Westlane Auto Movie was situated between downtown Davis and West Sacramento off a strip of Interstate 80 called the Yolo Causeway. You could see the marquee from the highway.
Drive-in patrons would take the Chiles Road exit and follow the frontage road to the marquee. From there they took an access road towards the movie screen following the fence around the perimeter until they reached the gate to the box office.
The transition from Belvedere Street, in Oakland, to Chiles Road, in Davis, wasn’t easy. I was moving from Nana’s three bedroom house in the Fairfax District to a two bedroom trailer on the backside of 15 acres of asphalt.
In Oakland, I could holler to a friend from my bedroom window. Here on the drive-in, sequestered between crop fields that alternated annually between tomatoes and sugar beets, I was isolate from other kids. Yes, there would be kids using the playground located between my trailer and the Snack Bar on the weekends and there were kids at school, when school was in session, but most days my world was my mother, my father, and me.
I was told that I could bring my bike and a few books, but most of my stuff would have to be handed down to my cousins. I could keep my parakeet and my turtle, but the majority of my books, records, and toys would go to Uncle Gene and Aunt Sue’s kids.
I was able to sell my comic book collection to my cousin, Kim. Kim and I were born a couple days apart, so there was always camaraderie between us. Admittedly, I was envious of Kim’s Disneyland memorabilia. My theme park experience was minimal. I had been to Children’s Fairyland in Oakland and Santa’s Village in Scotts Valley, but Kim had brochures showing Space Mountain and the other wonders of the Magic Kingdom, located in a faraway place called Anaheim.
When it came to comic books, I went for troubled Peter Parker (Spiderman) and Bruce Wayne (Batman) types. I was also developing an interest in a series called Dial H for Hero that started in 1966. I had five issues and considered them very special.
After selling all my Fantastic Four, Thor, and Superman to Kim, I pretty much lost interest in comics except what I read in the funny papers. About the only hold out was Mad Magazine which I enjoyed reading through High School and beyond.
My new bedroom was small. My bed, which amounted to a box spring and a mattress, sat flat on the floor. The remaining space allowed me access to the closet and drawers. I was able to shove my father’s smallest book case into a cubby above the built in dresser to store my paperbacks.
My bedroom walls would transition from cards with silly sayings that I purchased at the stationary store to postcard size replicas of classic movie posters bought at a downtown bookstore. I still have one of the cards. It says, “Keep Your Eye on the Ball, Your Shoulder to the Wheel, Your Nose to the Grindstone, Your Feet on the Ground. Now – Try working from that position.”
During the Junior High years, images of Mae West, W. C. Fields, and The Marx Brothers were displayed, posters taken from albums that featured dialogue from Paramount and Universal films then owned by MCA. The albums were distributed on the DECCA label. These albums, narrated by Gary Owens of Laugh-In fame, had beautifully illustrated pop-art covers.
My final wall display would include one-sheets from 2001: A Space Oddysey, Serpico, Comedy of Terrors, and Let It Be which were first displayed in the coming attraction frames in the Snack Bar.
I finished my fifth grade curriculum at Pioneer Elementary School where the standards were much higher than Horace Mann in Oakland. Efforts were made to improve my academic skills and prepare me for the future. I wasn’t the best student. I seldom did my homework preferring to watch TV shows and movies on the big screen outside and the little screen in the living room.
I loved doing the TV Guide Crossword Puzzle with my father. I found a couple of paperback books called Trivia and More Trivial Trivia and began memorizing ephemeral information about pop culture. I began collecting comedy records and joined the The Nostalgia Book Club, later it would be called The Movie Book Club and I signed up for a subscription program with the Cadillac Press, publishers of books like The Films of Spenser Tracy and The Films of Errol Flynn. I started collecting old radio shows on reel to reel tape and long playing records (LPs) of popular music from 1920s, 30s, and 40s.
During the summer, when I wasn’t visiting Nana in Oakland, I would try to beat the heat by reading directly beneath the swamp cooler in the hallway of the trailer or I would hideout at the Snack Bar which miraculously managed to stay cool even when it was 107 degrees outside. I would alternate between the stockroom, the projection booth, the office, and the men’s restroom.
During the wet and windy winter months, the drive-in would be closed. I was always worried that the trailer would blow over in the wind and the rain, but it never did.
Between 1966 and 1972, Westlane Auto Movie was my home. We played first and second run features ranging from family fare to exploitation films. There were blockbusters that ran for several weeks like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and art house films like The Conformist that might appeal to the more sophisticated UC Davis students or aspiring cineastes like me.
Westlane Auto Movie began showing porno in the mid-seventies. After a few years of exposing Causeway travelers to a quick flash nudity or sex, the theater closed down in 1982 and was completely demolished in 1992.