Final flight of the Rocket

Critics panned the film.

The Boston Globe slapped it with, “The only things missing are a script, a pulse and a reason why.”

The Hollywood Reporter called the picture an “exercise in lame comedy and romance.”

Even the honorable Roger Ebert left his good nature at the door, gifting the movie a star and a half and asking the director, “Did you deliberately assemble this movie from off-the-shelf parts or did it just happen that way?”

With those tender remarks in mind, I have a confession to make. I suspect I secretly would have enjoyed “Princess Diaries 2: The Royal Engagement.” In fact, I’m still kicking myself for not taking the family out for all 116 minutes of its G-rate pulp.

Sorry, there’s no secret princess fetish or twisted Julie Andrews obsession to report. It just happened that “Princess Diaries 2” was the final piece of celluloid to pass through the Rocket Drive-In projector. And had anything else, I mean anything (“Garfield,” “The Core,” “Master of Disguise” or any Hollywood duds I’ve seen in a relative state of bliss at the drive-in), been showing, we would have been there. We would have seen the light touch that giant screen for the final time.

We first became Rocket Drive-In junkies four years ago, when two friends explained, “We’ve been doing the Rocket thing a bunch this summer. We just don’t know how much longer it’s going to be around.”

After that prediction, Rachael and I also started doing the Rocket thing a bunch that summer. When our daughter Skyler showed up a year later (no direct connection, I promise), we were there nearly every weekend.

After that prediction, Rachael and I also started doing the Rocket thing a bunch that summer. When our daughter Skyler showed up a year later (no direct connection, I promise), we were there nearly every weekend.

Granted, Bill Murray’s “Garfield” only had a moment or two (literally one or two moments), but the films were never the biggest draw. We went for a trip through the time warp, and it hit for the last time, when we passed the neon “Rocket Drive-In” sign late last summer.

After a loose head count and a charge of five bucks apiece, our car crept forward. The giant silver screen blotted out the view to the left, and arriving a little later than 7:30 p.m. made finding the perfect parking space difficult. An SUV full of teen-agers

grabbed the spot next door as an older couple in a sedan gingerly drove onto the berm, angling the car into a good viewing position. The older couple dialed their radio to 88.5 while the teen-agers went the purist route and grabbed the little sound console, stretched the wire and set it on their mostly closed window.

Just like every other time, the scene felt like Grateful Dead show meets Broncos tailgate party. Kids and dogs cruised the enormous lot aimlessly; frisbees flew; bottle openers popped lids on top of river furniture; mattresses and sleeping bags awaited a little grab-ass inside truck beds; laughter sounded behind every bumper.

The smell of good, old-fashioned junk food and images of Cold War America filled the classic single-story of cinderblock in the lot’s center. Dozens of hamburger patties sizzled on the grill. Hot dogs took a spin on the rollers. And a fresh batch of popcorn cascaded into the glass box. Armed with burgers wrapped in paper, we returned to the lot, where people from all walks of Durango life rubbed shoulders and hood ornaments. A hush fell over the crowd as the sun dropped behind the Purple Cliffs and the screen flickered to life. It’s hard to find those moments of magic when we spin past the Rocket these days. The neon sign has been dormant for months. Activity at the giant boxes known as Home Depot and Wal-Mart obscures that empty screen, lonely speaker posts and square, cinderblock hut. And sadly, the next vehicles driving out to the Rocket Drive-In will be bulldozers. The next large screens that flicker to life on the property will be plasma televisions inside townhomes.

And yet, we all saw it coming. We all heard that same rumor year after year. We all watched as the credits slowly rolled at the Rocket. But what I wouldn’t give for two greasy Rocket burgers, a pair of large Icees, a couple of sleeping bags and 116 sleepy minutes of “The Royal Engagement.” What I wouldn’t give to take one final ride on the Rocket.

– Will Sands



In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows