They're almost extinct today. Sad. I, for one, really miss them.
I'm talking about drive-in movie theaters. The first one opened on June 6, 1933, in Pennsauken, New Jersey--eighty-two years ago. Their popularity peaked during the late 1950s and early 1960s. They were ideal for families with small children--no crying babies interfering with others' enjoyment of the movie, since everyone watched from the comfort of the automobiles. Parents could--and did--bring the kids in their jammies and let them sleep in the back seat.There were almost always playgrounds for the kids. There were concession stands and restrooms, and many drive-ins offered special attractions to bring in business.
At one time, drive-ins charged admission by the car, not by the person. When that changed, teenagers took to sneaking in via the trunk of the car. Most of the time, they got away with it.
There were several factors involved in the decline in their popularity in the '80s. They had to close in bad weather. Daylight savings time made it necessary for drive-ins to start the movies later. They became too expensive to operate. By the late '80s, less than two hundred drive-in theaters remained in operation in the US and Canada. The few that remain today are struggling, as the switch to digital projection has created requirements for drive-ins that are simply too costly.
Have you ever seen movies at a drive-in theater? If so, can you remember your first time? I'm a little fuzzy on my first, but I believe it was a double feature at the South Twin Drive-in in south St. Louis County. I was with Shirley, a friend from high school. The movies? Flesh Gordon and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex.
No wonder we kept getting funny looks from other moviegoers. Why did I leave it to Shirley to pick the movie? It's not as if I didn't know what to expect!
I can, however, recall with certainty the last movie I saw at a drive-in. It was Jurassic Park, which I had fortunately already seen. I say fortunately because that night, I was with Mom, Collin and my cousin Jeff. Jeff was driving. Mom couldn't--by that time, diabetes had robbed her of enough of her eyesight to make our family doctor restrict her driving at night. I couldn't drive and Collin was only thirteen--no driver's license. The problem was that Jeff had brought along a carton of wine coolers. There was no way I was going to have him driving drunk with my kid in the car--so I did my best to drink as many of those wine coolers as I could in order to keep him from drinking them.
Anyone who knows me well knows I can't hold liquor--at all. After three of those things, I was really, really plastered. (If you're reading this, Collin, just remember I did it for you!). I don't even remember seeing the last two-thirds of the movie or going home. I do remember being so hung over the next morning, I couldn't stand sound, light, or the smell of breakfast cooking.
That drive-in--the 66 Park-in Theater in Crestwood on the original Route 66--is now the site of a shopping center. Ditto for the old South Twin. The Ronnies Drive-in is now the Ronnies 20 Cineplex. The closest remaining drive-in to us is the Skyview, across the river in Belleville, Illinois.