Lost Journal: Watching an Evel Knievel Drive-in Reel

By Tim Mollen

Journal entry:  July 23, 1977 (age 8

If my 18-year-old brother, John, had a hero when he was younger, it was probably motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel.  (I guess it’d be less lucrative to dub oneself a dareangel with the name Good Kagood.)  John tried to emulate Knievel’s motorcycle stunts on his own banana-seated, chopper bicycle.  I watched him set up planks on either end of a row of garbage cans, and jump his bike across.  One time he even managed to not wipe out.  John’s four garbage cans were less than the dozens of cars Knievel typically jumped, but John insisted this was only because there weren’t more garbage cans (or cars) available.

The house we lived in a few years ago, on Vine Street in Binghamton, featured the convenience of a two-car garage.  The added convenience of a flat roof on the garage allowed it to be used as a launching pad for John’s bike.  More than once, he jumped his bike off the roof into our grassy back yard.  When we moved across town, it derailed his dangerous plan to jump from our flat garage roof to the flat garage roof next door.

John’s interest in Mr. Knievel’s exploits was reawakened by the recent release of the film Viva Knievel!  An earlier film miscast George Hamilton as Knievel, but this time out, the man himself was…miscast as himself.  If he shared the screen only with The Love Boat guest stars Marjoe Gortner and Red Buttons, that would have been risky enough.  But his daredevil stunts were matched onscreen by career-suicidal appearances by Lauren Hutton, Dabney Coleman, and even the legendary Gene Kelly.  (The only project I can imagine being less befitting a man of Kelly’s talents would be, I don’t know, a musical about a roller-skating utopia.)

But I’m 8, so I can suspend my disbelief – especially if it means going to my very first drive-in movie!  In a decision clearly lacking in judgment, Dad gave JOHN permission to DRIVE his younger brothers to the EVEL KNIEVEL movie tonight.  15-year-old Bob got to ride shotgun, and 9-year-old Dan and I sat in the back of the family station wagon.  Thankfully, John got us safely to the Airport Drive-in, where landing passengers could watch the shortest in-flight film ever.  (“Oh my heavens!  Why is Marjoe Gortner wearing Evel Knievel’s star-spangled leathers, cape and helmet?  Stewardess – could you please ask the pilot to circle back around?”)

As an added bonus, Dan and I got to wear our PJs.  It seemed like a fun idea, anyway, until John and Bob made us walk to the concession stand in them.  We got them back by using their money to buy extra candy, which we hid in our pajama pockets.  As we walked back to the car laden with chili dogs, Ring Dings, and Fanta sodas, some older girls passed us.  A confusing mix of feelings washed over me when they pointed at us and giggled, but then said, “They’re so cute!”  If they could see me on MY new chopper bike, with no training wheels – that would be wicked good.

Tim Mollen
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