Monday, July 17, 2017

Did you stay in the car at the drive-in movies?

My brother was just a baby at the time and we were set up in the back seat of the family station wagon. There were pillows, blankets and stuffed animals all around us. We had on sweatshirts over our pajamas. It was thrilling to be outside in our pjs at night. This was a special occasion for us: we were at the drive-in.
            I can remember so clearly, the smell of the Jiffy Pop that my mom made for us. In the days before microwaves, this was a real treat and enjoyed only occasionally. The unpopped kernels came packaged in a covered aluminum pie tin contraption, with a handle. You slid and shook this thing across the heat of your stove and in a few minutes, the top had puffed out and the wonderful, hot popped corn was inside.
            When we were kids, there were always two movies at the drive-in. The first was usually a kid-friendly cartoon, the second a first-run adult movie. The idea was for us to nod off after ours, so the adults could enjoy theirs. Of course we couldn’t resist fiddling with the heavy, metal boxes that hung precariously from the slightly lowered glass of the car windows. This was the speaker through which distant and crackly voices emerged. The speaker was attached to a pole by a thick wire and we were admonished time and again not to pull on it. Yeah, sure.
            At the front of the parking field, just before the huge screen, there was a playground with swings and a rickety slide. We wanted desperately to play on those things while we waited for it to get dark enough for the show to begin. Nothing doing, said our parents, we were encamped and no one was going to miss a moment of the movie. From the concession ads to the final check that the speakers weren’t still attached to the car, a trip to the drive-in was an adventure indeed.
            When we hit our teen years, we considered the admission price to be a group fee. Two would sit in the front of the car and pass by the small booth, handing over the pooled resources of the group sneaking through the adjacent corn field at the same moment. We thought we were getting away with something. Who wanted to pay for a ticket when you could put that money to good use at the concession stand?
            It all began in 1933 when Richard Hollingshead rigged up the first drive-in movie in his backyard in Camden, New Jersey. As he tweaked his big idea, looked for an improvement on his little radio hidden behind the screen that had been nailed to a few trees. He contacted RCA Co. which devised a directional sound system and the drive-in movie on a large scale became a possibility. The idea grew in popularity through the 1950s, taking a brief hiatus during the mid-40s when the US was focused on the war effort. Construction of these outdoor theatres flattened out in the 1970s and by the end of the 80s, they began to close. Cable TV and VCRs were taking over as new forms of family entertainment.
            Recently, drive-in movies are enjoying a resurgence world-wide with theatres being restored and new construction taking place in the mid-West in particular. Nostalgia seems to be the driving factor. Lord knows we all have plenty of electronic gadgets in our homes to keep us occupied. Now, we look to the great outdoors for family-friendly entertainment.


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