JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: The Smithie has a part-time job at the Windham Public Library (actually, she has two part time jobs, and just got a 3.557 GPA taking a full semester this summer, 'cause she's so smart) and driving her there takes us past a genuine slice of Americana: the Prides Corner Drive In Theatre. Southern Maine hosts a larger-than-average number of drive-in movie theaters, probably because we host a larger-than-average number of summer visitors. I don't know about the others, but Prides Corner seems to be doing very well; despite a GoFundMe button on their throwback-to-the-nineties webpage, on Friday nights there's always a long line of cars stretching down either side of the road waiting for admission.
And why not? For $20 a car (limit four, $5 per extra person) you can see two first run movies. Can't beat that price with a stick. Plus, the ever-more-hard-to-find joy that is the drive-in. I suspect most of us American Reds were kids during the heyday of the drive in movie craze. From the very first "Park-In Theater" in Camden, NJ in 1933, the trend spread until it peaked in the mid-fifties through mid-sixties, when there were over 4000 drive-in theaters in the US. Only about 500 of those remain, some still for-profit, others operated by community organizations.
I loved going to the drive-in. My folks would put a mattress on the top of the station wagon - looking back as an adult I conclude 1) it must have been a lightweight camping mattress and 2) parents were a lot more chill about personal safety in 1968 - and we kids would pile on. Mom would bring homemade popcorn and canned soda (a rare treat and rightly so) in a cooler. There was usually a Disney movie, something starring young Kurt Russell and Fred MacMurray, and then the mattress went into the back of the station wagon (they made 'em BIG back in the sixties, kids) and we were supposed to fall asleep during the second feature. I remember struggling to stay awake to see the impossibly racy Barbarella, which, I've just discovered, was actually rated PG. Not having seen it since then, I can't say if the film really is hallucinogenic, or if that was just me nodding off between scenes.
As a teen, the Lakeshore Drive-In in Liverpool, NY played a big part in my social life. We'd fit as many kids as possible into my friend Tracy's car, with her brother in the trunk covered by blanket and my boyfriend sneaking in over the railroad track and through a brush-filled ditch. We could afford the entry fee; the human smuggling was just for thrills. No coolers full of treats for us (nor beer, we were all theater and music nerds); instead we would make several trips to the refreshment stand, which on a hot summer night was The Center of teen life in our town. (The late night center was the Onondaga Lake Parkway, where young people would go to watch the submarine races in Lake Onondaga.)
When in college, I was still going to drive-ins during my summers, although the numbers of young people in the car shrank precipitously, and I often didn't see much of the movie, if you know what I mean.
No loss, because by then the great die-off of the dinosaurs had begun. Instead of first run double features, drive-ins were showing schlocky horror flicks and films that had been released a year before. Then I moved to the big city and all was lost to the mists of time. I'm glad to see the old tradition has been successfully resurrected here in Maine. Heck, for all I know, things have gone full circle and drive-ins have become trendy again with hipsters.
How about you, Reds? What are your Drive-In memories?
SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Grew up with drive-ins in Buffalo, New York! I remember seeing the Disney's The Jungle Book as a very little kid sometime in the 70s — disappointed there were no princesses, but placated with popcorn and milk duds.
As a teenager I remember seeing some truly terrible movies at the drive in — Howard the Duck (oh, George Lucas, what were you thinking?) and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (that's the one with whales) come to mind. I don't remember anyone doing anything too naughty, as there were always tons of people around. More like endless trips to the ladies' room to discuss boys we were afraid to actually talk to and reapply lipgloss.
This past summer, Kiddo got to go to his first drive-in, Guardians of the Galaxy, in the same Buffalo drive-in I used to go to! Such a great family moment!
HALLIE EPHRON: I know exactly when I went to my last drive-in movie. Daughter #1 was a baby and we naively thought she'd sleep in the back of the car. I'm not sure we even made it past the coming attractions.
In my youth, I went on plenty of drive-in-movie dates. Movies? Did we see movies? Who can say? I remember the cars. Once in his mom's Lincoln Continental with pink leather seats. The earth did not move.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, we loved the Drive-in, and I am dismayed that I cannot think of the name of it. We had a blue Mercury station wagon, with a white swoosh on the side, and we would all get in the wayback (in our jammies? ) and go to the concession stand and each get to pick one thing. I got Milk Duds, Nina got popcorn, and we would mix and match.
I think--Parent Trap? Could that be ? And if you were lucky, you got to hang the speaker on the window that was next to you. And didn't thou love the previews?
But my step-father had some idea that drive-ins were--"not done." And so it was a rare and wonderful event. For us ids, at least.
As a teenager? Sigh. I mostly wished someone would ask me. Susan, I love that generational Buffalo moment. I hope I get to take the grands!
DEBORAH CROMBIE: Oh, Hank, yes, Parent Trap!!! At the drive-in! Mine was just down the street, the Arapaho Drive-In. (We had a whole Indian-named sub-division...) But I don't remember ever going with my parents. My grandmother took me, and we watched double features, some of which I should never have seen. Whatever Happened to Baby Jane and Cabinet of Dr. Caligari gave me nightmares for years. My parents were in the theater concession business--manufacturer's reps for popcorn, popcorn cartons, drink cups, and Pic mosquito coils which were a big seller at the drive-in in Texas as you can imagine. That smell still takes me right back to hot Texas summer nights, the smell of slightly burnt popcorn, and crackly speakers.
By the time I was a teenager I think the Arapaho was in sad repair, and the kids went to a huge drive-in in Dallas. But honestly, I don't remember a single movie...
Susan, I think that is just huge fun that you got to take the Kiddo to see Guardians of the Galaxy at the drive-in!!! How perfect!!
JULIA: How about you, dear readers? What are your Drive-In memories?