Families flock to Southington Drive-in for taste of bygone era

Families flock to Southington Drive-in for taste of bygone era

SOUTHINGTON— It had been decades, since they were kids, that Kim and John Craig last went to a drive-in theater. They wanted to share the experience with their own children this weekend during opening night of the Southington Drive-In.

“We’re more excited than the kids, because they don’t know what to expect,” said Kim Craig while eating food from the concession stand, which is run by business students from Southington High School. It helped that Saturday was the Bristol Neighbor Night, which gave Bristol residents the lower rate Southington residents enjoy.

Now in its eighth year after being reopened as a nonprofit, the Southington Drive-in showed “Star Wars: Rogue One” on its first night of being open this summer. All of the proceeds from tickets go to local charities, which send their own volunteers to help staff the weekly Saturday Night Showings. This week’s proceeds benefit the Southington chapter of Unico, an Italian-American community group.

Mike Fasulo, who went to the theater as a kid when it was privately owned, says this year’s selection of movies is “one of our best lineups.” Fasulo is a member of the Southington Drive-in Committee, which runs the theater. To select the movies, the committee had members of their Facebook group share what they wanted to see.

“It’s a great family night,” said Kim Bouchard, who came with her family. When Bouchard was young, she also came to the theater before its reopening eight years ago. “It’s a unique attraction that’s right here in town.”

As Bouchard spoke, her son played with a life-sized R2D2, built by Bristol resident Frank Waluk. As children clustered around the droid, which can move, extend its arms and open compartments via remote controls or a phone app his wife Tracie Waluk had loaded up, Frank Waluk spoke about the work he has put into it over the past two years.

Part of an online community of people who build their own R2D2s across the world, Waluk said he got addicted after being inspired by videos people posted of their own re-creations of the iconic robot. A car upholsterer by day, he had no prior experience in electronics, yet he was still able to build his up to the point where he can proudly say that “every speck on there is exactly to the original.”

As much as the Waluks enjoy the process – Tracie Waluk is working on her own BB-8 from Rogue One – it’s being able to bring them out to the Star Wars fans which makes it really worth the time, and the substantial expense. “We build them for the fans to enjoy,” said Tracie Waluk.

“It’s a real-life R2D2!” one girl said when she saw it.

Driving all the way from Bridgeport, Gilbert Whitman said he came because he wanted to experience some of the things his parents did when they were young. “There’s no more circus after this year,” he said. “You’ve got to keep these alive.”

Whitman echoed the sentiments of many of those who sat together with their families before the giant screen: children’s lives today are very different from when their parents were young and the drive-in provided a glimpse into a bygone time. “This shows American culture,” Whitman said.

Despite there only being three drive-ins left in the state, the turnout was good Saturday with around 300 cars, or just short of 1,000 people, having come in. The parking area can hold up to 450 cars, which Dawn Miceli, a founding member of the Southington Drive-in Committee, said she expects to see in two weeks when the theater shows the original “Jaws.” “It is a crowd favorite on the big screen,” said Miceli. “Every year it’s a sellout.”

The movie wasn’t the only attraction, however. The committee also hired Eric Korp, a physical education teacher at Kelley and South End elementary schools, to play games with the kids before the movie. Korp entertained them with many of the same activities and games his students experience in class: his own version of capture the flag, flinging water balloons out of nets to try to catch them and smashing them with wooden mallets.

“These are the water balloon laws,” Korp yelled out before explaining how the teams of boys and girls can win points. “If it hits any parent not paying attention, you get bonus points.”

As the kids he played with ran off, Korp told them, “enjoy the movie, I’ll be here next week.”

Next week’s showing is the original “Beauty and the Beast.”


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