Blue Top to close, but not fade away

2007-04-13T00:00:00Z Blue Top to close, but not fade awayMARK KIESLING
Times Columnist
nwitimes.com
April 13, 2007 12:00 am  • 

Shoo-bop, shoo-bop, the Blue Top is but a dream, shoo-bop, shoo-bop.

The Highland drive-in, one of the last of the holdovers from the days when the automobile was still a relative novelty, is for sale, and Indianapolis Boulevard is never going to be the same when its doors close.

Generations of high school girls worked there as roller-skating carhops, a cultural icon most people in America could only experience by viewing "American Graffiti," the 1973 George Lucas film set in small-town California in 1962.

Time was, everybody cruised the Blue Top.

But that time was when the pace of life was slower. When you actually talked to friends on Friday nights over the front seat of dad's DeSoto Firedome instead of text messaging them on your Blackberry.

When you had a cheeseburger, fries and a shake on a tray set on the halfway rolled-down window rather than ate and ran from a food court in a shopping mall.

The widening of Indianapolis Boulevard slashed into the traffic at Blue Top, a cut from which it never recovered. Competition for the food dollar became fierce along that stretch of road, which was once dominated by Blue Top.

The time was when kids would cruise the Boulevard from Blue Top to Art's Drive-In in Hammond, then back again.

It's ironic that earlier this year, the founder of Art's Drive-In, Art Lukowski, passed away at the age of 79. The two icons of region drive-in culture, gone within months of each other.

Art's closed in the early 1980s, shortly after Lukowski opened his Oil Express business. But Blue Top hung on, fueled by nostalgia and loaded to the gills every Friday and Saturday night with cars from the 1950s driven by men who had been high schoolers then -- and now had the money to buy that dream vehicle they'd always wanted.

The Johnsen family, which owns the Blue Top, gave those people much more than they got in return. The amount of money the guys dropped was negligible in comparison to the thrill they got back.

But by the 1990s, the old cars began to dwindle. In their place were the modern muscle cars out of "The Fast and the Furious," cars that began to attract unwanted attention from police and neighbors. It became more difficult for the Johnsens to be good neighbors and successful business people.

And in the end, the times had just changed too much. The Blue Top could not change, because it was what it was and nothing else.

Like Art's, Hannon's in Valparaiso, the Dog 'n' Suds in Highland and the other drive-ins that have closed in recent years, it will soon be gone, never to be replaced.

Can I get one final "shoo-bop," please?

The opinions are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at markk@nwitimes.com or (219) 933-4170.

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