verything seems to be getting younger today except me. People have been wearing clothes and shoes I wore in the mid-seventies.Time seems to be going backward.
The most popular music is over forty years old with the same people still singing it, and most of our live productions and movies are followed by numbers designating how many of the same kind came before them. There is one reality that will probably never come back; the drive-in theatre. Feeling a little depressed, I came to the realization that the drive-in theater represented a good portion of my pre-adult life. A life that only lives in memories and is as gone as the drive-in itself.
My first memory of going to a drive-in was when I was a little boy of perhaps seven. My parents loaded up my two sisters and me in our 1956 red and black Ford Galaxy. The two colors were separated by the thickest and shiniest chrome piece that, to this day, I have never seen again. Inside a tight thick plastic shield covered the seats with bubbles in it so you would not stick when you sat down.
We all sat in the back in nervous anticipation. We were never sure which Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis comedy we would be watching. I remember clearly how we had to wait in line in order to pay one price for the whole car. My mother always directed my father to the center most portion of the lot in front of the screen. We never drove to the front row because my mother said if you get too close to the screen you would lose your eyesight.
After placing the speaker over my father’s window we all left the car excited in anticipation of what we would find at the snack counter. I could never talk my mother into letting my father place the speaker in my window because she said if you sat too close to the speaker you would lose your hearing. Of course, we knew exactly how much time there was before the movie started because the screen would light up with local advertisements at five minutes before the show was to begin.
The air was always fresh at the drive-in. It was also full of biting bugs too. I knew my father would buy one of those weird looking coils at the snack bar to later light and nearly suffocate all who sat in the car. Entering the snack bar was like walking into a new world. There was always a labyrinth of shiny silver bars and red velvet covered cords you had to travel down in order to get to the food.
The floor always looked as though it was covered by a thick piece of glass. The smell was filled with the odor of popcorn and hot dogs. My sister once told me they had to put these blockades up because a few years earlier there was such a rush to get to the food counters the small people in front were trampled to death. Since I was still a small person, I don’t think I ever wanted to go to the snack bar by myself during intermission.
While waiting in line, I always enjoyed the posters showing pictures of the upcoming movies. They were so big and portrayed the actors and actresses as being beautiful and perfect. I especially enjoyed the horror movie posters even though they usually brought on nightmares. In my dreams the monsters chased me instead of the people of the posters. I loved being scared by them. My father used to tell me the posters always proved to be a lot scarier than the movie.
We got back to our seats with our newly acquired goodies just in time to see the hot dog flip its way into the bun trainer and the parade of the baton twirling ice cream bars. The music can only be described by comparing it to the sounds that came off those bright red and blue records I had when I was as young as I can remember. I never knew the name of the songs, just their sound. What I remember most of all about this animated scene was it always looked old and full of lines. At the time it made me feel very young and new.
The coming attractions were my favorite. They showed the most exciting and daring parts of the movie. They also made you want to see the movie even though you knew it wouldn’t be half as good as its advertisement. I never got to see the second coming attractions after the first movie because my parents took us home before they began. In fact, we always left before the end of the first movie so we could beat the other cars out.
In those days there were few cars left at the end of the first movie. During the show all was quiet. I don’t ever remember being told to quiet down during the movie because we never said a word. At that age the movie was the most boring part of the whole evening. In fact, I am glad my parents never allowed us to see the second one because I don’t think I could have stayed quiet, through it.
Now that I think of it, I don’t remember the drive home because I always fell asleep as did both of my sisters. There were times even though the rattle of the car hitting the bottom of our driveway woke me up, I faked being asleep. I did this because I loved the feeling of security when my father and mother carried me to my room. There is no better feeling of self than having ones parents tuck you into bed and gently kiss you goodnight.
The drive-in became one of my favorite memories of my early childhood. Then my pre-teen and pre-pre puberty days of my drive-in days arrived. I still went to the drive-in with my parents but enjoyed it less unless a favorite friend accompanied me. My oldest sister was too old to go any more so there was always room for a good buddy. The game became more advanced than just observing the snack bar and its surroundings.
Even though I still liked to gaze upon those posters of coming attractions there were more important things to do. Oh, by the way, nightmares were not the only dreams that were produced by those posters. I also started to enjoy the more adult ones. Especially the horror movie posters in which the monsters chased women in tight and ripped blouses. I never could pronounce the names of those actresses : I never wanted to.
This was the era of watching the older boys and girls snuggle ever so close while they bought their one box of buttered popcorn. Because there were two of us now we were allowed to go right up to the front of the drive-in and play on the always crowded playground that stood at the foot of the screen. The swings and the slides were colored so bright they almost seemed to be made of glass. My favorite ones were the large animals on giant coiled springs. I always wanted to swing on them but I assumed, at this point of my life I would make a fool out of myself to my friends.
An early mistake in my life I am doomed too never correct. I never could understand why the big kids always hogged the swings and stared up at the screen. You always knew the show was about to begin because above our heads that good OLE well trained hot dog and that ever familiar parade of ice cream pops would appear. When you were up close to the screen they seemed a little more faded and thus a little older. Toward the end of this era of my life my friend and I sometimes tried to be late so we could go between the rows of cars and sneak a peek at what we only heard about and hoped we soon would be allowed to learn.
One of the greatest experience in life occurred when I was allowed to join a group of my friends at a drive-in without my parents. It seems someone’s older cousin was visiting from another town and was conned into taking his younger cousins to the drive-in. Of course, it started out the older kid just wanted to take his new girlfriend and didn’t want to take his related brats and, of course, their friends. As we stuffed into his car, the cousin’s shocked look evolved into one of hate as he jammed the car into first gear and carefully steamed off.
When we arrived at the drive-in we were free to do as we pleased. In fact, I am sure the older cousin only cared about the head count before it was time to leave. The adventure consisted of sneaking up to the cars during the movie. Some of the people in the car were just watching the movie. But, every now and then you would walk up to the steamiest of windows and learn first hand what my father first learned in the back of some neighbor’s garage. My mother could never understand why I always needed to take a bath when I arrived home.
A young man’s life only begins when he is given a driver’s license and use of his father’s station wagon. Even the better if the station wagon’s back seat folds down. After weeks of deciding who to ask, I had my first date to go with me to the drive-in. I picked her up at the approved time and what to my surprise; my date told me her parents had insisted we take her younger sister and her friends.
My surprised look quickly evolved into one of disdain. At the theater I got rid of the kids and finally snuggled up with my date. Every time I leaned over to give her that first kiss, I swear I saw something outside the door. Must have been my imagination. The movie was the shortest I could ever remember and after counting I had the right number of those stupid kids, I drove home.
My first intimate solo to the drive-in was bizarre. It occurred in my own 1961 bright yellow Ford Fairlane. It wasn’t really my own. It was my mother’s old car I basically took over by trashing it. To this day I think she wanted me too so she could get that new Oldsmobile. I loved my first car. It had the wide flowing rear fins and pitted rusting chrome.
The date actually started out innocently enough with my best friend’s girl-friend needing pity because she just broke up with my best friend. Figuring the local drive-in showing some Devil’s Angels motorcycle film would calm her nerves, my decision seemed viable. The movie began as usual except this was my date’s cue to take her top off. I had to follow suit because I didn’t want to make her feel uncomfortable. So within minutes it was all over even though it had to be the longest few minutes of my life.
After the novelty of going to the drive-in alone with one’s girl friend wore off it was much more fun to jam into a car and go in-groups. Unlike the old days one had to pay by the person instead of by the car. Thank God for my father’s fixation with station wagons. I figured if I took out the spare tire from its compartment I could stuff at least three medium sized friends into it.
And if I ever had a blanket, and of course I always did, I could fit at least that many girls under it in the back seat. I was very popular in those days because of that car. At the drive-in we still went to the snack bar before the movie began and then again at intermission. We also played in front of the large screen during the movie and watched the giant creatures above our heads as we leaned back on the now rusted chains of the always-rusted swings.
As we looked at the yellowed hot dog jump into the totally faded out bun we thought of nothing and everything. We talked about our futures and how it scared the hell out of us. We talked about what we wanted to become and hoped we would never be. Some of my most interesting and intriguing conversations occurred on those swings even though the little brats stared at us because we were on their swings.
College, marriage, and responsibility arrived. I went to the drive-in less and less each year because I simply didn’t have the time. I remember bringing my daughter only once. She was two years old and I made the mistake of taking her to see a horror film. She never wanted to go again. But, that made little difference because most drive-ins were closing down. I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to go and now my time is over. I do feel sadness for my daughter and her friends because they don’t have any place to associate life with.
Arcades, malls, and computers just don’t represent the reality of people like our old time drive-ins did but, then again, my reality is not my daughter’s.
Yearning for the Drive-ins of our Past.
By J. G. Fabiano.
Jim Fabiano is a teacher and writer living in York, Maine, USA
e-mail him at: email@example.com
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