Reminiscing: An ode to Velskoen Drive-In
She loves teddy bears and bunny rabbits, puppy dogs with dirty habits, golden hair that flows when she moves, taller than me in here new designer shoes.
I been thinking about scoring, at the midnight drive-in, you’re the one I’m adoring, at the midnight drive-in, one look at you is inspiring me, at the midnight drive-in, the way you leave me smiling, you know you do, you know you do…
There was once a drive in in Jozi called Top Star where some of you were probably conceived. It sat atop an old mine dump and had the spectacular view of the Jozi CBD. Watching a feature movie whilst the city calmly rested in the twilight would have been one of the most breath-taking sites one could ever encounter. If you don’t believe me, ask your parents. With the rising gold price, it became financially viable to re-mine the mine dump to extract about four tonnes of residual gold (see the yellow colour of the mine dumps that are littered around Jozi – that is gold shining through these apparent dumps.) I estimated that it made DRD Gold around $128 million at the time. Oddly enough, if they waited till this year, they would have made double that. I moved up to Jozi as Top Star’s screen was taken down. It meant something to the native Jozi resident. Mention Top Star and there is this twinkle in their eye that you will catch a glimpse of for just a moment.
Durban had quite an amazing drive in. Now it’s famously a parking lot in front of the new access road to Suncoast Casino. It provided my childhood with some cherish memories. Those cool-looking heavy-duty radios that you attached to your car in order to get sound were pretty legendary. Durban’s mild climate meant that having your window open just to house this contraption was okay. People must have frozen their snors off when they visited the Jozi drive-ins during the winter months. The two movies I vividly remember is the live-action, original, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and, oddly enough, Curly Sue. My sister and I fell asleep after Curly Sue and my parents watched Dances with Wolves. I somehow remember a wolf when I opened my eyes momentarily.
Velskoen marked the end of a very different age. One without Discovery Vitality cards offering you discounts and without wireless broadband. People ventured out for entertainment instead of staying in and reading blogs about cool places in and around your city.
The news broke last year that Velskoen was sold to a property developer who had earmarked the site for a bunch of townhouses. The tributes slowly trickled in. Jozi was to lose its last drive-in, its last source of analogue entertainment. For those who fondly remembered this now ancient pastime, it was like the feeling you had when you bought that new hifi that did not have a tape deck. You consigned your life to a future where you’d never run to press the play and record button in time to immortalise that hit song on cassette that Kevin Savage played on the Music Power Half Hour. To get music, your life would now consist of tracking down the MP3 after the fact. Or when you invested in your first digital camera and gave your Agfa 35mm a rest. Back in the day, I remember packing my film roll into my school bag. After school, I would take the bus to Queensburgh where I’d drop off my 24-exposure in the little slot at the (now closed) CNA in the Pick n Pay Centre in Malvern. A week later, I’d return in excitement with the hope that the films were developed and printed. Then, we bought a Sony digital camera with its two-inch LCD which filled one with shock, marvel, awe and impressed-ness. I don’t think I returned to CNA to develop films after that…
That is what happened to Velskoen. It was superseded and didn’t make provisions to embrace the new. Just as CNA eventually installed the Kodak digital printing booths at all their stores, many international drive-ins invested in digital projectors equipped with whatever George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and even Peter Jackson could throw at them. Many even embraced the retro and made the entire experience like it was the 1950s. I guess Velskoen just stayed authentic. Oddly, this worked. When I went late last year, the number of cars was astounding. But the business model was past its prime. As a start-up drive-in venture in the 1970s would be fine, but after 30 years in the business, you either diversify or die. It’s the reason why Pep sells cellular phones and Kaizer Chiefs sells life insurance. We live in a world where greed is king and if you can’t increase your profits, you’re gone.
As a business owner that is making a healthy yet not mind-blowing profit, what choice do you have when a developer offers you tens of millions for a piece of land that you’re running your business on. Nostalgia, authenticity, heritage and memories fall aside to the mighty rand. It’s a phenomenon that has plagued yet allowed the Witwatersrand to prosper since gold was first found all those years ago.
I had a really great time at the drive-in that night. All this is heightened whilst you take in the wafts of braai vleis being tenderly prepared next to a neighbouring car, enjoying the laughter of the kids dressed in pyjamas during the intermission, the sound of an ice cold beer being cracked by someone sitting on the back of the bakkie, dropping popcorn mixed with Astros in the car and being able to adjust the volume of the movie. The experience is just magnificent. Experiencing this with someone special made this absolute bliss.
Velskoen is in operation till June 2012 (which means that after March 2013, South Africa will no longer have babies being born that were conceived at these original drive-ins.) When it’s gone, well it’s gone and life moves on. One little anecdote though pretty much summed up my visit to Velskoen: My car is pretty modern and you cannot keep the radio on for longer than 30 minutes without having to start the car and charge the battery again. It’s a great safety feature to ensure you battery doesn’t drain. But it does show that modern cars these days aren’t drive-in compliant…
When to go: The drive-in is opened daily with shows starting at 19h30 although the first movie only starts at 20h00. Get there by 19h00 if you want to get a good spot or earlier if you intend on starting a braai. The movie line up is available online. Even if the two movies aren’t to your liking, go anyway as you’re really going for the holistic experience. The drive-in closes in June 2012 so you better make it fast.
How to get there: The drive-in is in Randburg very close to the N1 Western Bypass. Oddly enough you can’t see it from the freeway. I guess when it is gone; very few will actually notice the loss. From the N1, take the Malibongwe off-ramp and go towards Randburg. At the first set of robots, turn left into Joyce Street. Keep driving until you get to the entrance on your right. If you drive past the screen, turn around as you have missed the entrance.
Cost: You are charged per car for the movies which is a serious bargain. The current price is about R75. I don’t think there are any concessions but seriously, if you go with a family (or even as a couple) and you’re paying that for two movies, you shouldn’t be complaining about the price. The foodstuff available at the cafeteria is priced as per the movie counter at your favourite cinema i.e. it is expensive. You can bring your own food though. Better still, bring a braai stand or pot of breyani (I’d prefer the latter.)
Anything Else: If you’ve never been to the drive-in before and have no clue what to expect, take a look through some of the links posted above. It’s a pretty different yet awesome experience but as with everything, go in with an open mind and you will love it. Also, there is one more drive-in which operates in South Africa on the top level of the parking lot in Menlyn Park. There used to be an authentic drive-in on the same location until the mall was built. Jozi also now has a new, fresh start up mobile drive-in.
Taking daddy’s girl to the movies tonight, stars are out, temperature’s right, hold my hand it’s okay if you scream, always better on the bigger movie screen.