Did you know my girlfriend had never been to the drive-in movies? I’m as stunned as you are. How can anyone in the rural Midwest survive their childhood without the drive-in?
When I was a kid, there were three within driving distance. One was the Hi-Vue, where you’d go to see family movies like “The Love Bug” … yeah, that dates me. The screen faced the highway, which functioned as free advertising or as a prime cause of accidents, depending on how you look at it.
Then there was a drive-in near Angola, which was a bit long to drive but doable. Later on they switched to – ahem – adult features. Again, I’m dating myself, but this was before the world of adult videotapes and long before internet porn. Once, when I was in my mid teens, my brother and his friends sneaked me in there. (I think the statute of limitations has likely passed on that, especially considering the place has long since closed.)
I was very confused.
Halfway between was the Auburn-Garrett Drive-in. Since their screen faced away from the roadway, they could play R rated movies without fear of harming innocent minds, assuming those innocent minds don’t get sneaked. My parents were careful to keep it PG for us, although I do remember getting a glimpse of skin in a movie that would barely get a PG rating today.
These days the Auburn-Garrett is the only game in town. Sometimes you’ll see a movie that’s more or less fun for the whole family, followed by another that might be a bit more intense. Families with children may leave after the first flick, or put the little ones down for a nap in the back of their van or SUV before the second movie opens.
It’s one of the few places left where whole families still go out to do something together. When I was a kid, we’d grab blankets and climb on the roof of my dad’s old Buick to watch Godzilla stomp Tokyo. When my kids were kids, we’d gather in a much smaller car to see what Disney or Spielberg had come up with this time.
You can buy from the concession stand, or bring a cooler of soft drinks, a bowl of popcorn, and maybe sandwiches, chips or candy bars. The standard drive-in equipment box includes glass cleaner, bug spray, a roll of paper towels, and a Frisbee or ball to toss around before the movie starts. Later we got into the habit of taking a laptop computer with us; I used my kids as a sounding board to outline and plan a novel manuscript, a romantic comedy featuring – wait for it – a drive-in. Who knows? Maybe someday it’ll get sold, optioned, and end up appearing at a theater near you.
So off we went, bringing our own snacks, which meant paying only $12 for two people to see two movies. Try to get into a regular theater at that price! The window speakers are long gone, replaced by a radio broadcast system, so you get good sound quality. The picture’s not too bad either, as long as it doesn’t rain.
It’s the “as long as” that always gets me, isn’t it?
The weather is something to be dealt with at a drive-in. Sometimes it gets cold, and you have to crank up the engine and run the heat now and again, or take blankets. Note to beginners: Always take blankets. Even if you’re sure you won’t need them.
Sometimes it’s hot. You can run the air conditioner for four hours, but that’s when your inexpensive movie night gets very expensive, indeed. No, all you can do is roll down all the windows and use whatever’s at hand as a fan. This is where the bug spray comes in: No matter how much I like drive-ins, I have to admit bugs are rarely a problem when you’re enjoying the air conditioning in stadium seating.
The worst is fog: You can see through all but the hardest rain, but heavy fog is a show stopper, unless you’re willing to turn the flick into an audio drama. That doesn’t usually work.
In this case things weren’t looking too bad. Following tradition, I got out with a roll of paper towel and a bottle of window cleaner, and proceeded to get my windshield cleaner than it ever gets. While doing that, I always clean the blade of the wipers, so they won’t streak too badly if I have to use them. Sensible, right?
So I got to the passenger side, lifted up the wiper, and stood there with a bemused expression on my face and the wiper – no longer attached to the car – in my hand.
Emily laughed at me. Hey, I laughed at me. I thought it was pretty funny, that the thing had worked itself loose and happened to come off in my hand. I thought it was funny right up until the moment when I realized I couldn’t get it back on.
Now the only thing on that side of the car was a little metal U that would work well to put a big scratch in the windshield. At least it was something we wouldn’t really have to deal with unless –
And that’s when it started sprinkling.
Well, as long as it stopped before the movie began –
And that’s when it started raining harder.
We devised a simple solution. I always bring a washcloth with me to the drive-in, because family traditions are often messy. I managed to wrap the washcloth around the metal wiper holder thingy in such a way that it wouldn’t wear a hole in the windshield, then Emily and I crowded into the driver’s seat so we could both see the movie. It actually made sharing the popcorn much easier.
“Iron Man” was great, and the second movie was fun but forgettable. I forget what it was. Afterward we drove to the nearest Wal-Mart to get a new wiper blade and ran into my father, who works third shift there.
Still more proof that the drive-in brings families together.