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The sun is about to kiss the horizon as you roll up to the box office. Across the field other cars fill the rows of speakers, brake lights tapping out a kind of Morse code as their drivers slowly maneuver for the few remaining spots, stopping to check the speakers, twisting the volume knob to test its range.
You can smell the popcorn wafting through the air. In the playground children shout and scream and others play in front of the screen, tossing Frisbees and footballs. Tailgate parties decorate every other car in blankets, lawn chairs, ice chests—and did you just see a gas barbeque grilling up hot dogs?
You find your spot, you pull in, you set the angle of the car, and you give a "how’s this?" gesture to your family before turning off the engine and settling in for the night…

Here goes THE DRIVE-IN THEATER EXPERIENCE, my very first blog, and probably my last, because while I can imagine other topics to write on, I can’t imagine sitting down and prosing on anything other the drive-in theater, and having so much fun doing it.

I’ve been going to drive-in theaters since I was a wee lad growing up in the deserts and neon fauna of Las Vegas. No matter where the family moved in later years—and Mom and Pop moved my brother and I with the same frequency as the fluctuating blue collar job market—we’d check out the upcoming town or city for a drive-in, and if no such theater existed, we’d find out where the closest
outdoor movie palace could be found.

How far would you drive for the drive-in theater experience? More on this later, in another post.

Growing up an Ozoner in Las Vegas was almost too perfect. I believe in the back of our consciousness we associate drive-in theaters with the classic (and I use that term loosely) science fiction films of the 1950s. The most memorable of these films were thematic on the subject of atomic energy gone awry and the resulting local vegetation and insects becoming enlarged to the point that they could go toe to mandible with the local human population in spectacular glory. Not only were atomic weapons tested north of Las Vegas, above and below the desert floor, my father and both grandfathers labored in the testing of these weapons. (My apologies to the many thousands of down-winders in southern Nevada and Utah who lost loved ones to cancer and leukemia.) Although I have never found man-crushing, building-smashing insects or lizards out in the sage and brush of Southern Nevada and Utah, in my mind there’s always been a connection between these movies and the drive-in theaters that carried these films, as well as the association of drive-in theaters and arid deserts.


When discussing the drive-in theater experience, I can’t help but evoke a time in my receding youth when I converted my circa 1960s designed suburban backyard and patio into my very own drive-in theater. At that age, we were only driving Big Wheels, Green Machines, Banana Bikes, and the occasional skateboard (Yellow Banana...Take that Z-Boys!) But...I’m getting ahead of myself.

More on HOMEMADE DRIVE-IN THEATERS in a later post.

Going to the drive-in was the greatest surprise my parents could spring on my brother and me. For some kids I know the experience would be the equivalent of picking up the rod-n-reel and going fishing for the weekend, the 30-06 and tracking down an elk in the mountains. Heaven. Nirvana. Total Zen. Church is a great way to describe it, because the act of going to the drive-in is wrought with many rituals. Anybody can grab the wallet, jump in the car and hit the local Cineplex, but to go to the drive-in theater required preparation, and in the mechanics of preparation, ritual is born…

More on DRIVE-IN THEATER RITUALS in a later post.

Now that I’m married and I have three daughters, I’ve tried to share the allure of the drive-in experience with them, and I must say I have succeeded in turning my daughters into Ozoner junkies. They understand the sense of freedom, that palpable atmosphere of both the Park and the Picnic that only the drive-in theater can give you. My wife enjoys attending but she is selective about the kinds of movies she will sit through. I understand this. I’m very selective about the films I will plunk down money to watch at the local HARD-TOP. But that’s indoor. Now, at the drive-in…who cares! If I’m with my daughters the movies must be appropriate, but they can be as terrible as any Hollywood producer dare dish out. I say, “Bring it on!” There’s nothing like adding your own dialogue or running commentary during a bad film, and in the privacy of your own vehicle, and if you, your spouse or friend have a good sense of humor, it can bring you much joy and sore ribs from all of the cackling.

What would be the GREATEST DOUBLE FEATURE to sit through at the drive-in, past or present? More on DRIVE-IN MOVIES, and their quality, in a later post.

Well… I can see that it’s getting dark. More and more folk are wandering towards their cars. Time to grab that bucket of popcorn or ice cold soda now,
before it’s too late. Any moment now I expect the music over the speakers will suddenly cut out, and the screen will fill with the first frame of light welcoming us to their drive-in theater and signal the beginning of coming attractions. Better round up the kids and head back to the car. Hunker down in those lawn chairs, or stretch out in the back of the pickup, on lay out on that blanket there on the roof of the car. Adjust the speaker one last time.

Here we go…Enjoy the show here, at the DRIVE-IN THEATER EXPERIENCE.

--June 23, 2005--