Wednesday, June 6, 2012

At The Drive-In

Due to the most recent Google Doodle, that happy fuzzy feeling of nostalgia has been boosting my mood all day. Today we honor the American tradition of the drive-in movie theater.

It has been 79 years since the original theater opened in New Jersey, and starting in the 1950s this grand enterprise became a phenomenon. Most people could attest to spending at least one night watching a movie from the front seat of a car and characters from our favorite movies were spending time at their local drive-in's too. Memorable scenes found, Sandy and Danny from Grease getting cozy at a drive-in, Ponyboy and Cherry meeting at one in The Outsiders, and the gals from Now & Then perched on a roof watching from a screen at a drive-in from afar.

Even with years of long lasting memories behind me, I still have a personal vendetta with our local drive-in that closed (literally paving my paradise to put up a parking lot for university students) the year before I became licensed to drive. After all those years of anticipation, my friends and I never had that rite of passage (like those cool kids from the movies) of hanging out at a drive-in without parents - how rude.

I still have plenty to look fondly back on from my younger years.  There was something so eventful and special about cramming the car with blankets, stocking up on favorite snacks at the store, and getting clad in your finest PJ's just to stay up late and watch a movie under the stars.

It also took quite strategic planning and repositioning of the car to make sure the speaker you clipped to the window didn't make the dialogue sound scratchy. It sometimes required quickly driving through the gravel lot to try out several spots before a final, perfect spot was selected.

Audiences came out in droves to our drive-in every weekend. In a much remembered childhood event, involving the Memorial Day opening of The Lost World: Jurassic Park, the crowds were especially large.

My ten-year-old eyes had never seen more epic; a line of cars wrapped around four blocks, cars aggressively cutting in front of other cars, horns blaring, people yelling, and with that, pandemonium broke out. It was obvious, this theater had never experienced such an enormous crowd in one night, and was not properly prepared. The police were called in to direct traffic, but to me it looked more like the chaos tied to the Apocalypse with everyone trying to escape out of the city on the same highway. People were really excited about seeing Jeff Goldblum and those dinosaurs.

We didn't actually get in that night, as we made the sensible decision to back away from the madness slowly. Several weeks later we checked it out when the crowd was not as intense.

After the loss of the drive-in, we accepted seeking our entertainment at the other four movie theaters.  Only recently has my hometown experienced the luxury of stadium seating and IMAX capabilities at a brand new 16-Screen movie theater, so large the building lights up the street like it's Las Vegas. No question, our modern theaters are unstoppable for experiencing movies in truly stunning fashion. The sound and visual quality that is capable these days continues to impress.

When it comes to creating lasting memories though, no other movie watching experience can even compare to the event of catching a double feature at the drive-in.

My hometown may not have had one for over 10 years, but they still exist, and some are even thriving!  If you're feeling adventurous head on down to Ennis, Texas, where they have committed to updating their drive-in with all our favorite modern technology. Their Galaxy Drive-In is able to stay open 365 days a year (due to the non-winter's in Texas) and, according to their website, they are the first drive-in that is able to show 3D capabilities for an outdoor screen.

Just as much as we obsess about the latest iPad or video game system, there is always that importance of thinking back to an earlier time. Even with the outstanding modern conveniences of seeing a movie while sitting in a luxuriously padded seat with a head rest, I will always hope that the rest of the country can follow the lead of the Galaxy Drive-In, and have a strong resurgence of popularity in the drive-in movie theater all over the country. At least for summer's - it's just not the same without them.

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