I was born in 1954 which puts me in the middle of drive-in movie goers. Drive-in theaters reached their peak in the late 1950’s and 60’s. For those born after 1980 they probably know their local drive-in movie as a place for swap meets or church revival meetings. But going to a drive-in is still possible and I recommend that everyone try it once in their lifetime. There is nothing to compare a summer’s night at a drive-in to. By the way, a drive-in theater is an outdoor cinema consisting of a large movie screen, a projection booth, a concession stand and a gigantic parking area for the autos. Customers can view movies from the privacy and comfort of their own car. I think most of the younger generation has at least heard of them, but have never been to one. It has been 20-years since I have been to a drive-in…since the children were all 10-years old and less. Drive-in movie goers tend to fall into two groups, 1) the family station wagon group – the whole family including the baby can go together and watch a movie. What most people my age remember as a kid was that the drive-ins had a outdoor playground right up front by this enormous screen. Since the cars arrived at twilight it left time for kids to play outside the car until the movie was about to start. This was the best part about the drive-in as a kid, that and the concession stand. I doubt that in today’s times parents would let their kids just roam free at a huge drive-in at dusk without supervision. I don’t know if it was just safer times in the 50’s & 60’s or parents weren’t as traumatized about kids playing in public. I must admit it sounds scary just writing about letting your children roam free in the dark with a parking lot full of strangers. Or, maybe our parents were watching and we just didn’t know or care. The drive-ins in the early 60’s all had parking spots marked out and each spot had access to a speaker you would hang on the driver’s window. The sound quality was terrible and the scratching and banging on the car window was just part of the experience. Now that it was dark it was time for the movie to start. The younger kids were put in their pajamas, as it was inevitable they would fall asleep before the double feature was over. The second biggest thrill as a kid was going to the concession stand. It usually was right in the middle of the parking lot and was well lit. It seemed enormous in size with so much to choose from and the prices were fairly close to retail, not like the movie theaters today. After being limited to two items, one food – candy, and one drink – soda pop we made our way back to the car and settled in for two movies in a row. Impossible for a kid to make it through, especially since one of the movies was usually a stinker. As a parent we took our 3-kids to the drive-in a few times and repeated the same plan of action as when we were kids and the drive-ins were still structured the same. The biggest difference were the cars, station wagons were out and mini-vans were in. The second group in attendance were 2) – teenagers and date nights. It was the perfect date night. It gave you a legitimate reason to be alone with your date for four long hours. A lot was practiced from the sex-ed class during that time. You could see some of the cars with the windows all fogged up and know there wasn’t much movie viewing going on there. Those lucky enough to have vans or trucks could park there vehicles backwards and open up the rear door for viewing turning your van into a den. It was also fun to go as a group especially on slow nights like Wednesday when admission price was one dollar per car for as many people you could fit in. You could bring beach chairs if the car got too crowded. Drive-ins used attention-grabbing gimmicks to boost attendance like petting zoos and music groups to play before the show. On weekend nights in college when they charged by the person we would stick one or two people in the trunk as we drove through the entrance which sounds rather stupid now. I guess it was just the thrill of getting away with something.
At their peak 25% of the nation’s movie screens had been a drive-in. Today that figure is less than 1% and showing no signs of recovery. The cost of that much land, the whim of nature at a outdoor venue, and the advent of VCR’s and video rentals for family time brought the drive-in theater to an end. Many drive-in movie sites remain, repurposed as storage or flea markets sights. They usually have a 50’s-art deco feel to them . In the Los Angeles area the best drive-in is the Pacific Theater in the City of Industry. It has been well maintained and has current movies. Your can bring in your own food if you want to pass on the cool concession stand. Summertime is the best. The sound now comes through your car radio, so no more damage to the car window. Try it out once with family, friends, or a date night…it’s a slice of Americana.