ENDERBY - For Starlight Drive-In owner Paul Lindquist, the best part of the night is the intermission between shows. It’s when packs of children come blasting through the doors of the deliciously tacky concession in their pajamas to stock up on snacks and older couples stroll in holding hands, warm with the memory of days gone by.
“Everyone is smiling and it warms your heart,” Lindquist says. “The looks in their eyes, you see them come alive and forget about everything.”
Turning off Highway 97 in Enderby to the iconic Starlight Drive-In is like cruising back in time. It’s one of only three drive-ins in B.C. and is the largest drive-in screen in North America. Visitors come from all over the Interior, many asking what’s playing while they buy their tickets, there not for a specific flick but for the experience itself.
For Lindquist and the establishment’s other owners, every night is different. Sometimes the skies offer their own spectacle with a show of the Northern Lights, meteor showers or a full moon. You might hear coyotes howling in the distance, or see the silhouettes of bats against the screen.
“It never feels like work,” Lindquist, 57, says, even with the late nights and the ongoing battle to keep the business afloat. “I plan on doing this until I’m 80 years old. I never want to do anything else.”
Lindquist, a former restauranteur in Vancouver, along two good friends, a labour lawyer named Randy Noonan and a travel agent in the film industry by the name of Brian Smith, could see the throngs of children and popcorn munching audiences 14 years ago even when the lot lay empty and weed-ridden.
“It had gone bankrupt three times. I found it abandoned and it was a hell of a mess,” Lindquist says. “I was looking at this place, humming and hawing, and I started counting the cars that were pulling in just to see if it might be open.”
It didn’t take long before it was show time. Lindquist recalls opening night, which featured Spiderman and The New Guy, as a hilarious disaster. The 1963 projector was found in a puddle of rusty water, but they got it running, and kept it going for for years with a toolbox of duct tape, bobby pins and hair ties.
“It was a gong show but we were all laughing so hard we didn’t care,” Lindquist says.
The trio braced for the end in 2012 with the extinction of 35 mm film and the rise of the digital age.
“We knew there was no technology available to project a picture this size from this distance,” Lindquist says. “We thought, let’s have a good last year and go out in style.”
Then, just a month before the opening of what was thought to be the Starlight’s last season, they heard of a brand new projector that had been developed.
“We didn’t even know if it was going to work because it had never been done before,” Lindquist says, adding the technology is primarily used in IMAX theaters. “Now we have the best projector in the world in little Enderby in the middle of a hay field.”
Every night, Lindquist watches the highway stack up with traffic and the anticipation begins to build.
“It’s like watching the place come alive, because it’s just a vacant parking lot,” he says.
Before the show starts, you might see kids kicking around a soccer ball, teens on a first date, or families cuddled under a blanket in the back of a pick-up with their dogs.
“When people come here, they adopt the drive-in. It’s theirs, we don’t own it. Our customers own it,” Lindquist says.
This is the first weekend of the 2015 season at the drive-in. It will be open tonight, May 1, through Sunday, May 3, showing Furious 7 and Fifty Shades of Grey. The drive-in will be open until late September and open nightly toward the end of June through to Sept. 1, rain or shine.
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— This story was edited at 9:20 a.m., July 7, 2014 to correct the job descriptions of Randy Noonan and Brian Smith.
— This story was updated on May 1, 2015 with the 2015 open dates.