Saturday, August 8, 2015

Let's All Go tp the Drive-In!

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?


  1. Most of my drive-in memories are from when I lived in California. The drive-in was close [up at the corner close] . . . I don't recall too many of the shows we saw but I do remember John and I went to see "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" at the drive-in [but I saw "The Parent Trap" in the movie theatre and loved the idea of a whole movie with twins].

  2. Hallie, as I recall, the windows of those cars weren't tinted. There was only the illusion of privacy-- and the steam generated. (Yep, what movies?)

  3. The Parent Trap! That was the first movie I remember seeing in the drive-in.Remember that green twirly thing you lit and put on the dash to keep the mosquitoes away--what was that? When my aunt and uncle moved to Newburgh NY, there was a drive in at the bottom of the property across the road. We cousins would watch the marquee like hawks and if it was a good one (something we were NOT going to be allowed to watch) we would sneak in during the day, turn up the entire back row of speakers and then at night, sit on the lawn and watch the movie catching about one in every ten words between the traffic and the breezes. Fun times.

  4. Parent Trap! The movie that fueled kids from broken homes false hopes... And the reason people used to pronounce my name Hay-lee.

    Our closest local drive-in is now a parking lot for people taking the bus to Logan.

  5. In my youthy days in Montreal, we'd go camping in New England (because, of course, why would you go camping in Canada, eh?) and that meant Drive-In Time. The one I recall, vaguely, was The Mysterians. Something about invaders from space.

    I just looked it up, and I guess I must have slept through most of it. Worse than I thought. Schocky Japanese space invaders with schlocky American dubbing.

    Enjoy the trailer:
    "Only you of earth -- you and your women-- can give us life."

    I suppose, for "Mysterians", read "Commies".

    (Oooo -- I had to prove I'm not a robot before posting. How appropriate.)

  6. Our local drive-in is still open and operated privately--my drive-in memory is also going to see a movie I was way too young to see: Night of the Living Dead. Don't think I slept for a week after! My youngish aunt claims both of her children owe their existence to the drive-in--hmmmm! Even after her kids were born, I often babysat because she and my uncle never lost the thrill of those outdoor shows!

  7. Despite living near drive-ins for most of my life, I can only think of two movies I watched at the drive-in, Star Wars and Goonies. We were more matinee people. The list of crazy matinees I've seen...

    Susan, I'm terribly jealous though that you saw Howard the Duck and Guardians of the Galaxy at the drive-in. Once again, both at a matinee.

  8. Wellfleet still has a drive-in which seconds as a flea market several days a week. My drive-in movie memory is seeing Goldfinger with an older man. He was a high school senior; I was a lowly sophomore. Those were the days.

  9. Oh, Kait that is a wonderful story! xoxo

  10. Kait, the green twirly things were the Pic mosquito coils! They had little metal stands for them. But like sparklers in the grass, the coils could really burn you if you were careful. Now they're made by OFF and have nice ceramic holders, but I still love the smell.

  11. When my brother and I were young our parents would take us to the drive-in once or twice a summer -- usually for Jerry Lewis-Dean Martin movies. (It was the mid-50s.) I still remember a second feature one night, though we did not stay for more than about 10 minutes of it. It must have been a mystery as someone had died and everyone was asking each other “Did he say anything before he died?” To this day I wonder what that movie was and why we didn’t get to stay for it.

  12. I think I may have finally solved the family movie mystery ... Foreign Intrigue. I don't remember Robert Mitchum in what we saw, but I was probably too young to recognize him. I'll have to try to find the movie online.

  13. Sadly, I've never been to a drive-in. I guess I'm just too young. But I'd love to go sometime. I think it would be a lot of fun.

  14. Many drive-in memories -- as a child, we kids packed into the back seat wearing pajamas; as a teenager, it was a make-out party. I once went to a drive-in when my kids were little, my husband and I on a rare "date" -- the movie was "Beyond Valley of the Dolls." I think we made out.

    I remember the taste of the orange drink that came in a cone shaped container -- the taste of the cardboard mixed with the orange.

    The nearest drive-in now is about an hour's drive, and I have never been. Our town shows "family movies" on Wednesday nights at a park on Main Street. Very tame.

  15. Once again the Reds blog post coincides with an event or subject that has just affected me. Thursday night, my daughter and I took the grandgirls to their first drive-in movie. It's the same drive-in that my daughter and son experienced growing up, so it was, like Susan's generational experiences, especially meaningful. We took some snacks, but part of going to the drive-in is visiting the snack bar, and we wanted the girls (age 14 and almost 6) to enjoy the full adventure. So, Grammy bought popcorn, corn dogs, candy, and soft drinks. The girls were delighted and so excited about watching the movie outside on that big screen. It was a slow night for the drive-in, as school in some areas had already started back, but not for my girls, so we had the luxury of spreading out a blanket in the space next to us (it was also unusually cool that night). My daughter and I sat in lawn chairs and everyone wrapped up in a blanket, while trying to stuff our mouths full of drive-in food. The movie was the Minions, and we all laughed and had so much fun. Of course, now you set your car radio to the number for that movie to get the sound. No more clunky voice boxes to put on your car window. We only did the one movie, as it would have been midnight before leaving for the second one, and older granddaughter had to work at the pool the next afternoon. We came back to my house to spend the night, and my littlest angel woke me up the next morning with a kiss and a singsong "Good morning, Grammy." Life just doesn't get any better.

    My younger self drive-in movie experiences were much like those mentioned here. Loading up the station wagon when I was a kid, but without the mattress, Julia. Wearing pajamas was a fun part of it though. As a teenager, my mother would not allow me to go to the drive-in with a boy until my sophomore year when I was dating a really nice young man. Didn't stop the windows from steaming up. Hehehe! And, sneaking someone in without paying was like a rite of passage in teenagedom. I remember one of my friends volunteering to get in the trunk of my car, and we all felt so bad when we accomplished the free admission. We actually had two drive-ins to choose from, the Riverside across the Ohio River in the small Ohio town on the banks opposite us or the Park Drive-in, located rather out in the country from our Kentucky hometown. We tended to go to the Ohio one, as it was right across the street from our hangout, Jerrye's Restaurant, where you could order outside from the individual speakers at the parking spaces for outside service, and the car hops would bring your food. Good times, good times!

  16. When my husband was in the navy back in the early 70s there was a drive in near the base that showed only x rated movies. Never did figure out how that got by the local guardians of morality.

  17. There were several drive-ins around my home town in way upstate New York. My parents would allow us to go with boys when we were in high school, but it was fun to pile a bunch for girls in a car, and make silly comments about the movie.Because we were in the car capsule, and no one would know. I saw the first Jame Bond movie at a drive-in! And we took our kids and a friend, in early teens, to one on Cape Cod - Dances With Wolves. What fun they were