I can't particularly say I know Bob Groves very well. I have talked to him a couple of times as he was cleaning up after the show. On weekend nights when attendance is good it can take quite a while for all the cars to work their way out of his Durham NC Starlite Drive In and I generally prefer to chat with Bob while I wait rather than sit in my car watching the brake lights of the car ahead of me.
The Starlite Drive In is a Durham instiution. The concession stand doubles as a gun shop during the day and on weekends the parking area hosts a flea market. When the screen burned down a couple of years ago a more sensible man would have gotten out of the business. The land it sits on is quite valuable -- a large parcel one block from I-40 a mile or two outside of Durham -- and Bob could have sold it and made more money from the interest on the proceeds than from running the Starlite. But that wasn't what Bob wanted to do. With some help from local moviegoing community fund-raising he managed to scrape together enough money for poles and plywood and he got the place open again.
When I talked to Bob not long after he reopened he admitted that he wouldn't be able to hold out there forever. The land was too valuable and as more people moved in around him these new neighbors were starting to complain about the noise and the traffic. Sooner or later he knew that the local businesses and government would squeeze him out and he would have to sell. As I said, the land was worth quite a bit of money -- enough to retire quite comfortably to someplace warm and sunny -- but that wasn't the plan. When he was ready to sell he said he hoped to find another place a little bit farther from town -- a little bit bigger, too -- and open a new Starlite with maybe two screens and a nicer concession stand. He had no intention of retiring. He loved the drive in business and he planned to run a drive in until the day he died.
And he did.
Bob Groves, R.I.P.
Sadly, the Starlite has closed until such time, if ever, until another madman steps forward to pick up where Bob left off.