It would have been a pretty ordinary scene in this western Colorado town of 9,000 — if anything was ordinary right now. But the state’s movie theaters have been closed since mid-March due to the danger of the coronavirus.
Opening night at the Tru Vu Drive-in in Delta was practically made for social distancing. Nearly 200 people pointed their cars, pickups and a few large RVs at the big, white screen and waited for the sky to darken.
“They came ready to party, didn’t they?” said April Hunger, who made the 30-mile trek down from Grand Junction. “They could have a dance party in there,” she said of the RVs.
“They might have came from Alaska!” her 7-year-old son replied.
The statewide “stay-at-home” order is set to expire on April 26. Coloradans have become antsy as they wait to see how the state will reopen. Even though the idea behind a drive-in movie is centered on your car, the Tru Vu still made changes because of COVID-19. Autos were evenly spaced, speakers weren’t given out over contamination worries and no one was allowed to be outside of their vehicle except for concession visits.
And if we’re honest, it felt a little weird to be there.
“Yeah, I keep feeling like we’re doing something wrong,” Hunger said with a laugh. “Doesn’t it feel like we’re doing something wrong? Are you 6 feet from me? Did we measure this?”
Sierra Findley, who lives there in Delta and is the oldest of four children, explained that even though she works, she’s home a lot.
“Not being in school and, like, having all your friends, you’re, stuck with all your siblings,” the 17-year-old said as she shifted her voice into unmistakable sarcasm. “And it’s a joy.”
While there were many kids at the showing, there were plenty of adults, too. Cheryl and Doug Julian love drive-in movies and drove in from Grand Junction with their grown son. And between good-natured laughs, Cheryl said it also just felt good to do something kind of normal.
“It’s nice to get out and not sit in the house and still be safe.”
To keep people safe, all Tru Vu employees wore a mask. The bathrooms were cleaned after each use. The snack bar had customers order and pick up at a window instead of inside. These tweaks are part of why the Delta County Health Department gave the drive-in the green light.
The department even had an employee keeping an eye on things that night. Keith Lucy had to tell a few people to get back in their cars and not to hang out in groups. But for the most part, he seemed impressed.
“To have this many people out here, I think, sends a message that we’re going to get through this and we’re going to be OK,” he said.
Like any opening night, this one had its glitches. Before the movie could even start, the projector stopped working and people got restless.
“So I’ll just wait and see how everyone behaves,” Lucy said. And then, as if by cue, people started to howl from their cars. “Well, at least they’re having fun,” the county monitor said with a laugh.
It was several minutes late but the movie, “Sonic The Hedgehog,” finally started. It was bright and silly, and not only featured a speedy blue hedgehog but Jim Carrey as a villain who looked like a hipster dictator.
Both April Hunger and her son were glad they came and clearly tired by the end.
“I don’t want to drive home now, though,” she added, with a laugh.
It’s an age-old drive-in movie problem, even in the best of times.