Let’s All Go to the Drive-In Movies

Ah, the drive-in movies. It appears that in this brave new world of Covid-19, self-isolation and social distancing, the drive-in movie is coming back. Apparently many Walmart stores have plans to convert their parking lots into drive-in theaters, so families can go to the movies without sharing the lethal virus with anyone outside the fam. I think it’s a great idea, and it brings back some fond (and some not-so-fond) memories. Allow me to explain. Drive-In Movies

I grew up poor, and the drive-in was a popular and cheap form of entertainment when I was a child. My mother loved the movies and anything Hollywood, so it became our family’s main source of entertainment. Our family had four members, two parents, a young son and a younger daughter. Since three tickets were even cheaper than four, it was not uncommon for the old man to put the young son (that would be me) in the trunk and sneak him into the show. (You’ve probably guessed that this is one of the not-so-fond memories. That trunk was also used to haul trash, store opened cans of motor oil, and other unpleasantly odiforous (I like to make up words) things. To this day I prefer SUVs and hatchbacks…no trunk). Drive-In Movies

Great memories of the drive-in include the snacks. My mother would always fill a couple of paper grocery bags up with buttered popcorn to take along. (Even 60 years ago the stuff in the snack bar was way over-priced; the ‘captured audience factor’). Once in a while she might also bring along a few Snickers bars or other candy from the grocery store. And there was always a case of Pepsi for Mom and the kids, and plenty of beer for dad. (More on that later). You weren’t supposed to bring your own food, but they never had sufficient staff to check the cars. And, people were even meaner back then than they are now. Drive-In Movies

I loved the drive-in theater because it was the only time that I got to stay up late. There were usually two or three movies in a given night, and my mother always insisted on staying until the end. So, at age 6 through 15 when I stopped going with my parents, I got to stay up until 2 or 3 in the morning on drive-in night. The first movie started at dark and the third movie generally ended around 2 AM. Then there was an hour drive home. I did my best to stay awake until I hit my bedroom, just because I could. Drive-In Movies

The playground provided additional joy. I always nagged my parents until they let me go play on the playground, located just in front of the gigantic raised movie screen. As a small child I loved that playground, with swings, teeter-totter, playground merry-go-round. Only problem was, Dad hated movies and started drinking beer when we got there. Mom had to stay in the car with little sis. So, I went to the playground alone, even when very little. Drive-In Movies

The going to the playground alone was not the problem. The finding of the car in a giant parking lot full of cars in the dark, however, did cause a problem. More than once I wandered around for a long time lost and terrified before going to the snack stand for help. They would announce over the car speakers something like “Would the parents of a little boy named John please come to the snack bar to retrieve him.” This did not make an already crotchety and beer-filled father happy. Drive-In Movies

My favorite movies were of the comedy and sci-fi variety. I loved Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Abbott and Costello and the like. Great sci-fi movies included Buck Rogers, The Day the Earth Stood Still and a whole host of others. My mother loved romance movies, although I generally slept through those. But, she really enjoyed a good scary movie; her favorite actors in that genre were Vincent Price, Bella Lagosi and Lon Chaney. Especially around Halloween there would always be a three-feature horror film festival. Drive-In Movies

My little sister and I used to hide behind the back seat of the car during the scary parts. It didn’t help that the drive-in theater was located in a large field, out in the country, in the middle of nowhere. This location allowed the imagination to play with all sorts of possibilities. I especially remember the original Night of the Living Dead. I didn’t sleep for several nights after that one. But, truth be told, other than an occasional nightmare and that monster that lived in the closet of my bedroom when I was a child, I’m fine as an adult. No counseling required. (Not sure my wife would agree, but that’s a whole different blog post). Drive-In Movies

There were some bad memories. As I mentioned earlier, my father didn’t particularly like movies. It was also an hour’s drive from our house to the nearest drive-in, on curvy country roads. Back 60 years ago, there were no seat belts, and having a few beers and driving was a fairly common occurrence. Plus, my father was great friends with all the local police. He went to school with them and was a member of the same lodges. So, he got away with a lot. I’m certainly not advocating for drinking and driving. It’s obviously completely unacceptable. It was just a very different time in history. Drive-In Movies

So, he’d drink a few beers, fall asleep for most of the movies, and we’d wake him to drive home. Maybe the scary movies weren’t so terrifying to me, because the drive home was often much scarier. I remember sitting in the back seat of the car, hanging onto the door handle. I pretended that I could control the direction of the car by pushing or pulling on the handle. Whenever it looked like we were going to drive off the road, I would push or pull accordingly to prevent an accident. I realize this sounds insane, and it is, but I was controlling what I could as a child. Drive-In Movies

Who knows? Maybe this magical thinking thing worked. In all those trips to and from two different drive-ins on windy country roads, we never once had an automobile accident. Considering we most certainly weren’t the only ones on the road with an impaired driver, sleepy and a little drunk, this strikes me as somewhat of a miracle. I don’t mean to make light of this, although it’s easier to laugh about it 60 years later. Just keep in mind this was a very different time. Drive-In Movies

Another bad memory is similar to one of the good memories. It was cool for a small child to stay up Saturday night until 2 or 3 AM Sunday morning. It was NOT cool for said child to be awakened at 8 AM to get ready for church. Yes, folks, no matter what time we got home from the drive-in on Sunday morning, my mother made sure we attended Sunday school and church. That was painful. As I think back on it, I’m guessing she forced us to attend church so she could thank God for getting us home safe the night before. Drive-In Movies

There were also the hot summer nights, when it was 85-90 degrees in the car and hard to breathe with the windows up. Yet when you put the windows down to try to grab the slight breeze that might be floating by, you were subjected to the invasion of the mosquitoes. There were some really hungry mosquitoes back there in the Midwest, and they had a captured audience in the car. And, if Mom or Dad cut loose with the bug spray, it was even harder to breathe…and worse, it ruined the wonderful flavor of the popcorn. We tried to get Dad to run the AC, but he couldn’t stay awake long enough to be effective. Drive-In Movies

The worst memories of the drive-in are the two times that one of those violent Midwestern thunder and lightning storms hit during the movies. The first time this happened, we were watching three romance movies. The wind came up fast, then came the lightning and thunder and finally the rain. It rained so hard that you had no hope of seeing the movie screen, even with windshield wipers on full blast. My sister and I were terrified, and many of the other cars left. But, Mom insisted that we get our money’s worth and stay until the end. That violent storm lasted all night, and I’ll never forget that drive home. We were extra lucky, because next day we heard about all the flash flooding that had occurred. Fortunately, we missed that part. Drive-In Movies

Then came the Friday night of a triple feature of horror movies. We were midway through a Vincent Price movie, I think it was The Pit and the Pendulum. The storm came up fast, and this time the heavy rain came before the lightning. All of a sudden, a massive bolt of lightning hit one of the metal poles that held up the movie screen, with sparks flying in all directions. The movie screen momentarily caught fire, but the heavy rain put it out. As the lightning, thunder and torrential rain continued, all the patrons fled the theater, and NOT in an orderly fashion. Drive-In Movies

The only thing worse regarding drive-in theaters came a couple years later, when a tornado blew through that same theater. It took down the screen and damaged several cars, injuring a number of people. Fortunately, my family was not present for that disaster, but I knew a few friends that were. Drive-In Movies

Once I became a teenager, sixteen with a driver’s license, the drive-in movies took on a whole new meaning. The drive-in became the ideal date venue, a place where a young man and woman could go to what was called back them “make out”. Making out could mean anything from kissing to the equivalent of a pornographic movie. More than one small child learned about the birds and the bees by watching what was happening in the next car over at the drive-in. Drive-In Movies

In fact, if you went there with a date, it was expected that you would be making out. It didn’t matter what movie or the fact that you were completely visible to the cars parked on both sides of you. The best time for this behavior was on a cool night. The bodily warmth of two passionately involved teenagers would steam up the windows to the point where no one could see in. No one could see in, but everyone had a pretty good idea of what was going on. Drive-In Movies

Whenever I took a young lady to the drive-in, I, of course, was always a complete gentleman. (My wife and daughters read my blog posts). I let the lady choose the features to go see. And, I provided plenty of popcorn, snacks and soda to enhance the experience. I may have kissed one or two of my dates during that time, but that was about it. Which is a great Segway into the contemporary version of the drive-in. Drive-In Movies

If we’re going to have drive-ins today, how are the mayors and governors going to regulate them? If it’s all in the family, that’s one thing. A family living together in the same house is likely to share Covid, and that’s just a fact of life. Even then, one has to be careful of where each family member goes and who they see on a daily basis, in order to protect the family from infection. (I empathize with families with children in school. I remember the little ones being virtual germ factories, and I shudder to think of this in terms of the Covid pandemic). But, what about the contemporary drive-in as a dating site? How should this be managed? Drive-In Movies

A young man asks a young woman to go with him to the drive-in. Does the government make it mandatory for both participants to wear masks? Face shields? To kiss, or not to kiss? To fog up the windows, or not to fog up the windows? Perhaps, automobiles should be built with a plastic shield between driver and passenger side of the seat, in both front and back. Or, perhaps there should be no dating at the drive-in at all; a families-only thing. Drive-In Movies

Come to think of it, cars at the drive-in are probably not parked 6 feet apart either. Will there be regulations for keeping your windows up, even in the hot summer evenings? This would solve the mosquito issue, but sitting in a 95-degree car could also be hazardous to your health. And, running the A/C for the whole movie requires running the engine, which leads to more air pollution. This is just not acceptable with global warming. We already have all that cow flatus to contend with (please see previous blog, 2020, Year of the Suck)Drive-In Movies

There are disinfectants that car dealerships apparently spray into new cars to rid them of Covid-19. Perhaps they could set up a station at the drive-in ticket booth. When you buy your tickets there could be an attendant stationed there with a hose and nozzle to spray this disinfectant into the car. This would help with transmission of the virus on car surfaces, but what about the passengers. Direct contact to this aerosolized disinfectant would probably not be conducive to life. Plus, it would definitely ruin the wonderful flavor of the popcorn and snacks. Drive-In Movies

Also, what about Covid in the people’s respiratory tracts? This still would not stop person-to-person transmission. The mask thing might help with this, but then what about the kissing and fogging up the windows thing? Perhaps each person would need to be tested in advance of the date. Each would present a card to their date and the drive-in ticket attendant, demonstrating that they are not infected. Drive-In Movies

Actually, this problem has probably already been solved by Apple (one of the many monopoly tech giants now taking control of our lives). A recent update to my iPhone included the ability for the phone to list my Covid-19 infection status. My phone will notify me of anyone nearby carrying a smart phone who is also infected with the virus. So, when a young person asks someone to go to the drive-in with them, they should just let their iPhones decide. That should simplify things considerably. Drive-In Movies

I’m not sure what’s scarier, a night of horror movies, or the actual facts of potential Covid-19 infection. Then there’s the tech monopolies taking over our lives and earning billions stealing and selling our private information (thanks Siri and Alexa). They’re gonna have to make scary movies a lot scarier to compete with that. The tech companies will also want to record whether there was kissing, steaming up the windows, etc. That way they can “provide each of us with a better, more individualized experience in the future.” Translated, should they be pummeling you with commercials for mouth wash, condoms, birth control pills or pregnancy tests. Yikes! Drive-In Movies

I have an idea (God help us.). The self-driving car could provide the solution to this drive-in dilemma. Just imagine, you’re the father of a teenage daughter. One of those dreadful teenage boys (I used to be one myself) asks her to go to the drive-in. She says yes, and you tell her she can go, but only if they take the family’s self-driving car. The car that is set to respond to dad’s voice only. Dad puts his precious daughter in the car, and gives the order and address for the car to go pick up the boy and take them to the drive-in. Drive-In Movies

When the young man enters the car, dad tells Alexa through his cell phone to raise the plastic divider between passenger and driver’s side seats. There are speakers conveniently located on both sides of the car interior, so the young lovers can talk to each other. There are separate containers of popcorn, snacks and drinks conveniently located on both sides of the car. The young man was forced to sit on the driver’s side, so when they enter the drive-in, he is forced to pay for the tickets. Drive-In Movies

Nature being what it is, once the car has found an appropriate parking spot and it has gotten dark, the young man will most likely make an attempt to get to the father’s precious daughter in spite of the situation. However, the father is watching the whole thing through the conveniently placed remote camera covertly mounted on the rear view mirror. When the young man lays hands on the protective shield, intent on removing it for better access to the innocent young daughter for the purpose of fogging up the windows, dad just gives the command, “Alexa, attack.” Drive-In Movies

At that point, several thousand volts of electrical current flows through the wire elements imbedded in the plastic shield. The young man is essentially tasered into unconsciousness. While unconscious, a self-activating seat belt, complete with wrist straps, constrains the young man for the remainder of the movie experience, until he is dropped off at home. He’ll probably be conscious by then, but if not, the father might say, “Alexa, eject.” At this point the door would open and the young man would be deposited on the sidewalk. Drive-In Movies

Wow. I gotta apply for a patent and send this idea to the major automobile manufacturers. To all you fathers with teenage daughters out there, you’re welcome. I’m not saying I wish we’d had Covid when I was raising my three daughters, but that self-driving car with Alexa would have been nice. Drive-In Movies

Nowadays, the only use I would have for a self-driving car would be for long trips, so I wouldn’t have to miss my late morning and early afternoon naps. “Alexa, please wake me at noon, or if we crash.” As for the drive-in, I see an 86-inch flat-screen TV in my future. Maybe I’ll even put it in the bedroom, so if the wife and I feel like fogging up the windows…not a problem. Truth be told, we hardly ever stay awake for an entire movie anymore anyhow, so there’s that. Drive-In Movies

If you enjoyed this blog post, you might also enjoy my new book MURDER BY ROAD TRIP, coming in early November (book launch November 16). I co-authored this comedy murder mystery with my daughter, Jackie. It was inspired by a 30-day cross-country road trip that we took in 2016. I think it’s my best book yet, probably because Jackie’s smarter than me (just ask her). She’s also a media arts and design major, an English minor, and a natural born writer (don’t tell her I said that). She also works as a marketing expert in NYC. See my author site at https://johnjjessop.com. Advanced copies are already available on Amazon at https://amzn.to/2HauHCg.