Mineral Wells Index, Mineral Wells, TX

September 20, 2013

Graham Drive-in: The little drive-in that could!


Mineral Wells Index

— By CLINT FOSTER



"Two little mice fell in a bucket of cream. The first mouse quickly gave up and drowned. The second mouse wouldn't quit. He struggled so hard that eventually he churned that cream into butter and crawled out." - Frank Abagnale Sr., "Catch Me If You Can."

As Christopher Walkin's character from that 2002 film might say: "Gentlemen, as of this moment, the Graham Drive-In is that second mouse."

Faced with the possibility of having to close and go dark a few weeks ago, the beloved local drive-in movie theater has announced that it has won the expensive digital projector it so desperately needed to stay open.

The Graham Drive-In announced its victory in Honda's nation-wide Project Drive-In contest in which people voted for five outdoor theaters that most deserved this pricey upgrade to survive the switch to all-digital films. Graham joined drive-ins in Maine, Michigan, Illinois and Oregon as the first five winners.

"We're just on cloud nine," Graham Drive-In owner Pam Scott said.

"We're so excited about all the support that we got and are just humbled by our fan club. Sometimes you realize how special something is after you lose it and then it's too late. But this time around, people really didn't want that to happen."

In celebration of their victory, the drive-in held an impromptu tailgate party before the Graham Steers big football game against Abilene Wylie on Friday night. Scott said a large crowd gathered at the drive-in, including the Graham High School drum line, and Scott got an opportunity to personally thank everyone on a bullhorn while they enjoyed free popcorn and drinks. After the party, Scott said about 200 people stayed for one of two screenings of "Smurfs 2."

Graham Drive-In manager Erin Hawkins said the support from Graham and the surrounding area has been overwhelming. She said after Honda told them they had won, she saw that support on full display when she went out to the drive-in's sign to hang some celebratory letters.

"Even in just those few minutes, as people were driving by they were honking; people realized what had happened," she said. "It goes to show the greater idea that Graham really supports its own and they always have. And this was not done just with Graham alone, there were many many other communities. But the rallying point was here in town and that just epitomizes what Graham's about."

Honda recently announced that it would extend its digital projector giveaway through Sept. 21 and include four more lucky drive-ins chosen by fan votes. Still in the running is Granbury's Brazos Drive-In, which fans can vote for by visiting projectdrivein.com. In the words of Hawkins, "every drive-in deserves a second chance."

Scott said that while the results of the contest have certainly made the Graham Drive-In feel special, the important takeaway is that now a struggling industry is being helped and brought new visibility.

"I think this contest has brought to the forefront the plight of drive-ins. Its gotten everybody interested. The contest has been a special opportunity to bond with people and really come together for a common goal."

Honda will announce the additional four winning drive-ins on Sept. 23. With nine drive-ins nationwide now receiving new life, Honda's Project Drive-In has been a major accomplishment toward preserving a unique staple of American culture.

Hawkins and Scott used many words to articulate their response to the Graham Drive-Ins newfound security through the support of its fans: "overwhelmed, thrilled, surprised, elated." But the chiefest among their feelings was one of "deepest gratitude."

"This has been really overwhelming, but wonderful," Hawkins said. "Thank you to everyone that voted diligently and regularly and told everyone they knew to vote. It's just fantastic."

It truly is thanks to the efforts of local supporters that the Graham Drive-In won't have to turn off its lights anytime in the near future.