It is gray and wet in Colorado Springs. I've spent my week worrying about money. There's a statistic about how people fret over their finances something like once a day; it's perverse, and I'm guilty. Good thing I'm leaving.
I'm going to find the sun. I sneak out of my house gingerly, careful not to let the lock click and rouse my worries from their nap. I'm halfway up Highway 24 before they wake to find me gone -- too late to come along.
The wind pours through my windows, washing me clean. Radiohead serenades me up the pass and Beck escorts me down into the valley. Within an hour there are no cars visible in my rearview and none in the stretch of road before me. I find the sun lounging off Highway 285 and chase it south past the San Luis Valley and down into Monte Vista. I've escaped -- the perfect way to begin a day trip.
Time to catch a flick.
I pull into the Best Western Movie Manor Motor Inn, which hugs two colossal drive-in screens. I'm greeted and procure the lay of the land from a desk attendant: movies at 9 p.m., meals next door at Kelloff's restaurant until show time, and the Great Sand Dunes and hot springs minutes away. I receive a key and my new identity for the night; each room corresponds to a movie star whose name is etched on a gold plaque above the door.
I'm elated to discover that I'm Tom Cruise -- sweet! -- I've always wanted to be a Scientologist. My room is between Clint Eastwood and John Wayne -- great! -- I'm surrounded by cowboys and afraid a gunfight will ensue if I make a peep past bedtime. Maybe Mel Gibson will come up from the first floor to break the skirmish up if he's not busy reading the bible, or maybe Julia Roberts will glide down the hall distracting them while I sneak off into the desert. So much candy for the imagination you won't get this at The Broadmoor.
I'm curious if the receptionists sometimes play games where they match arrivals with the actor they most resemble. Enter really short guy: "That will be room 107, Danny DeVito, sir." Burst of giggles as door swings shut. In saunters stoic, long-haired drifter: "You'll be in room 103 for the night, Mr. Steven Seagal." But wait, that would mean they'd have to think I look like Tom Cruise. The rational mind intrudes. Oh, forget it.
After check-in, I explore the vacant drive-in, running my hand over a rusty iron carousel and swinging on the playground swings just in front of the enormous main screen. I meet some Denverites also down on a day trip, unable to resist the appeal of a movie inn. I chat with other tenants who just "got lucky" when they pulled off to bed down -- the movie aspect "just a nice surprise."
Eighty-three year old owner George Kelloff still takes tickets at the entrance most summer nights with his son, George Jr. Kelloff celebrates Star Drive-In's 50th anniversary next July -- he built the theater back in 1955 and realized the motel concept in 1964.
"I got the idea from laying in my hide-a-bed with my wife watching a movie outside," he said. His modest home rests in the middle of the parking lot, attached to the concession stand.
I stand in the ticket booth with the Georges as cars from all over the valley rattle up through the gravel. George Jr. relaxes in a lawn chair, his dad on a stool -- they both greet each family warmly as the late solstice sunset casts orange and pink light on their faces. Kids are wild and bounce inside of pick-ups, sugar and Shrek 2 in their sights after a romp on the packed-dirt playground. Young couples and a few twenty-somethings glide in and kill their lights under Vin Deisel's latest muscle shoot, Chronicles of Riddick. Blankets heaped into open trunks and flatbeds become makeshift couches, traditional box speakers hang from open car windows -- everyone's snacking on something.
George Sr. indulges me on lore of the drive-in and the valley -- the old airport that used to operate here, the two pumps dug into the giant San Luis aquifer that comprise the motel's water claim. He smiles a lot and I see memories playing behind his eyes as he gestures and points off between the Sangre de Cristos and San Juans; he's become his own theater of sorts.
"Movies were 60 cents [in 1955] and they showed two times a night for farmers that had to run and shut their water off half way through the first showing," he explained. "They could return to finish what they missed."
As the latecomers arrive and the previews signal children back to the cars, I return to my room and cue the volume. The speakers in the ceiling hiss and crackle to life. I kill the lamp light and stretch out on my king size bed. There's enough room to roll over five times before I hit the floor, I discover.
I nibble on chips and let the big, green Ogre entertain me since the rooms only receive sound for the main screen. If I want to see action instead, I can drive around and have the car experience.
It's my first time to watch a big screen movie in bed, and I'm immediately infatuated. I'll seldom be a contented moviegoer at home again. The drive-in movie motel has left a hook in my cheek. If you happen upon a guy lugging a futon over his shoulders into Tinseltown, just keep walking and don't make eye contact. I'm really quite shy.
-- Matthew Schniper
Best Western Movie Manor Motor Inn
2830 W. U.S. Highway 160, Monta Vista, CO 81144
From Colorado Springs, take Highway 24 west to Highway 285 south. In Monte Vista follow signs and head west on Highway 160 for two miles; the motel will be on the left.
Open from late April through late September, seven days a week. Two films run simultaneously at 9 p.m.; call ahead for movie listings and motel reservations.
$6.50 for adults; free for children, or $2 for children on special engagements for the drive-in. $79 plus tax for a room facing the screen, movie price included. Corporate and AAA discount available.
For reservations and movie listings call 719/852-5921 or 800/771-9468