Drive-In Movies

Going to a multiplex movie theater with its plush seats and costly tickets to watch a movie on a big screen with five hundred strangers just doesn’t equate to the experience of spending an evening in the quintessential American source of culture and entertainment, an old-time drive-in theater. Neither can watching DVDs or Netflix on TV at home.

Woe to the young folks who have never experienced the thrill of stuffing their 1935 Chevy jalopy full of friends—some secreted in the trunk to reduce admission costs—and hit the open air drive-in theater on the edge of town on a Friday night.

No comfy reclining seats in an air conditioned building that costs millions of dollars—just the smelly old seats of your Chevy. No black top parking area to retain heat—just dirt pushed into grassy ridges to give you a better angle to see the enormous screen. Scratchy speakers you hung on your window afforded some semblance of audio reproduction. It was important, however, to remember to put the speaker back on its stand before you drove off lest you accidentally, or illegally, owned a speaker or got caught and had to pay for it.

Hot summers in the south attracted all manner of insects to invade your car while you watched a movie, but the resourceful folks at the drive-in sold you ingenious things to rid yourself of pests. The one I liked best was a little coil of black something or another that you lit with a match. It burned slowly and emitted a white smoke which was neither friend of insect nor human.

If an evening of hot petting with your best girlfriend worked up an appetite, you could visit the concession stand that had an endless stock of junk food. In addition to ordinary cold drinks, candy and popcorn, you could gorge yourself on hotdogs, hamburgers, pizza pies, fried chicken and ice cream—all in the privacy of your own dark, cozy car.

When you were young, your parents could take you to the drive-in in your pajamas which enabled you to snooze during some boring adult melodrama. If you had more energy, you could join other kids in PJs at the little playground out behind the concession stand.

When I was about fourteen, my sixteen-year-old cousin, Robert and I went to the drive-in in Monroe, Louisiana on his new Honda motorcycle. It was a sweltering summer night so cold beer seemed in order. Robert, a preacher’s son, somehow convinced the cashier at the store he was getting the beer for some adults. Off we went through the streets of Monroe with me on the back of the motorcycle holding onto a sack of perspiring Dixie beer and clutching the machine with my legs, like a cowboy riding a bucking horse. All went well until we hit the raised railroad tracks near Louisville Ave.

Tom and Cousin Robert

The unexpected jolt propelled me straight up like a sky-rocket. I landed on my rump in the dark street. Since we were going to a late show and it was after business hours, there was no traffic. I was not badly hurt, but there I lay sprawled out in the street with full cans of beer rolling about all over the place. My biggest fear at that moment was being seen by a neighbor in my small town and being reported to my parents–or worse–to Robert’s Preacher Dad. I had heard some of Uncle Roy’s sermons. They were full of hellfire and brimstone and contained many threats of burning for eternity for grievous offenses such as drinking.

Robert helped me gather up our precious cargo and we arrived at the Drive-in in time for the second feature. By now the beer was hot and well-shaken. When we opened the first one it spewed a geyser of white foam with the force of Old Faithful itself. The respectable families in cars on both sides of us glared at the two of us sitting on the ground, leaning up against a motorcycle and guzzling beer. Looking back, I am sure they must have prayed that their little ones in their PJs would not grow up to become the derelicts they saw that night.

We made it home in one piece, undiscovered and unpunished. My older cousin and I would experience other adventures together without any serious consequences at the time. He later became an accountant and moved to Houston. I saw little of him after we became adults.

He died about ten years ago. According to one aunt who keeps up with all family gossip, Robert drank himself to death.

I guess the old adage that “God takes care of fools, babies and drunks” applies only to us

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