People bundle up in blankets in their cars as the first movie of a double feature “Onward” begins to play at the Blue Fox Drive-In Theater on Thursday in Oak Harbor. The drive-in had more than 85 cars on Thursday night. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

People bundle up in blankets in their cars as the first movie of a double feature “Onward” begins to play at the Blue Fox Drive-In Theater on Thursday in Oak Harbor. The drive-in had more than 85 cars on Thursday night. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The last picture show: COVID-19 closes Blue Fox Drive-In

In days before the stay-at-home order, families took in movies. Now you have to get your popcorn to go.

It was a long drive for a double feature. But it was the only show for miles.

What’s up with that?

COVID-19 had shut down almost everything, except the Blue Fox Drive-In Theater.

On Thursday, Kimberly Allen came from Lake Stevens with her daughter Abygaile, 11, and her dad, John.

“He is disabled and he has been stuck in the house for almost three weeks now,” she said. “We needed to get out of the house. It’s a scary scenario out there.”

This was a refuge from the zaniness.

“We can all enjoy ourselves equally and we’re still not really at risk,” she said.

Cars began rolling in at 5 o’clock, two hours before showtime Thursday at the Blue Fox off Highway 20 near Oak Harbor, about 35 miles from the Clinton ferry terminal.

The Eagles’ “Take it Easy” played over the loudspeaker as kids romped in the grass in front of the towering white screen that at dusk would be colored by Disney/Pixar’s “Onward” followed by “The Call of the Wild.”

Parents padded tailgates with blankets and stationed lawn chairs near fenders. A family of seven with two big dogs in a Chevy Suburban played musical chairs so everyone in the car could see.

In the concession stand, corn popped as if it was just another spring evening.

And it was, sort of.

Evelyn Kofler (left), Elyssa Kofler (center) and Sarah Selsor (right) sit bundled up in the back of a truck as they wait for “Onward” to start on Thursday. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Evelyn Kofler (left), Elyssa Kofler (center) and Sarah Selsor (right) sit bundled up in the back of a truck as they wait for “Onward” to start on Thursday. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald) Purchase Photo

“We are trying to make it normal,” theater owner Darrell Bratt said. “This has just been a nightmare, for everyone. I don’t feel bad for me. I feel bad for this stinking country.”

The state took action a week ago to control the spread of coronavirus by closing movie theaters and other recreational gatherings. The few remaining drive-in theaters fell through the cracks at first.

But Sunday night was the last picture show. Monday’s new stay-at-home order by the governor has darkened the screen at the Blue Fox theater for two weeks.

Back on Thursday, about 85 cars parked on the grassy lot with 400 spaces. That doubled on Friday, and on Saturday some 250 cars showed up. Sunday drew another 85 cars.

Bratt bought the vintage theater in 1988, and added a go-kart track and arcade, called Brattland, to survive through cineplexes and Netflix. The family-run complex employed about 25 until last week’s order shuttered everything except the drive-in.

A young girl plays in in the back seat of a pick-up truck as movie previews play on the drive-in screen on Thursday. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

A young girl plays in in the back seat of a pick-up truck as movie previews play on the drive-in screen on Thursday. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald) Purchase Photo

The shows are usually weekends only, but Bratt opened last Tuesdayto keep as many as possible working and to give people a place to play safely.

“We have a lot of new customers, which is kind of cool,” said his daughter-in-law Kelsey Bratt, theater manager.

For Abygaile, the girl from Lake Stevens, it was her first time at a drive-in theater. For her grandfather, it was a chance to share memories of what was a rite of a bygone era.

“Grandpa is telling all his stories,” her mom said.

The mother and daughter left the car to take selfies in front of a wooden stand-up of a cartoon hot dog, fountain drink and popcorn box.

Rudy Giecek has been bringing his daughters, 7 and 11, to the Blue Fox since they were babies. On Saturday night, the family came from Smokey Point to catch a show.

“Remember to honk your horn and flash your lights after they play the ‘Star Spangled Banner.’ This is probably our family’s favorite part of the night,” Giecek said.

He liked the FanFood app that was implemented last week. Users ordered and paid through the app, with a pickup notification.

“Order on the app and no need to wait for that one customer who wants to make sure every single kernel of popcorn has two squirts of butter on it,” Giecek said.

Lights illuminate the ticket booth and concession stand at Blue Fox Drive-In on Thursday in Oak Harbor. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Lights illuminate the ticket booth and concession stand at Blue Fox Drive-In on Thursday in Oak Harbor. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald) Purchase Photo

Even though the show is over, the food must go on.

“We’ll probably do takeout, and delivery too,” Kelsey Bratt said Monday.

This includes the favorites: “Pizza, Philly’s, burgers, nachos, hot dogs,” she said. “Red Vines, Milk Duds, Mike and Ike. We have 75 different candies.”

Of course, tubs of hot, buttered popcorn.

“We seriously have the best popcorn,” she said.

Andrea Brown: abrown@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3443. Twitter @reporterbrown.

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