The magic of drive-in theaters

Saturday night, a group of friends went to the Silver Lake Drive-In. We ended up watching Spiderman 3 and Ghost Rider, both of which were excellent movies. I ended up sitting in Belinda’s car watching the shows with her. The experience that night brought back a few memories.

Of course, any trip to a drive-in theater always brings back childhood memories. My parents, being frugal people, never took my sister or I to the movie theater. However, they were perfectly happy to take my sister and I to the drive-in theater a couple times each summer. Each time we’d go, they’d bundle the two of us into our pajamas before taking us out to the small drive-in (I was amazed when I learned that some places had more than one screen and offered a selection of movies to watch). I don’t remember many of the movies we saw, the only two that stick out vividly are The Fox and the Hound (which I cried at because of the ending) and Herbie Goes Bananas. I also remember that the one time we went, the second movie they showed was Canonball Run. I particularly my mother mentioning the next day that she was glad that my sister fell asleep during that movie. (We often fell asleep during the second movie, which is why we were always bundled in our pajamas.)

Back then, going to the Drive-In was a special treat. We didn’t go often, but Mom and Dad always made sure we saw at least one movie each summer. They would usually tell my sister and me a couple days in advance, and we’d look forward to the “big night” from that moment on. I suppose that’s why going to a drive-in is still a magical event to me over two decades later. There’s a certain sense to the experience that I doubt even seeing a movie at an I-Max theater could compare to in my mind.

The other memory that Saturday night brought back to me was the last time I went to a drive-in. That was during college. A group of us went to see Pocahontas with our friends Dennis and Mary and their three small children. There was a second movie we saw that night, but I forget what it was. I do remember that neither James nor I were impressed with it and spent most of the movie whispering snide comments about it between ourselves.

That was the night that I learned that some of the larger drive-in theaters have more than one screen, a fact that totally surprised me. I also remember my surprise at discovering that some drive-in theaters also broadcast the sound for their movies using a very small range FM radio transmitter. During my childhood, the theater we went to only had the small speakers that you hung on the edge of your car window.

That was also the first time that I didn’t stay in the car. Dennis backed his mini van up into the spot so that the rear of the van was facing the screen. We then all climbed out and opened the back doors on the van. Some sat in the back of the van while the rest of us lined up in front in our lawn chairs. It was a different experience for me, and quite a pleasant one.

Saturday night, we stayed in our cars (though one of the girls did go sit outside in a chair). We hadn’t brought chairs or blankets (well, the others hadn’t brought blankets, but I had one). As it was quite chilly this weekend, we decided to stay in the cars for the most part. However, a great many people did choose to go sit or lay out on the lawn in front of all of the cars. We particularly admired the family who had the foresight to bring not only sleeping bags, but bean bags to lay on and a tarp to put down and keep everything else dry with.

It was a truly magical evening, and I look forward to repeating it again. Who knows, with any luck, I might get a chance to share the experience with someone special before the summer is out.

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