There is a drive-in movie theatre a half hour south of our house. On the way back from Houston on Friday, an idea sprouted in the back seat. It was a terrific idea, actually, to stop along the way, catch a flick in a field, sitting in your car. I told the kids what it was like, from what I could remember of the experience. Something about hanging speakers on the window.
The Galaxy had a marquis, right on the highway, and we had a phone. The movie was at eight. We would be too late. Instead, I thought we could come back the next day, spend a little time beforehand exploring the local territory. This is Texas, after all, and we are northeasterners. It is all an adventure, even if they don’t remember being born in Boston.
I made a plan. We would leave the house at 2:30 and head for what I learned was a “historical town” created to accommodate a railroad back in the 1800s. Brick sidewalks, flat-topped Western buildings, tearooms and antique shops. Fabulous. An outing. We’d walk around, mingle with the townsfolk, eat crumpets and experience what it was like growing cotton in the heartland. Then, we’d see the movie.
So, we arrive in Ennis, Texas–rhymes with “tennis”–full of expectation. We take the wrong exit, but manage to locate the downtown historic district like homing pigeons. Having grown up traipsing the northeastern corridor in search of Colonial candlemakers and pilgrims of every sort, I have an internal tracking device when it comes to American landmarks. I see red brick in the distance.
“Kids, look, brick!”
We drove two blocks instead of one, and had to turn around because we had gone through the downtown historic district as quickly as we entered it. There were Wild West storefronts and wide streets. It looked old. It looked historic.
“Mommy, it looks abandoned,” came the assessment from behind me.
“What are we going to do here for two hours?”
Well, the children had raised valid points. No one was present on the sidewalks. All but two diagonal parking spaces in the two block square were deserted. We pulled up next to the parked cars.
“Hey, here’s something that’s open, kids,” I said, enthusiastically. At 11 and 13, kids get sarcasm. We went into a collectible shop and found old Coke bottles and Elvis records, Archie comic books like the ones I read at Camp Towanda, and jukeboxes. It smelled a little funny. We found a lady behind a desk.
“Excuse me,” I said, like a cheery tourist. “Are there any restaurants around here?”
“Not open,” she mumbled. “Everything closes at 2pm.”
We left, and went into the other open shop, a florist, where “the ladies looked nicer.” We made the same query, and were directed to a place called Bubba’s. Who can refuse a place called Bubba’s, especially if it’s right on the highway. From the outside, of course, it did not look functioning, or safe or advisable. The younger thought that, maybe, we should select another option. The more experienced child liked the trekkiness of it and knew well the books and covers concept.
We chose the barbecue “line,” rather than the menu or the pick-you-own-meat option. At the front of the restaurant, a refrigerator displayed various cuts of beef, each individually wrapped and priced. People, we came to see, walked in, took a slab and handed it to the waitress. For all we knew, the cows could have been in the back. There are a lot of cows in Texas.
Anyway, we loved Bubba’s. The lights were made from milk buckets. The waitresses had nifty hairdos, each one different. The brisket was delish, and the patrons, regulars. Mostly older couples out on a Saturday night. A few families, like us. One cowboy in a hat.
“Don’t they have to take off their hats inside,” I asked.
“Not cowboys,” the kids said.
We left our new favorite restaurant and headed up the highway to the theatre, where for $14, three people could see two movies. For the price of one soda in a regular theatre, three people could have hot chocolate, twelve pounds of popcorn and seventeen candy bars. The ticket-seller instructed us to tune our radio to a certain station and leave the ignition key turned. I asked her if that would deplete our battery. She said that it might, but that they had jumper cables we could use after the movie. Once we figured out how close to park to the poles holding the speakers, which had really short cables, we were able to hang one on the window. We thought this was a smarter idea than the radio. The girls sat in the front seats, with blankets. I slunk down in back.
The next morning, we found corn kernels and chocolate wrappers all over the floor.