Saturday, 17 June 2017 18:47

Drive-in Movies

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Grownups love talking about things that existed when they were a kid that either don’t exist anymore or aren’t as good as the olden days.  Unfamiliar words like “Automat” and “telephone booth” and “drive-in movie” get thrown around. Summertime always reminds me of a magical memory of growing up on Long Island…a drive-in movie. Some of my greatest movie memories…and my worst act of misbehavior…happened at the drive-in movie theatre.

Showing movies outside for groups of people in their cars goes back to the Theatre de Guadalupe in 1915 in New Mexico. The first official patented drive-in opened in June, 1933 in Camden, NJ. With the invention of speakers that attached to each car, drive-in movies sprouted up all over America. There are even still a couple within the Kids Corner listening area, so new generations can discover this family activity.

Drive-in movie theatres were open from late spring into the first cold days of fall.  A humongous screen stood outside, with row after row of parking spaces facing the screen. Each parking space held a speaker that you hung on your window to hear the movie. The speakers never sounded good. The drive-in opened in the evening when it got dark, and cars full of families lined up for a good spot to park their car and see the screen. If the older folks in your family went to the drive-in like I did, they probably remember going in their pajamas and bringing a pillow to sleep on.

There were lots of families with lots of children in Huntington, NY where I lived, and the drive-in theatre entertained the whole family cheaply, since kids were admitted free. Later, when drive-ins began charging kids as well as adults, people came up with creative ways to pack a lot of people into cars without being seen.

The 110 Drive-In was my family drive-in. It was on the edge of town, surrounded by open space and farmland and very little light. Like star gazing, a drive-in theatre needs a dark sky. My favorite part of 110 Drive-In was the rides open before the show and during Intermission. There was a small merry-go-round and a train that circled around the snack stand. Little kids walked across train tracks to the snack stand and rides.

It was on this train at the 110 Drive-In that I did one of the worst things a kid can do. My brother Tommy and I were in one car. In front of us was a Dad and a little girl. The girl had pink cotton candy. The Dad turned to me and said his daughter didn’t want the cotton candy and did I want it. And that was when I made my big mistake. I said yes and took the candy from a stranger. I figured “good deal!” and proudly returned to share my good fortune my mother and Grangree, who were standing by the train station and saw what happened.

 You can imagine how upset they were that I had forgotten the rule: NEVER EVER TAKE FOOD FROM STRANGERS. If you can’t imagine, picture a lot of yelling. It was the kind of yelling worried Moms do when their kid does something that could have turned out dangerous. It was a lesson I learned well that night because my mother was so upset.

I have very happy memories of seeing movies at the 110 Drive-In, along with one awful memory when we saw a movie called “Old Yeller” (warning: the dog dies) and I was not prepared. I saw “Jailhouse Rock” with Elvis Presley at the drive-in. I saw movies that my brother missed because he fell asleep, but I was mesmerized, even when I didn’t understand the plot. I remember the darkness all around us and the squawky sound of the speaker clamped to the window. I remember wearing pajamas with feet in them when the weather turned colder. I remember the Intermission music that counted down the time until the movie started and the song “Let’s All Go to the Lobby” that advertised the yucky food they sold at the snack bar. I knew it was yucky because my mother spent the whole intermission talking about how terrible the food looked. When Big Tom (my father) took us, we sampled everything they had in the snack bar that my mother never let us have. Maybe a 5 on the yuckiness scale. Some of my best memories of my father are going to the drive-in: just him, my brother and me.

Ask  old people in your family if they remember going to the drive-in when they were kids. Kids Corner Producer Robert Drake remembers sitting on the hood of the car to watch the movie with pillows under him. The last time I went to a drive-in was the year of America’s Bicentennial and we went to an all-night marathon of movies. Just before sunrise, they gave out good coffee and donuts that would have pleased my mother.

Like most drive-in movie theatres across America, the 110 Drive-In became a flea market on weekends in the 1970’s and eventually was demolished. Today a big hotel stands where my 110 Drive-In once was. Nothing will ever diminish the memories of the huge screen, the darkness all around us and the warm feeling of being with my family in the car.

Read 269 times Last modified on Saturday, 17 June 2017 18:55