Less than two hours north of the Beltway in Dillsburg, Pa., Haar's Drive-In (717-432-3011, open April through mid-October) is, to me, the perfect excuse for a fall getaway.
On a recent trip up U.S. 15 north from Frederick, I arrived early and visited with Elwood Haar, who runs the place with brother George and sister Claribel. Even after close to half a century--Elwood's father Vance opened the drive-in in 1953--the place is immaculate, everything freshly painted, all the original neon still fully functional.
In the early years, Haar's staged horse races and livestock auctions on the property, along with concerts and square dances in the cavernous buildings next door. Today, merchandise auctions (6:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Fridays) and a flea market (5:30 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays and Fridays, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays) have replaced livestock and music as Haar's other attractions. With George Haar and his daughter doing the auctioneering, a flock of buyers bids on everything from power tools to living room sets. An adjacent building that was once a skating rink houses the vast flea market.
Soon enough, it was time for the movie--before which a snack bar visit was required. Besides the usual popcorn, hot dogs and burgers, Haar's has barbecue, fried oyster sandwiches and soft ice cream, all served with a smile by family or longtime staff. Even the fries have a personal touch. (Elwood Haar showed me the secret in a back room--where he personally peels and cuts fresh potatoes with equipment once used by the Army.)
Classic old drive-in promos appeared on the screen just as I got to the car, set up a lawn chair and adjusted the speaker volume. "Notting Hill" was the feature--but the feature was not the point. Both families next door freely admitted being third-generation Haar's customers; today's sterile shopping-mall theaters, they agreed, just don't cut it.
As we sat under the stars of a cool summer night with fireflies winking all around, I wondered how I could ever see a movie in a multiplex again.