I still remember one of the houses that my parents almost bought back in 1970.
The domicile was memorable because it was right next door to the Hi-Way 50 Drive-in Theater and filled my young mind with impractical daydreams of watching free movies from across the fence. Impractical, because (a) I couldn’t lip-read and (b) my allowance didn’t allow for enough string to run between a speaker and a tin can.
Seven years later, my father did take me to the same drive-in to watch “Star Wars.” And in 1981 I drove myself there to watch “Raiders of the Lost Ark” all by my lonesome. I eagerly anticipate watching the upcoming Indiana Jones film about the Dial of Destiny, but I’ll admit it may trigger flashbacks. For me back in 1981, the Dial of Destiny involved a rotary phone and meekly mumbling, “Oh, well, if I was the last man on earth, could we at least be friends? Wait – don’t roll a boulder at me!”
In 2023, drive-in theaters (including the Hi-Way 50) are gamely hanging on. But barely more than 300 remain in the entire United States (compared to the peak of 4,000 in the late Fifties).
Drive-ins were a ubiquitous slice of Americana in the Truman and Eisenhower eras. I’ve heard tales of my late uncle participating in the widespread practice of sneaking into “the picture show” in the trunk of a friend’s car. (Think “prequel to sharing Netflix passwords.”) Of course, this was not a particularly healthy stunt, because the capacious trunks of those old vehicles had room enough for that bad influence the Marlboro Man – and his horse.
Drive-ins were a great summertime getaway from all the “when in the course of human events” and “conceived in liberty” blather from school, although they did generate a plethora of too-much-information “conceived in a Chevy van” anecdotes over the years.
Various factors contributed to the decline in the number of drive-ins. These included the wastefulness of using valuable real estate only part of the year, the explosion of cable TV, the shopping mall craze and the exorbitant cost of modernizing projectors. (And the nation’s political junkies inevitably bicker, “It was Trump’s fault!” “It was Obama’s fault!” “I say it was Tippecanoe and Tyler Too’s fault!”)
After years of misgivings about inappropriate content, short attention span and drowsiness, my wife and I finally took our son Gideon to the drive-in for the first time on June 14, 2014, to see “How to Train Your Dragon 2.” They really need a movie titled “How to Train Your Bladder 2 Wait Until Intermission.”
Another memorable occasion was September 4, 2016. We watched “Pete’s Dragon” and “Finding Dory,” and I even witnessed a shooting star. There’s something transcendent about watching cinema under the stars. Ideally, it should inspire you to “reach for the stars,” but most of us settle for reaching for the tub of buttered popcorn. (“Pete’s Dragon tried to take the tub away from me! No, wait – that was a mosquito.”)
I hope this week’s column has inspired you to travel however far necessary to foster a sense of community, carry on a time-honored tradition and create priceless family memories.
Heck, I just hope my new way of submitting columns to the syndicate is successful. See, I’ve been saving up my string and tin can money for 53 years and...
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