Return of an oldie

Twin Hi-Ways introduces new generation to movies under the stars

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Rebecca Droke, Post-Gazette
Friends, from left, Taylie Biro, 13, Shannon O'Prosky, 13, Jill Bonner, 13, Sammie McDermott, 14, Kylie Tobasco, 13 and Courtney Guthrie settle in for a double feature at the Twin Hi-Way Drive-In in Robinson. The girls, from Elizabeth Township, were celebrating Sammie's 14th birthday.
By Brian David, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

An hour before show time, two boys are throwing a baseball beneath the giant screen. Other children are chattering around open minivan hatches, setting up lawn chairs, spreading blankets.

Out behind the concession stand, meanwhile, several wild turkeys are strutting on the grass, scratching and pecking.

   
Listen in

Jessica Bertges talks about taking the kids to the drive-in.

Linda Kinslow says she went to the drive-in as a teen.

Andrea Sodosky talks about taking the kids to the drive-in pajamas.

Joy Schmidt remembers working in the drive-in.

   

Regular theaters may have squishier seats, better sound systems, a closer screen and fewer distractions than the good old-fashioned American drive-in. But they don't have turkeys. You can't throw a baseball. You can't lie on a blanket under the stars.

You're also not likely to show up at the theater in your pajamas, as Andrea Sadosky, three of her kids, her sister Renee Dadowski and five other nieces and nephews did last Thursday at the Twin Hi-Way Drive-in on Steubenville Pike in Robinson.

"We used to come here all the time when we were kids," Ms. Sadosky said. "It was great fun. And I remember coming in our pajamas and sitting there watching the movies, so we all got our pajamas on and came to the drive-in."

Ms. Sadosky lives in Nevada now and Ms. Dadowski, in Florida; they return home to Moon every Fourth of July, and have a tradition of taking a gaggle of kids to the drive-in.

They were glad to have the Twin Hi-Way open again -- closed since 1996, it reopened July 3 -- both because it was their childhood drive-in and for a more pragmatic reason. "It's really close to the house," Ms. Sadosky said with a laugh.

She was not the only veteran of the old Twin Hi-Way returning with a new generation. Sisters Jamie and Jessica Bertges were there with their children and Jessica's fiance.

"This'll be his first memorable drive-in," Jamie Bertges said of her son, Josh, 4, who had slept through drive-ins as a baby. "I told him we were going to the drive-in and he said, 'What's that?' I told him it was a big movie outside."

The Bertges sisters both said the theater seemed little changed, though they sort of missed the poles with speakers that hung in the cars' windows -- something mentioned by almost every old-time drive-in veteran. The sound is now broadcast as a radio signal, so people can listen through their cars' sound systems or on portable radios.

"What was disappointing was when I pulled in and there were no speakers," said Joy Schmidt, of Imperial. "You know, you always drove away and you had the speakers on the car and you went, 'Duh! I pulled out the speaker.' "

Ms. Schmidt was at the movies with her daughter, Beth Barlow, and granddaughters Lisa Barlow, 17, and Jamie Barlow, 14. The Barlows were up from Florida for the holiday, and the drive-in was a first for the girls -- there are none near their home.

"You can tell everyone back in Florida, because nobody's been to one, you can say you've been to a drive-in," Jamie Barlow said.

They would not, however, get quite the same experience Grandma had as a girl: Ms. Schmidt admitted to smooching with a boyfriend or two at the Twin Hi-Way in her own teen years.

In fact, Ms. Schmidt has a long history with the Twin Hi-Way: She worked at the concession stand as a young woman, and used to see the movies for free as a girl.

"I lived down the road, and used to sneak in and sit along the fence on the logs," she said.

She was happy to pay for the experience this time, and was happy to share it with her granddaughters.

"It's kind of fun doing something you used to do in the olden days, because you didn't have VCRs and all these movie theaters, so it's exciting for them to see that," Ms. Schmidt said.

Ms. Schmidt's dating memories were shared by Ed and Linda Kinslow, of Scott, who used to come to the Twin Hi-Way together when they were teenagers and first going out. They brought their three kids.

They sat in lawn chairs, though, a departure from Linda Kinslow's childhood memories.

Rebecca Droke, Post-Gazette
Katie McElhany, 10, of Imperial sits on the sill of her parents car watching "Surf's Up" at the Twin Hi-Way Drive-In in Robinson. Families arrived early and played in the grass lot as they waited for darkness to fall and the movie to start.
Click photo for larger image.

She used to come with her friends and their families, "tag along in their big station wagons, sit on the roof," she said.

Ed Kinslow, meanwhile, had a front-row seat for the saga surrounding the theater's reopening. He works in the Omega building across the street and saw the Twin Hi-Way's marquee every day.

Last winter, that sign first announced that the theater would reopen in "Spring 2007." That started to look tentative, though, as winter turned to spring and no work was visible.

Turns out, partners Jerry Salnoris, Dan Tice and Jim Torcasi were working on the concession stand and projection booth, which were not visible from the road. So it was a bit of a surprise when they announced a May 25 premiere.

It didn't happen; there was a problem with the new sewer line they had installed, and they could not get the township engineer's OK to open.

The sign changed to announce an opening in "June 2007." That didn't happen either; it turned out the sewer line became curved when the ground shifted, and had to be redone. There were also some last-minute questions about the electrical systems.

Then the sign changed to announcing a July 3 opening, with "Surf's Up" and "Spiderman 3" as the features.

Even that was in question up until 4 o'clock that afternoon, when the electrical inspector signed off on the last permit.

Ed Kinslow said he kept watching the sign. "Is it going to be in June? Is it going to be in July? When's it going to be?" he said.

Mr. Salnoris, who manages the theater, said despite the problems, things are going OK. They had a good crowd on opening night; a smaller Fourth of July crowd that got to see both the movie and fireworks, visible right above the screen; and a small crowd last Thursday under threat of thunderstorms.

But he was glad for a chance to get the staff trained and to debug electric systems -- coiled wire in the projection booth created a magnetic field that interfered with the sound the first two nights.

"I think we're going to be OK," he said.

If they are, it might help create another generation with drive-in memories.

The Twin Hi-Way joins the Dependable in Moon and Kane Road in Hopewell as drive-ins in the airport region.


Brian David can be reached at bdavid@post-gazette.com or 724-375-6816.


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