Tales: Outdoors at the Brawley Drive-In theater

March 07, 2002|By AL KALIN

Staff columnist

I guess you know by now, if you've been reading PROBE — the Brawley Drive-in was on the west side of Highway 86 and on the north side of Legion Road. I was jealous of my friend Marcos, who lived across the street in the date grove. He had a ringside seat from his front yard.

At night cars would slowly cruise through the hospital parking lot to catch a free peak at what was playing. They'd also line both sides of Legion Road from the highway to the hospital entrance. The Mansfield Canal ran along the west side of the drive-in and the Brawley cops worked every night, chasing cars off the ditch bank.

The ad only ran once in the Brawley News. Before the next edition was printed churches rallied their troops and the ad was killed, but rumors spread like wildfire and the lurid facts were presented on the drive-in's billboard. "Knockers Up" was showing for a limited time.


The next day was Friday and every male at Barbara Worth Junior High knew about the movie. My enthusiasm increased 10 fold when an eighth-grader explained to me what a "knocker" was and classes were disrupted by whispering and note passing for the rest of the day.

The billboard at the drive-in said children weren't allowed and that clinched it for the neighborhood gang as we met after school and made plans for that night. I was 13 and had recently been given permission to roam up and down the New River bottom in my mother's Jeep station wagon.

"Where's Old Merry?" my mother asked at dinner, referring to our nickname for the Jeep. She'd noticed it wasn't parked in the carport. "Down by the steer pens," I replied innocently. "We plan on using it tomorrow morning to train the 4-H steers to lead," I told her. Which was the truth, but that night Old Merry was our ride to the drive-in for the second showing of "Knockers Up."

As sundown turned to darkness, four of us met in the back yard with our accumulated cache of sodas, candy, plus a bag of Bull Durham tobacco. While waiting, we practiced rolling cigarettes until we had wasted all the papers.

As the first showing was ending, and with the lights on the Jeep turned off, I drove the gang up Cattle Call Drive to the top of the hill. From there we followed the edge of the bluff south and continued along the Mansfield Canal as it cut its way through Carl Panno's citrus groves and arrived at the back side of the Brawley Drive-in. We parked on the ditch bank just as the credits rolled for the second showing that night of "Knockers Up."

When the first police car pulled up on the ditch bank in front of us chaos broke out in the Jeep as I started Old Merry and backed down the ditch bank the way we had come, but then more problems developed. A second police car appeared and blocked our escape at the other end of the ditch bank.

We weren't caught yet, though, as I drove Old Merry off the ditch bank and into the alfalfa field next to the canal. Going airborne as we bounced over borders, we headed for the safety of the citrus orchard not far away but with only a few borders left to cross, we landed with a big splash. The alfalfa field was being irrigated.

But you can't stop a Jeep so, shifting into four-wheel drive, we slewed and fishtailed our way through the field and plunged into the darkness of the citrus grove as the white beams from two spotlights stabbed and slashed at the darkness overhead.

After hiding in the grove for an hour, the coast seemed clear and we slowly made our way back to the edge of the New River, just above the Cattle Call Arena, but again a police unit appeared on Cattle Call Drive and blocked our path. That's when I remembered the little known and mostly hidden horse trail that went from the Cattle Call Arena straight up the side of the riverbank, through a thick growth of cane.

Thoughts of "Knockers Up" were replaced by juvenile hall as I put Old Merry in compound low and nosed her over the cliff. The jeep slid down the horse trail and halted in the middle of the cane. We quickly jumped out and covered Old Merry with the tall plants as two cop cars met right above us on the ledge. For 30 minutes we listened to them cuss us and discuss us, wondering how we had disappeared.

We left Old Merry in the cane patch and walked home long after the cops left. Before the sun came up I sneaked out and drove the Jeep back to the steer pens.

At school the following Monday 50 of us circled around the only kid who had seen the movie, and listened with envy as he told of all the lurid scenes in "Knockers Up."

>> Outdoor Tales writer Al Kalin, still wondering what he missed, can be reached on the Internet at

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