It is with almost unbearable sadness that I report the death of Robert ‘Bob’ Groves.Unbearable sadness? For someone I met exactly twice? Well, yeah.Bob Groves was the owner and operator of The Starlight Drive-In, in Durham, North Carolina. He owned it for many years, but the screen was destroyed several years ago and though I [...]

It is with almost unbearable sadness that I report the death of Robert ‘Bob’ Groves.

Unbearable sadness? For someone I met exactly twice? Well, yeah.

Bob Groves was the owner and operator of The Starlight Drive-In, in Durham, North Carolina. He owned it for many years, but the screen was destroyed several years ago and though I don’t know for sure, I think his heart was broken along with it. However, a good thing came of the destruction of the screen.

Since its inception, the drive-in theater has always been about the community. People congregated there and enjoyed one another’s company. And when Bob Groves was in need, the people of Durham pooled together and got the theater rebuilt. Donations and volunteers poured in and a new screen was erected and The Starlight was open once more. To bigger crowds than ever.

One only has to see the name of this site and the layout to know that I love drive-in theaters. Yet I hadn’t been to one in many years before this past Summer. In August we traveled to Durham and saw Snakes on a Plane; the perfect movie to see on the big screen. Bob Groves was there and he sold us our tickets and talked to us later on. Bob struck me as one of a dying breed. An old fashioned man that was involved in the screening of movies out of passion. He liked to talk and always seemed to have a joke on his lips.

One of the main attractions of The Starlight was the snack bar. Bob had a funny way of running it. He would sell quality products at reasonable prices, hoping that people would continue to come there to eat. Which they did. And unlike certain other drive-ins I can name, it was not forbidden to bring outside food and beverages into the theater. Bob knew that people are happier customers when there were not a lot of restrictions put upon them. And man were those cheeseburgers tasty.

The crew of The Starlight were always well-mannered and polite when serving us. As nice a guy as Bob appeared to me, he struck me as one that didn’t take a lot of crap from his employees. And he shouldn’t have had to either. It’s becoming increasingly rare to find pleasant help in any food serving establishment. Paying customers shouldn’t have to put up with surly or apathetic service and at The Starlight, they didn’t.

The Starlight Drive-In was a family-oriented theater and many people complain that today’s drive-ins are not like the passion pits of the past. What these people may not know is that the drive-ins were originally places for families to come to. It was only when the bastard upstart called television came along that things began to change. Far too many adults were content to stay home and watch shows with commercial interruptions and eat frozen, prefabricated foods. Instead of getting out and enjoying a real movie under the stars with their neighbors. This is when teens and young adults that lived with their parents began looking for places to get away and party or attempt to have sex.

It may sound crazy, but I like the current drive-in atmosphere. Maybe it’s because I’m now a family man, but it’s nice to get out among people and their children. And I’m not talking about the mooks you pass in WalMart or the DMV. These are the blessed children of the Earth. The drive-in audiences, by God.

Getting back to Bob Groves, I guess we can suffice to say that he was a good man, doing what he loved. He brought genuine happiness to the people of his community. Harmony and togetherness, amid the chaos of today’s turbulent society. Everyone I saw on the two occasions I went to The Starlight was happy and having a great time. And why not? There is no better time to be had than under the stars with a movie. Whether it be with your girl or guy, with your best partying buds, with your kids or showing off your street rod. The drive-in is magic and I could always feel in it the air when I went.

Bob lived the final months of his life doing what he loved. He was clearly happy as hell in his role as host of The Starlight. We should all be so lucky to spend our last days in such joy.

I only wish I had the money to go open it up again and run it myself. That would make me the happiest man alive. That ain’t going to happen, so I hope that someone else will open The Starlight. It happened against the odds once before and I think it will happen again.

And once more: If you live in a community where there is a drive-in theater, get out there and show your love as much as you can. You’ll start seeing the same faces and making acquaintances. Bring blankets and let the younger children sleep in the back and you won’t have to worry about paying for a babysitter, or whether you can trust the ones you have available. Because (and trust me on this) there is nothing worse than regret and when something is dead and gone, chances are it ain’t coming back.

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