The drive-in movie is a piece of Americana that is fast disappearing from our landscape. It's replacement is the cineplex, a huge, impersonal chain of buildings which robs Americans of one of the basic family traditions we grew up with. As each drive-in disappears, there is one less reminder of how much it meant to be together with the ones who knew and loved us the most.
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The drive-ins were a cheap form of entertainment for the working class families of America. For less than the price of a single ticket to the cinema, a family could treat itself to previews and a double feature; to a night together. More than any other form of entertainment, it allowed families the quality time they needed to be physically close to one another. Today, we sit in our seats at the cinema, alone with the film. Families sit quietly in rows, unable to see or hear one another, each facing the screen that demands silence.
There were three drive-ins in the area to choose from when I was a child. (We never thought we were lucky to have that many close by because we never thought they'd become extinct.) I remember my Dad announcing every other week or so that we were going to the drive-in and my mom getting us ready. We were always excited as we bathed and dressed in our pajamas. My sisters and I would bring our pillows and blankets so that we could take turns lying on the hood of the car to watch the movie under the stars. It was a magical combination, watching the big screen outside in the night air. So many young people will never experience the sensations that a cinema can't begin to offer.
Even waiting in our cars in the gigantic line to get our tickets was fun. We'd inch our way up in rows of two trying to see if we knew anyone in the cars in front of us. After we paid and got our ticket, my dad would drive around for ten minutes so that he could get a spot that was just right- close to the snack bar and bathrooms but not too close to the noise of the playground. We couldn't wait for him to shut off the engine so that we could run to the fenced off area where all the screaming children played. We were uninhibited in the pajamas we wore because all the kids had them on.
Going to the drive-in was like going camping- everyone trusted everyone else. Cars were left open while adults walked to the snack bar, kids were allowed to play outside in the pitch dark between the first and second movie. Nobody was afraid back then because everyone was there for the same reason- to watch the latest movies and spend some time out with the family.
As the lights of the screen came on, my sisters and I would scramble to the car and argue over who got to lay on the roof first. My dad handed out the goodies stacked in the brown paper tray that he'd gotten at the snack bar. He'd light the mosquito pic, attach the heavy speaker to the window and tell us all to settle down and watch the movie. He'd put his arm around my mom and all seemed right with the world. Being in the car with my family was like being in a cocoon that was filled with simple caring.
Of course the actual films left a lot to be desired. They were often dark and in the worst possible shape. Sometimes they'd have glitches in them, or the projector itself would go on the fritz, but we didn't care. We were together, out of the house for the whole night. If something happened with the film it just meant we were going be able to stay up later. Not that my sisters ever made it to the end of the second movie. They would fall asleep every time, like clockwork. Not me though. Even through the ride home, I stayed awake because there was something wonderful in knowing we were all safe. We were all in the same place at the same time and I felt that nothing could hurt us. We seemed invincible and I remember wishing it could stay like that forever. I was only a child, but I knew someday things would change, that we would never again be that close.
Today there is a drive-in that is quite a distance from where I live. I have taken my son there whenever time or my pocketbook allows. Some things have changed, for example, the price of admission, which has tripled. In spite of this I take him because I want him to experience what I did when I was a child- that sense of security being close to your family brings.
Before the last one is eliminated, we should realize how important a contribution the drive-in has made to the American family.