News was made this past week when one of the last remaining drive-in movie theaters in the area announced it would be closing permanently at the end of summer. Even though I understand that technology now allows us to click and watch any movie we want on a giant screen TV, I still can’t help but feel sorry for today’s young people missing out on one of the greatest social events of all times.
Sixty years ago, most towns of a certain size had at least one drive-in theater to provide relatively cheap and convenient entertainment. I grew up in a very rural area, but there was a drive-in about 20 miles south of our home. If they weren’t showing a movie you wanted to see, there was another one about 30 miles north, and yet another, about 30 miles east. Gas to get there was 19 cents per gallon, and admission was about a buck per adult.
One of the fondest memories of my childhood was when my parents took me and a half-dozen other members of the local 4-H club to the closest drive-in to watch “Tomboy and the Champ,” a movie about a young girl showing a champion Angus steer at the Chicago International Livestock Exposition. For weeks after the event, it’s all any of us could talk about.
Later in life, when I earned my driver’s license, worked up the nerve to ask a girl out on a date, and finally found one that agreed to accompany me, the drive-in theater ritual began.
First, one had to arrive early (before dark) to find that coveted space on the back row. Next, you might have to move a couple of times before you found a good-quality speaker to hang on your car window. Third, once parked with the good speaker, you had to make your way to the concession stand for the obligatory soda pop and popcorn. If your date was really special, you might even spring for some candy.
Lastly, when the movie concluded, it was extremely important to remember to remove the speaker from the car window and place it back on the pole from whence it came. I’ve heard tales of window glasses being broken for those who forgot that last step; it doesn’t impress one’s date.
When I went away to college, I was pleased to learn that even that city had a drive-in. My roommates and I would often go when a good movie was showing and our funds were low (most every weekend). The routine was to pool our limited funds for the one person who would be driving while the others hid in the trunk until parked. Since I had the car with the largest trunk, I was usually the one driving, and I think most people would find it interesting to learn that it is possible to fit five college-age aggies into the trunk of a 1969 Dodge.
The ticket seller never questioned why my car sat so low in the back. Maybe he figured I was just another farm boy going to spotlight raccoons later that night with my headlights pointed upward.
For all of the memorable movies, people and experiences that drive-in movie theaters have afforded me through the years, I’m genuinely sad for the generations of young people who will now miss out on those opportunities. Maybe today’s kids have something that is just as much fun — but I doubt it.
Crownover lives in Missouri.