It was late summer, 1987. A hot afternoon was fading into evening, after I'd spent the day working six games as an umpire in the state softball playoffs, in Wentachee, Washington. I'd blown a call at second base, been yelled at and deserved the yelling, so sweaty and tuckered and far from home, I decided to treat my van to a drive-in movie.
La Bamba looked good, and was playing at something called the Vue Dale Drive-In, which I found after a few wrong turns. But tragically, the movie was sold out.
I didn't have a hotel, was living in my van, so it was either my little black-and-white TV for entertainment, or reading a book under a streetlamp, or whatever was playing on screen 2.
Madonna's Who's That Girl? Why not? I'd liked Desperately Seeking Susan. Anyway, the Madonna movie had plenty of empty speaker-spaces, so I bought my admission.
The drive-in was rickety but charming, nestled against a hillside, as the sun was settling behind the hill. You drove twenty yards up a very slight incline, then curved back and faced down the hill to watch the show.
I parked in a slot with empty spaces all around, and as I walked to the concession stand for popcorn and chocolate, I waved at the closest customers, a black family in a station wagon — mom, dad, three kids — three spaces away.
When I came back to my van, the dad smiled and walked a few steps toward me, and said, “Madonna doesn't do it for me, but La Bamba was sold out.”
I said, “Me too!” and laughed, and we talked very briefly, as Mrs. Black set up a tailgate meal at the back of their station wagon. She offered a piece of fried chicken, so I said thanks and took a bite, and it was soooo dang good. When I said so, she gave me two more pieces.
This wasn't the Colonel. It was the best dang fried chicken ever in my life — chicken I'll always remember. Each piece was huge, oozing juice, and coated with buttery batter that stung my tongue with spices just right.
And I liked the movie, too. I remember wondering why it had gotten such bad reviews, so I watched it again tonight in 2023, eating a plastic tray of chicken from the grocery deli. And guess what?
The chicken back then must've left me in a crazy good mood, because the movie is utter crap. It's a screwball comedy without laughs. I clicked it off after 20 minutes and six or seven impossible plot developments. It's too stupid to merit another sentence.
But damn, that chicken was good. Not tonight's chicken; that was lukewarm and short on taste. But that chicken 36 years ago? My oh my.
The internet tells me that Wenatchee's Vue Dale Drive-In closed in 2010, and is now Vuedale Storage — because the whole world has gone wronger and wronger, all my life.