Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Drive-In-Me-Crazy

Sometime during the 80's era, Drive-In Theaters began to die.

Weeds began to hug the concession stands, birds built nests in the speaker boxes, and the big screens grew ragged like huge sails on the wind.
Even the little ticket booths became weakened with loneliness.
In Illinois alone, 112 drive-ins dwindled down to only twelve.

People began to want state-of-the-art facilities.
Cushy seats, cup holders, air conditioning, and that heavenly smell of popcorn.
Customers began wanting surround sound, wrap-around screens
and a clean bathroom that is just a quick skip up the aisle.

It was almost certain that drive-ins were gone forever.

But today they are fighting for a comeback.

The big screens are once again claiming the starlit sky.
Soft yellow lights are circling the marquees.
The sound of gravel crunching beneath tires has returned, and with it -
the perfume of exhaust, the conversations of friends,
the blossoming of lawn chairs and the clatter of ice in big red coolers.

Even the little ticket booths are filling up all over the country
with folks ready to hand you a numbered stub
for a five-dollar double feature.

When a new drive-in opened near us a few years ago, the excitement was almost unbearable.

Wouldn't it be romantic? I told my husband.
I began a trip down memory lane, trying to convince him to take me- reminding him about all the dates we shared at the drive-in, going on about the comfort of one's own car, snuggling beneath a blanket, making out during intermission..
Once I assured him we could take our own popcorn and beer, he was in!

First of all, who would have thought that it would take an hour to prepare and pack the drive-in theater essentials?
I boiled hot dogs, popped popcorn, tucked a few frozen Milky Ways in my purse- along with Raisinettes, Sprees and Goobers.
I washed out and loaded the cooler with ice, soft drinks and Miller Lite.
And I packed blankets, pillows, paper towels, and Windex.

It was like going back in time-
there we were- all loaded up with icy drinks and a greasy paper sack full of Orville Redenbocker-
stopping to get our tickets - winding our way to the very back row -
popping a beer tab and sitting close to one another - kissing...
the gear knob dangerously close to impaling my thigh...

"Can you see?" my husband asked as the big screen came to life with advertisements.
"No, can't hear, either," I said.

He put the car in drive and we made our way up to the very front row, wedging ourselves into a crowded spot.
To our left was the Beverly Hillbillies- and on the other side - Make-Out Mike and his date for the evening: Go-All-The-Way Wanda.

The hillbillies kept hee-hawing, chugging their Boone's Farm, and letting their six ape-like children throw rocks at the screen and lock their lips around two liter bottles of Mt. Dew.
They were gnawing on a jumbo bag of pork rinds and each had their very own personal can of Vienna Sausages, giant Nascar mugs, and camo folding chairs.

We tried not to look over at the couple to our right, but couldn't help but catch a quick glimpse of a bare foot in the rear window.
Enough said.

"Where's the bathroom?" I asked my husband, draining my third soda.
"Behind us - oh, about two-and-a-half miles- through the concession stand and to your left," he answered sarcastically.
"I'll wait." I said, wondering if my bladder could last another 186 minutes. I was in pain.
(Besides, we both had our pajama pants on...)

Mosquito's began biting us-
Next to us, Jethro Bodine was throwing up-
The popcorn left pools of butter on the console-
And someone behind us kept turning on their brights.

But in the end, it was a nostalgic experience.
The sights and smells and the romance of it all helped us relive a bit of our youth.

The moon and stars hanging over the big, white screen
gave witness that the Drive-In hasn't died.
It is still very much alive.

In fact, we're already planning our next movie night...

But it will be in the air conditioned comfort of a state-of the art facility-
where ushers keep the peace -
there's fresh popcorn and a nacho machine-
and where the bathroom is just a hop, skip and jump up the aisle...