Car bingo is Ivins City’s answer to group activity in the age of social distancing

IVINS CITY — At first, it sounded like the typical bingo game. “G-15, G-15….. B-3, B-3,” came out from the caller. But her echoed calls were punctuated by silence broken by the chirping of birds. 

Friends Caitlin Kunz (in the SUV above) and Mikelle Lyons meet up for Drive-In Bingo in the parking lot of Ivins City Hall, Utah, on April 9, 2020. | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

This was not the typical bingo game. And if there was any doubt, the moment of someone winning the game showed just how unusual it was in an unusual time. Rather than hearing someone yell out, “bingo,” a car honked twice.

This was “Drive-In Bingo,” an initiative by the Ivins City Parks and Recreation department to engage people in a group activity while still social distancing. 

The idea came about after a brainstorm between Parks and Recreation Director Benny Sorensen and Recreation Coordinator Sarah Nash. They had to quickly come up with a way to have an activity even while state directives for the prevention of the coronavirus recommended six feet apart and no gatherings of more than 10 people. 

They said nothing about gatherings of more than 10 cars. 

“We were talking about what we could do and well, some kind of drive up something,” Sorensen said. “It’s apparently a pretty big deal in Great Britain and Scotland, so I was thinking, we can do that.”

Drive-In Bingo commences in the parking lot of Ivins City Hall, Utah, on April 9, 2020. | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

On Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11 a.m. in April, the parking lot behind Ivins City Hall has been filled with cars. Under a blue tarp at the far end of the parking lot, Recreation Coordinator Sarah Nash is giving out bingo letters and numbers twice into a microphone. Her voice echos through two nearby speakers and out of the car stereos of all the cars nearby through an FM transmitter.   

Those inside their cars play along using a choice of game card taken from the city website

Cars are directed to honk once if they need a number repeated and to honk twice if they get Bingo by lining up any combination of filling in spaces, depending on the game. 

Entry is free and prizes include certificates for Arctic Circle and Papa Murphy’s, among other prizes. One honk goes off, there’s a wave of an arm with a winning sheet through a car window and Sorensen or Nash rush out to give the prize.

Caitlin Kunz was one of the prize winners, honking her horn excitedly with two kids in the back of her SUV. To the delight of the two boys, they won ice cream from Arctic Circle.

“There’s not a lot to be excited about these days hanging out in your house, you know, so pretty good about winning bingo today,” Kunz said. “We’ve all been kind of cooped up.”

Recreation Coordinator Sarah Nash provides a prize to a winner at Drive-In Bingo in the parking lot of Ivins City Hall, Utah, on April 9, 2020. | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

While winning ice cream may have been the highlight of her kids’ day, Kunz had another reason to be excited. In the car next to her’s was Mikelle Lyons. Because of self-isolation and social distancing, the two friends hadn’t seen each other since the pandemic began.

“We’re catching up,” Lyons said. “It’s fun to get out. Fun to have something to do.”

Sorensen said the participation of families and friends has been a pleasant surprise. 

“Somehow we got a few older couples and younger families. And so it’s a little bit of everybody,” Sorensen said. “ We didn’t have a need for this, but now there is.”

Cindy Laubscher’s caravan had her mother Marjean Pitcher in the passenger seat and her two boys in the back seat. 

“We just needed something to do and get out of the house,” Laubscher said.

The effort has drawn positive notice from the Ivins City Council.

“I’m so impressed by our parks department coming up with ways to still engage our community,” Ivins City Councilwoman Miriah Elliott said in a recent council meeting.

The games will continue this Tuesday and Thursday at the Ivins City Hall parking lot, and by popular demand will continue on in May, moving to an earlier 9:30 a.m. start time to beat the heat. And prizes from Carl’s Jr. have been added. 

Drive-In Bingo commences in the parking lot of Ivins City Hall, Utah, on April 9, 2020. | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

It is safe to say that when she signed up for the job of recreation coordinator, leading a car bingo game wasn’t on Nash’s mind. As she calls out letters and numbers, she has found bingo to be more intricate than just getting five in a row, with some games having to make a pattern or the even longer games where every space has to be filled. 

“I don’t have a ton of bingo experience. I didn’t realize they take so long on some of the different patterns. So it’s like ‘oh good’ when someone wins,” Nash said. “Yeah … professional bingo caller. But it’s fun.”

Between game calls, Nash is also trying to keep the parking lot entertained by telling jokes, supplied by her sister’s first-grade class in Payson, Utah. The jokes are answered back with silence across the lot, as there is no honk for laughter.

“I laugh at my own jokes, and it’s like, I hope someone else is laughing.”

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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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