Drive-In Movie Theaters Lit up Boomer Nights
by Brenda K Oswalt
Drive-ins were the hip places to go to see the show and to be seen by your classmates and friends in the 60s. Name any drive-in movie and you were sure to see new stars.
Gazing up at the midnight stars, while watching your favorite horror flick was so cool that just about everybody in town did it. “Meet ya at the drive-in” became the mantra of the day. And, drive-ins were not just cool on Friday or Saturday night either, because the establishments’ owners were wise old night-owls, and they knew the field would be packed during the week if they offered “Twilight Specials” and “Carload Buck Nites”.
Pack ‘em All In and Enjoy the Show
During the week, if our homework was done, we would get to go to the drive-in. Even when we were too young to drive, one of the neighbor kids’ parents would volunteer to haul as many of us as he could get into his station wagon and we’d all get in to see the show for just a buck. That left lots of change for popcorn, candy and Cokes, for sure. The weeknight movies varied but were mostly Westerns and goofy comedies, even cartoons. Subject matter that appealed to both adults and kids was the hot ticket for midweek evenings.
Bugs and Bites
Many of the old drive-ins we frequented didn’t spray for mosquitoes, so in the summer we slathered on mineral oil because more than the fair share of outdoor movie theaters were located in swampy areas, ground that was not usable for farming or commerce. We loved to get there early and watch the fireflies as they began their nightly journeys, glowing on and off and sometimes landing on our outstretched arms and hands. We had decided long before, when we were kids, that the glow bugs were the lighthouses of the insect world. Only years later did we discover why they popped their lights on and off… to attract their mates. How shocked we were.
Trucks, Dogs and Pop Tops
The favorite vehicles at drive-ins were station wagons, especially on “Buck Nites,” also trucks and convertibles. The trucks were great because you could tote along the aluminum lawn chairs and back up the truck so the tailgate was facing the screen. Then, you’d set up your chairs, even a little card table sometimes, and get your cold drinks out of the ice chest, if you were lucky enough to have one. If your dog was well trained, it stayed right in the truck back and enjoyed a good bone, too. The convertibles were very popular for dating couples and most of them contained foursomes enjoying the flicks together, tops down of course, with pillows in the back seats.
A lot of the shows that played on the weekends were the Frankie Avalon/Annette Funicello “Beach Blanket” flicks. God only knows how many of them Annette made but it seemed like every time we were in the mood for a good horror show, one of the beachy ones was playing instead. The food was notoriously bad at the drive-ins, so it was common to bring your own sandwiches and chips and share. The fountain Cokes, popcorn and candy were fine, but the burgers were the worst. They always had intermission that lasted way longer than necessary just so those in the far-back row had time to make it in to the concession stand, visit the restrooms and stand in line for their beverages.
The Speakers were the Worst
Speaking of bad…the big silver speakers that hooked onto your car were less than stellar, and you got to know which broken or half-operating speakers to stay away from. It was common to see folks pull up in a parking slot and keep the motor running, while the driver checked to be sure the speaker worked good first, before settling in.
Drive-Ins Were Open All Year
In the winter, the cars would be running off and on all night to keep the occupants warm. Most drive-in movies were open all year. Not much to do in the winter, even with 6 inches of snow on the ground. After all, you could watch a good movie as long as your car heater worked. Once in a while, at the end of the movie, or if the lovers got in a fight, you’d witness a speaker yanked out of its holding stand as the driver took off in a huff, forgetting it was still hooked up to the car.
New Drive-Ins Today
Believe it or not, there are new drive-in movies popping up here and there. Matter of fact, there’s one right down the country road from my house in Texas. It’s called Showboat Drive-In and is located in Hockley, Texas, on FM 2920 (FM means “farm to market” road in Texas lingo). The Showboat’s brand new and operating with first-run flicks; something the old outdoor movies never had in the old days. Usually, the movies were a few years old by the time they hit the breezy, big screens.
Some old-time outdoor movies were back to back, with two huge screens backing up to each other. On a long night, you could see a double movie and sneak in to see the last of the movie playing next door.
One first-run movie is standard today. Check out your local area for possible new drive-ins and recreate one of the entertainment mainstays of boomer times.
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