Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Where Were You When the Lights Went Out (And the Movie Started)?

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.


35 comments:

  1. I remember them! I also remember people bringing lawn chairs to sit outside the cars and speakers that didn't work!

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  2. Cute story and I enjoyed reminiscing.

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    1. So tell us what memories you have of drive-ins!

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  3. If I've ever been in one, it was when I was a kid and can't remember. I know there are the odd ones still here, but they are a dying breed.

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    1. If you can't remember, you're missing out on one of the great pleasures of youth (drive-ins were a great place to make out)!

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  4. we love them. we try to go to any we see on our travels. keep them alive. support them for sure. they rock!! ( :
    here is a link for ones in the USA. http://www.driveinmovie.com/mainmenu.htm

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    1. Thanks! I'm thinking it would be a great road trip...see all of the remaining drive-ins!

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  5. My first job was behind the concession stand at the Rodeo Drive In !
    YeeHaw !
    I remember going to them all the time when I was young with my family.
    Two kids in the back set with pillows, our own snacks and quite affordable.

    cheers, parsnip

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  6. I saw "Bambi" in a drive-in with my parents...don't recall what year it was, but I do know I was young...

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  7. I do not remember the first one I saw. I was one of those teenagers that snuck in, but I was hidden under a blanket. I was a real lightweight then. We passed the ticket stubs around when the attendant came around to check if we all had tickets. One of the other girls would flirt with & distract his attention. Last one I saw was with my family and it was Little Big Man. The children were so young I didn't want them to see certain scenes, so drug them to the bathroom or the popcorn stand.

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  8. Thank you for this post, you gave me an idea. Since I can't sit in a real movie house due to allergies, maybe I can try our car. Not sure. Worth a go.

    We still have one outdoor drive-in, last I checked.

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    1. Post something about it on your blog if you do go, Ivy!

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    2. Will do.

      PS: I saw Minion cereal today.

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  9. There were three drive-in theaters within driving distance when I was a kid; now there's just one, the Auburn-Garrett. I took my kids there, and now my oldest takes her kids there. It's where I took a notebook and plotted out a manuscript I'm trying to sell: "Coming Attractions", a romantic comedy about an attempt to shut down a drive-in. I hope it's not a prophecy.

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    1. Maybe the owner will let you have a book launch party there! Combine it with a party to celebrate drive-ins and their die-hard fans.

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    2. Don't think I haven't considered it!

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  10. I'm pretty sure my first drive-in movie was Mary Poppins. Being about three years old at the time, I slept through most of it. Don't know if I was pajama clad or not...

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    1. I'm feeling cheated! I didn't get to go to a drive-in until I was old enough to date!

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  11. I loved going to the movies with Mum and Dad when we were kids, so much fun to go to the movies in pygamies, with blankets and pillows, munching crisps, I wish they were still around. I wish I could remember first drive in movie I saw but can't do :) Nice memories Norma.

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  12. I loved going to the movies with Mum and Dad when we were kids, so much fun to go to the movies in pygamies, with blankets and pillows, munching crisps, I wish they were still around. I wish I could remember first drive in movie I saw but can't do :) Nice memories Norma.

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  13. I loved going to the movies with Mum and Dad when we were kids, so much fun to go to the movies in pygamies, with blankets and pillows, munching crisps, I wish they were still around. I wish I could remember first drive in movie I saw but can't do :) Nice memories Norma.

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    1. Thanks for sharing, Grace! This is what I was hoping for...everyone sharing their memories!

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  14. I do remember them. Had one in nearby town I know I went to a few times. My husband can remember the movie and so on. He's got a memory for things like a trap.

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    1. I can remember things that happened when I was a kid, but not what I had for breakfast....

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  15. I went once... What a great experience (although the guy I went with wasn't)

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  16. Never been to a drive-in theater in my life. I was raised in a strict household where movie viewing was not allowed. And once I was grown with kids and took them to movies, it was always in an indoor theater.

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    1. You missed out on a truly fun experience!

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  17. I saw as a kid at the drive-in, Bogey Creek, The Poseidon, and Star Wars. As a teen I watched a lot of Bruce Lee and slasher movies. Miss the drive-ins.

    Good post, Norma!

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    1. Collin and I have talked about how much fun it would be to take a road trip, go to every remaining drive-in in the country!

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Disagreements are welcome; trolls and spammers are not. Any and all comments by either of the latter two will be immediately deleted.