of the lot that serves as snack bar and dual projection rooms. Customers line up outside the snack bar and file through picking up fresh-made, inexpensive burgers, hot dogs, nachos, popcorn and candy. My wife, Barbara, said the bathroom was immaculate. Women notice such things.
People started rolling in around 7 p.m., a good two hours before the movie, The Hulk and Kung-Fu Panda on one screen. Zohan and something else on the other. This would be the third time I’ve seen the Hulk movie, I can almost repeat the dialogue verbatim.
There were a lot of pick-up trucks in the audience and everyone made themselves at home. They spread blankets, set up folding chairs, backed up the trucks to the screen and laid on air mattresses inside.
Like every drive-in we’ve been to, it was a cross-section of humanity, from babies to grandfathers. Families with two young kids dominated, many of the kiddies already clad in pajamas so they can fall asleep during the film. So darn cute.
Sean McArdle, who only lives about a half-hour from the theater, came to sign the graphic novel and sell some fantastic prints of the four alternate covers he designed for the book.
We also sold the “I Did It At The Starlight Drive-in” t-shirts, which was a kick for people who had already read the book and noticed that the shirt played a key role in the final story.
The signing went well. Our buddy C.R., who was also at the Aut-O-Rama signing, showed up with his collection of photos of drive-ins from around the country. We laid them out for people to look at. C.R. is a drive-in fanatic and allowed me to borrow his treasured albums early on when I needed some inspiration.
I keep pushing him to open a website so he can share the cool shots.
Sean and I sat at our large table, smiling and explaining the book. Some people came from miles away just to buy a signed copy, which is very cool. Others had not heard about it, or read a comic in years, but were intrigued enough to buy a copy.
But the most fun was talking to people about drive-in memories. The consensus was that indoor theaters are fine, but every now and then it’s nice to watch a movie under the stars.
Even though the Lynn has FM broadcast sound (over your car radio), they still have the original speakers on posts for the nostalgic effect. And for people with broken radios.
It’s cool to hear the sound echoing from a couple hundred radios as a gentle mist floats around the field.
Rich could not have been a better host, keeping us supplied with free food and drink all night. The family runs the place like a well-oiled machine, everyone has duties and it goes smoothly. I’m waiting for the projectionist, Jamie Reding, to read the book and see if he relates to Neil, the Starlight projectionist. I have this theory that a lot of projectionists are cut from the same cloth, must come from all those hours in the dark. They seem to have a philosophical bent, eclectic musical tastes, strong opinions about film and everything else and smoke a lot. Except for the smoking part, I would make a good projectionist.
We left some signed copies of Starlight to sell in the tiny snack bar, stuck right there between the Snickers and the popcorn.
Like an idiot, I forgot my camera so I have no photos to share. Chest out the Lynn’s website for some very cool shots.
Anyone within a couple hours of Canton should make an effort to check out the Lynn and see one of the last of its kind. Leave time for dinner at one of the great Amish joints in the area, make a day of it.
In the coming weeks, I’ll write about recent signings and announce upcoming signings. If you’re in the area, load up the Chrysler and come on by. You’ll be surprised at how much you’ll like it. C’mon, you know you wanna.
NEXT TIME: The Delsea Drive-in in Vineland, N.J., the only drive-in the state where they were born.