JUNE 5, 2011 WHEN DRIVE-IN MOVIE THEATERS WERE KING-THE LOSS OF A GOLDEN ERA

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The drive-in theater was always a great idea but, like the late Curly Howard, it was a victim of circumstances.

 

‘Everything from Daylight Saving Time, high land prices, to TV and VHS movies beat up the drive-in theater concept-and eventually killed it.’

 

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But for decades, the drive-in theater was a logical choice for a diverse group of customers that ranged from young families with kids in the back seat to young teenaged guys on a date trying like hell to get into the back seat.

 

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The drive-in theater was a mark of civilization for those of us who were kids on summer vacations. The endless road was even less scenic for a restless kid at night, so we measured our contact with civilization by the drive-in screens in the endless series of towns we passed along the way.

 

 

Most of the terrain on the summer car trips was as flat as a well-balanced billiard table, so the giant people on the screen were easy to spot on the night horizon. Most drive-ins were strategically positioned along a highway to maximize exposure and access.

 

 

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The drive-in experience offered many reasons to attend for its customers. The movie itself was likely a B picture, possibly a bad monster movie, or a forgettable romance with somebody named Gidget or Frankie in the mix.

 

 

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The movie itself was always secondary to the drive-in experience. Hooking up a tinny speaker to a car window in your own private four- door sedan movie theater was a part of the game.

 

 

So was the intermission that was preceded by the dancing popcorn, burgers, dogs and drinks. Nothing said “I welcome heart disease if food tastes this good” like drive-in food.

 

 

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You could follow your nose to the food center at a drive-in because it smelled that good. And, in our mind’s recollection, it tasted that good-particularly if it was due to the fact that you and your buddies were getting wasted on expensive bootleg beer in the car/theater/bar.

 

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The rise of the car culture ran parallel with the rise of the drive-in theater. A high school kid could not exactly entertain his girlfriend at his parent’s house, so a car and a drive-in offered “privacy” and a reason for a date.

 

How things worked out at the drive-in was anybody’s guess, but sometimes the G-rated romance on a 50s or 60s drive-in screen played in front of an R-rated in- car show. That was the lure of the drive-in: a sense of privacy mingled with the plucky optimism of youth and hormones.

 

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Something was lost with the end of the drive-in era. It was an intangible that was found in the comfortable and familiar world of a car in front of a giant screen where everybody could get lost in their own private world for a few hours.

 

It was a safe world where parents with small kids knew their babies were sound asleep in the back seat. It was a tumultuous world where teenagers with too many beers were sleeping like babies in the back seat.

 

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And it was a romantic world where young couples simply debated the pros and cons of the back seat.

 

The golden age of the drive-in theater is long gone, but it will never be forgotten by the generations that enjoyed (or were created by) it.

 

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Jim Sutherland

Many cars from the drive-in generation athttps://www.mystarcollectorcar.com/

COMMENTS

KEITH:”It was a cool place to hang out, for sure. Just for your information, I think the Drive-In Gods have been keeping an eye on me to ensure I am never far from a Drive-In, even today. I don’t know how many are left on this planet but there is one just north of me in Enderby, BC. It is up and running full speed for the season. When I was in Langley from 1986 to 1994, there was a Drive-In across the border in Surrey. Now it’s gone. When I was in Prince George in 1979, there was one there, but now it is a Ford dealership. And, there was one in Kelowna when I got out of Depot in 1972. Of course, it is long gone too. The generations behind me just have no idea what they missed. Thanks for the write up”.

DENISE:’There is still a Drive In , Waterous Saskatchewan. Cool eh? 45 min from mom and dads”

 

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