There was a time earlier in the lifetime of most sixty-something folks that the mighty drive-in movie theater played a prominent role in our social lives. It was a way for families, teen dates, and groups of friends to go to see feature films and enjoy a different way of seeing movies. I don’t recall ever going to a drive-in theater in the wintertime. My recollections are of hot summer nights – and only once when it was raining.
In these recent COVID-19 times, the “drive-in” concept is making a comeback. Recently a few organizations, such as Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, The North Fork TV Festival, and The Gateway Playhouse, have used the format to present movies, concerts and even a festival. It has shown innovative, forward-thinking, proactive individuals trying to think outside the box during this pandemic.
Going to such an event, the North Fork TV Festival, this last weekend brought back some nostalgic reminiscing. My first recollection was as a very young single digit kid who went with my family and my cousin’s family in two cars to a drive-in, while visiting them somewhere on Long Island.
The first thing I recall was driving there and folks waiting on line in the cars and paying to enter the outdoor facility. Then you would see the actual really huge outdoor screen built on a huge wall towering over the parking lot. In those days, it was magical seeing Lauren Bacall’s face three stories high and talking with that look she usually gave when she delivered her lines. I remember the weird metal speaker that would attach to the car window and its bizarre sound, sort of like the movie sound was coming out of a tin can. You could not control the sound, so everyone in the car had to be quiet or miss the dialogue. Yet, if you got out of the car to go to get refreshments or to the bathroom, you could hear the dialogue of the movie as you passed all the cars. It was surreal. I distinctly remember passing a convertible car as a young kid. In the car at the drive-in were two pairs of teens on dates doing some intense kissing in the front and backseats. I “tried” not to stare, but did catch a glimpse of the intense locked-lipped energy. I remember thinking, “wow they are missing the movie.”
Then there was the going before the movie to buy popcorn and soft drinks and other treats. I remember my dad ordering like five popcorns, and four large soda drinks. My dad was never a soda pop drinker that I ever recalled, but, of course, he had a beverage of his own that he shared with my mom, and I know it wasn’t milk.
I recollect sort of a children’s park in front of the screen with swings, monkey bars and benches where the kids could go before the movie began. However, once the movie was about to begin, almost everyone headed to their cars except a few who watch from lawn chairs! You see it wasn’t just going to the movies, it was like going to what we later in the wonderful sixties called “a happening.”
Much later, in my teens and early twenties, I also remember driving on highways at night on trips and passing drive-in theaters and peeking to see what movie was on the screen. Seeing Godzilla on a big screen from a car doing at least 65 MPH is an experience I remember, and yes, for those brief seconds I still got scared.
Slowly, one by one, drive-in theaters closed. Some sort of aged like old world ruins, others became strip malls or industrial parks. For some reason, they all just died off all over the USA.
But now due to COVID-19, the concept has made a comeback. I am not sure if this is a comeback or just drastic measures in desperate times, but there I was last Saturday at the Borghese Winery grass field in front of a big screen surrounded by rows of cars. Yogi Berra might have said, “It was déjà vu all over again.”