Drive-In Movies

Elm_Road_Drive-In_Theatre in Ohio
Elm Road Drive-In Theatre in Ohio Photo: Wikipedia
I am not sure if many drive-in theatres still exist today or that people know what we are talking about. I shared recently memories of drive-in cinemas with my friend Chriss R.
Nobody thought that you could get in the back seat of a car at a drive-in movie and nothing was going to happen. “Nice girls” like her were in peril of losing their reputation if they ever went to such movies with anyone but a group of their girlfriends. “Dating couples who went were looked at suspiciously and were whispered about.”
As a child, when Chriss went to the drive-in with her parents, she frequently talked them into letting her bring home one of the stray cats that were always swarming around the concession stand looking for discarded food or mice. Crocodile tears always softened her daddy’s heart. When mom took her, she could squeeze maybe the purchase of a Bit-o-Honey candy bar, no bringing stray cats home for sure.
My hubby remembers going to the drive-in movies as a child in his pajamas and loving the cartoons, the soda, and the popcorn. The sound was always muffled but they did not care, it was fun. He had his first date at the drive-in movie and his first beer with his best friend Jeff.
Bass_Hill_Drive-in_Cinema Bass Drive-In Cinema in Australia Photo: Wikipedia
Drive-in theatres are uniquely American, a development born by the love of cars, a country easily accessible through endless roads, and necessitated by a population spread out from sea to sea, in areas with small communities far away from the nearest town.
How expensive was to develop a drive-in movie location when compared to a movie theater in the city? One needed land, a small concrete block concession stand in the middle, poles with speakers, plenty space to park the oversized gas guzzlers of the 1970s, and a very large outdoor screen with a projection room.
Chriss is sure that today drive-ins are no longer needed. “When you can live together and play around without public shame, who needs the darkness and privacy of a backseat at an outdoor movie? Who says liberalism isn’t bad for business?”
My first encounter with drive-in movies was with my husband, in the late 1970s in Houston, MS. The town had 3,000 people on a cats and dogs rainy day. Of course, we were only interested in popcorn and the Amityville Horror movie that was playing then.
I was taking in the novel experience in our solid metal, 1962 puke-green Impala Chevrolet which used to be his grandpa’s fishing car. It was missing an essential ingredient for comfort – large pieces of foam in the middle of the seats, so we used towels to make it seat-able. We were kind of embarrassed to drive it to church and park it next to all the brand new Cadillacs and Lincolns, but at the drive-in, no problem.
We could also eat sunflower seeds and spit the hulls out the window like the “uneducated, barefoot, and pregnant” Mississippians that we were. We were really interested in high school students having a clean-the-grounds job at the end of the movies for the entire summer.
I loved the Woody Woodpecker cartoons and those of Heckle and Jeckle, the talking magpies, that preceded the movies and during intermission when we could buy hot dogs and candy so we could get diabetes in our 50s and become beached whales.
To my knowledge, nobody’s window fell out from holding the heavy sound speakers which we had to hook onto the lowered driver’s window. There was not much that had not been torn in the car by the previous owner who was an avid fisherman and threw all his junk in the back seat, letting it steep in the steamy southern weather, often turning into a moldy paste of curious origins which I had to clean with own little city girl hands.
The car burned two quarts of oil a week and it was the nightmare of my father-in-law’s hundreds of heads of cattle who were peacefully grazing in the pastures, unaware that a gas guzzling, oil burning monster was speeding all over the place with me at the wheel, trying to learn how to drive.
Occasionally I would drive over fresh manure which would slushily splash up into the air and splatter on my Impala’s back windows and doors. It was the poor cows’ revenge for disturbing their tranquility. I think they had memories of the daily scare I subjected them to because I always had to walk close to fences in case a bull or a cow charged and I had to bail out of that enclosure.
A quick search reveals that in 2014 there were 338 drive-in theatres left in America. The youth of today would probably consider them a nuisance, an antiquated way to spend a weekend. But for many Americans of past generations it was a most entertaining way to spend Friday night, merging the love of cars with movies, dating, and making out in the back of their parents’ car.
The tickets were affordable, an uncomplicated entertainment for small communities that had nothing else to do on a sticky summer night. Although today we have so much more to amuse us, the disappearing drive-ins remain part of the Americana and its nostalgia.

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