May 11, 2018

Farewell, Circus Drive-In

Oh, it's just heartbreaking. The Circus Drive-In in New Jersey's Wall Township has been demolished.

I'd only gone once, but it had made a big impression on me.

It was relatively early in my days of road trips and roadside oddities, back in July 2009. I'd quit my job that January, visited Joshua Tree for the first time in February, and spent a month there starting in mid-June. As soon as I came back to NYC, I hit the road and took a weekend down at the Jersey Shore.

It wasn't quite so "Jersey Shore" back then, several months before the premiere of the MTV reality TV show, but more like just "The Shore." And given my love for seaside attractions like Coney Island, and my burgeoning interest in abandonment, neon signs, and the Doo-Wop architecture of Wildwood, the area had been on my bucket list for a while.

Prior to that trip, I'd encountered one of the A&W Root Beer drive-in restaurants in New Jersey and knew that I'd rather eat at a clown-themed diner from the 1950s than a chain restaurant (even one that tries to replicate that sort of Happy Days / American Graffiti type feel), so I asked Edith if we could go.

I don't remember what I ate, though I remember the menu being somewhat voluminous and offering a lot of specials I hadn't seen anywhere else. Was that because it was New Jersey, or was that just the Circus Drive-In?

What I remember most, though—besides the stunning neon sign out front—was eating under the circus tent and feeling a sense of community with these fellow travelers and locals alike. We all just wanted good food and a sense of fun, a little escape from our daily lives. (At the time, I was looking to escape everything.)

I don't know when I'll ever find myself back in that part of New Jersey again, but I still feel the loss. Circus Drive-In was listed for sale in 2016 and stopped serving in 2017. A petition was launched to save it, but to no avail. That area, like many others, has been gentrifying—and a drive-in, especially a circus-themed one, is supposedly outdated.

But it's frustrating to hear that there are no plans yet to otherwise use that plot of land. It's not like a developer is building condos there. Trader Joe's isn't opening a new location there. The land rights haven't been seized by the U.S. military.

Now that the walls have been clawed away by heavy machinery, all that's left there is an empty space.

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