April 18th, 2005...
"Meet me at the Iguana."
That's all the note said. The note left behind that rainy night before it's deliverer pounded on my door and scurried into the dark downpour. I assumed "Iguana" mean the Red Iguana, famous home of authentic home of Mexican food in Salt Lake City.
So off I went, cautiously navigating I-15 to my mysterious meeting. When I arrived, the host greeted me with a knowing look and nodded to a remote corner, at a table sitting beneath the autographed photo of George "Mr. Sulu" Takei. At that late hour, the restaurant was nearly empty, the usual crowd that waited outside under the heat lamp for a table long gone. But at my table, a man was already waiting.
He was dressed in a suede leather fringe jacket that miraculously showed no signs of the miserable rainstorm outside. Neither did the snakeskin cowboy hat pulled down to drop a deep shadow over his goateed face.
I sat down across from him and smiled.
My good friend and mentor Dr. Venison Skidmore smiled at me though his dark sunglasses. "Glad you could make it."
"How have you been?" I forwarded.
"Our business is too important for small talk," he dismissed.
I nodded. "Talk."
"Earlier today I was driving through Driggs-" the Doctor started, when our waiter appeared.
The Doctor shot him a quick glance, sizing him up, then saying one word:
The waiter looked to me, and as our gazes met, I only nodded. I would have the chile verde plate. I always had the chile verde plate.
The waiter disappeared. The doctor resumed: "As I was heading out of town, I passed by the Spud, and I had this feeling its days were numbered."
That was all I needed to hear. The Spud was a popular Drive-In movie theater located outside of Driggs, Idaho. These days Drive-In's were a vanishing breed, and the thought of it shutting down, was nonetheless quite plausible.
"What have you heard?"
"Nothing yet," he said, "it was just an instinct."
It was a good one. For years, classic theaters, indoor and outdoor, had been closing down despite high attendance. It had been two years since the Villa had shut down on Highland Drive, and few remembered the days of the Davis or Bountiful Drive-In's. Most of the Trolley Theatres were long gone. Then there was the most painful shut down: the heartless conversion of the Centre Theater to a soulless multiplex.
The last Drive-In's in the area were the Motor-Vu in Ogden and the Redwood in West Valley. Both were always packed, but even high attendance couldn't offset the high property taxes and other ballooning costs. They lived under the constant threat of extinction.
The death of the Drive-In would be another blow to a vanishing American Classic Culture that was being replaced by a brave new world of high-speed technology and reality entertainment. I thought of my youth, when my parents would pack my sister and I into the back of our 83' Honda and drag us off to the Redwood, stocked with a hearty supply of red Twizzlers and Mr. Salty Pretzels. Mr. Salty had already been vanquished into oblivion under the pressure of a health-conscious public demanding low sodium and fat free products. I feared my beloved Drive-In would follow suit.
"I don't know what to do, sir." I said softly.
The doctor slapped me upside the head as our waiter appeared with our food. He set down our plates and paused, until I reassured him with a raised hand that everything was OK.
The doctor glared through his sunglasses. "I never thought I'd hear that kind of defeatist attitude from you, kid. I figured if there was anyone out there that would be determined to make a difference, it would be you. You have to have some ideas."
I thoughtfully began to load up my first burrito. "The last thing we want to do is raise ticket prices. Loyal customers are the only thing keeping the Drive-In's afloat."
"Right," said the Doctor. "So how do we cut costs?"
"It might be a desperate move," I said, "but what if they replaced their security guards with Boy Scouts that needed service opportunities for their Eagle projects?"
"You think a Boy Scout could handle unruly customers?"
"They could if we armed them."
The doctor nodded. "OK, that's a start. But we'll need more than that."
"Part of the problem is the price these places have to pay to play first run films," I mused. "Maybe if they cut back on the first run films and offered some classic options. I'd pay full price to see something like 'Jaws'."
The doctor nodded.
"But we really need to get to the heart of the problem," I continued. "The property taxes. Maybe there's some way to get the Drive-In's protected with some kind of historic or special zoning distinction. We'd need some kind of contact to get that through."
The doctor smiled as he polished off his mole and wiped his mouth. He pushed his chair back from the table.
"Keep working on those ideas, kid," he said as he stood. "Remember, if we fail, American culture fails. If you need a little motivation, eat some of these."
He placed a box of Mr. Salty Pretzel Twists on the table. I took the box in awe, then frowned as I read the April 1988 expiration date.
The doctor dropped a ten on the table and turned to go.
"Where are you going now?" I asked.
I saw the gleam in his eye behind his shades.
"I've got to go wake up Orrin Hatch."
The Wounded Mosquito
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