On our last visit to our hometown, we drove by the place that used to be “The Drive-In”. It closed two years ago. I am not sure if it had a real name as no one ever used it. There were exactly three places for entertainment in the entire county: The Pool, The Bowling Alley, and The Drive-In. No need for identification beyond the obvious.
It broke my heart to see the dilapidated screen holding court to an overgrown lot of weeds and the aging snack shack. I have fond memories of cart wheeling down the hill below the screen with hordes of other children who all came early with parents to get front row parking. The smell of buttery popcorn hung heavy in the air. It was a special treat for my family and maybe one of the rare occasions my sister and I would sit side by side without trying to tear each others eyes out.
We are very lucky to live near a drive-in now. Many have closed over the years as result of light polution encroachment, increasing land values, decreasing profit margins and technology advancements that allow families to stream movies at home or to mobile devices with the touch of a button.
A few years ago, the few surviving drive-ins had to commit to an outrageously expensive projector upgrade as film companies moved to digital and stopped producing films in the reel format. Those that decided to take the risk had to invest upwards of $75,000 per screen. Many of these family owned small businesses had to take out loans or close.
Ours is another one of those family owned businesses. They have been able to survive 50+ years of changing times, and I hope they will survive 50 more. We try to visit a couple of times a summer to share the simple joy of drive-in magic with our children. I am always happy to see the next generation of cartwheelers playing under the screen.
We have learned a few tips and tricks along the way to get the most out of the experience. Hopefully one might encourage you to find a drive-in treasure and give it a try.
Go Early and Bring Entertainment
Our box office opens at 8, but the movie doesn’t start until dark. This might mean an hour or more to wait. Going early is worth it to get a prime spot and have plenty of time to play. Playing under the screen is a right of passage for littles. On rainy nights we bring a board game. I like to read or chat with families around us while we wait. It’s fun to hear stories about childhood visits. We bring camp chairs and get to know the neighbors. You will often find grandmas and grandpas in camp chairs beside moms and dads. Lots of “I used to bring my kids here in the 70’s”.
Visit the Snack Bar
Who can have a movie without popcorn? Hotdogs and sodas are some of my best memories. Nostalgia aside, many places do not allow outside food. Visiting the snack bar is important to the business. Most of the admission price goes to pay for the film. The business pays its people and makes its profit with food. I like to think of that box of snow caps as a small business investment and it usually costs less than what you would pay at a theatre.
Wear Your Pajamas
Our kids love to get dressed in pjs and leave the house. It’s like breaking the rules. We always wear long pants and bring a sweat shirt because even summer nights can get chilly. 9 has had some serious reactions to mosquito bites so long pants and sleeves provide some extra protection. We bring Off clip ons https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DF970FQ/ref=cm_sw_r_em_apa_8ZiqxbE9F034D
along for added protection for her but the rest of us are never bothered. The bonus to being comfortable is that they often fall asleep and can be put right to bed when we get home.
Bring Lots of Blankets and Pillows
I can stress this enough. The minimum should be one per person. When we are sure of a clear night, we take Sam the Ram, my husbands truck, and pile every blanket in our house in the bed. Nothing better than snuggling in and watching a movie under the stars. If there might be rain, we just take one per person for the car.
Bring a Battery Powered Radio
Gone are the days of searching for the best speaker or fighting over whose window to hang it on. Most places have switched over to radio broadcasting the audio which makes for a sound better experience. There are a few drawbacks to this. If you want to sit outside your car, it can be hard to hear even with the windows down. The second is that your car has to be on auxiliary the whole movie. If you have a large digital display on the dash, this can be distracting. It can also leave you with a dead car battery. To avoid both these pitfalls, the Hubs suggested a battery powered radio and it has been great. You can move it to where ever you are sitting and never have to worry about finding a jump afterwards.
Are you convinced?
There Are 338 Drive-In Theaters Left in America — Here’s Where to Find Them http://www.nerve.com/entertainment/drivein-theater-open-find-location