I’m old enough that drive-in’s were a part of my summer experience as a kid. There are few left in the country, which is kind of sad, but understandable. Drive-ins belong to a more innocent time. A time the whole family would take to spend a cool summer evening under the stars. And it wasn’t just the movie, the entire evening was an experience.
Dad would pull the Chevy convertible into a space (Mom drive? Certainly not!), grab the dull gray metal box with a single volume knob, testing the tin speaker playing elevator music to make sure it worked. Twisting the knob back and forth produced a cacophony of static crackles and sound drop outs so on we’d move to another space. Sometimes we’d hit half a dozen spaces looking for the best sound, as if a five inch radio speaker would be all that different from place to place.
Arriving at twilight the grounds would be dotted with kids dodging cars, all running full force to the playground or yanking Mom or Dad’s hand to hurry them into the snack bar. The snack bar was a magical place were delicacies easily makable at home tasted so much better. Cheeseburgers, hot dogs, popcorn, soda.
As the skies grew darker, moviegoers honked their horns in playful nudging to get the projectionist going.
One drive-in in particular we visited frequently was the Wellfleet Drive-in on Cape Cod during the annual family vacation. It was usually some Disney fare starring Fred MacMurray like Son of Flubber or Follow Me Boys. Occasionally something a little more daring like The Nutty Professor (the original one). At that time I was scared to death of Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolf Man. I had pictures and statues of all of the them but the movies terrified me. I remember hiding on the floor of the backseat during the transformation scene in The Nutty Professor. OK, so I was a wuss. Every so often we’d go see a “grown-up” film. I think I slept through most of Lord Jim with Peter O’Toole. I woke up just in time to hear him get shot in the end. Sorry if I spoiled it for you. I think we saw Von Ryan’s Express as well. My friend Peter, whose family also vacationed on the Cape, cried at the end of that film.
Back in Jersey we had the Union Drive-in. I don’t remember going there often but I’m sure we went a few times. It just wasn’t the same at home as it was on vacation. The last I heard Wellfleet got smart and built a multi-plex next to the drive-in so they could make money during the off season and keep the drive-in going instead of selling the land for yet another shopping mall.
I’ve been to drive-in’s twice as a driver. The first time was on Long Island with my girlfriend-later-wife while visiting my grandparents. It was a double feature (as most of the were) – Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry and Convoy. About twenty minutes into DMCL, some guy started pounding on my window. Seems I kept tapping the brake peddle. Kids. Sheesh.
The second time…well….see, there was this drive-in in central PA called The Point and this was prior to the video and internet age and all so there weren’t a lot of resources available for a certain type of film and The Point saw this as a need in the market waiting to be filled. It was always interesting to figure out which of the four college friends packed into my VW Bug was going to get dropped off on Rt 11 to sneak through the neighboring yards into the lot as The Point charged by the head. Pun absolutely intended. Ah, those were the days, trying to spot the cars rocking back and forth…
Always something special about drive-ins. You know something is an American icon when PBS produces an hour special about it…