The Reinvention Of The Drive-In Theatre

The title of this month’s issue of “Southwest –The Magazine” located in the seat pocket in front of me on the airplane caught my attention. It was entitled, “The Reinvention of the Drive-In Theatre”. Try as I may, I can’t recall going to a drive-in movie since I was in high school. Well, depending on how you define drive-in movie, that may not be a true statement, but I will elaborate more on that in a moment.

During my childhood years, Mother took us to see children’s movies at an indoor theatre. She was intent that we have those kinds of normal childhood experiences. However, when it came to movies that had a broader interest, as a family we always went to the drive-in movie. In fact, I don’t recall my dad ever going with us to any other kind of theatre. My paternal grandparents lived next door. On many occasions, Granny would go with us to the movies. I don’t recall that my granddad ever did.

Our family frequently went to movies at the Broncho Drive-In located at 27th Street and the Andrews Hwy in Odessa. There was also a drive-in theatre located on the Southside of Odessa, but I don’t’ remember the name. I also don’t remember the exact location.

I guess from a little kid’s perspective, one of the favorite parts was a trip to the snack bar. I can’t recall if there was an intermission during the movie or if you just went to the snack bar when you had a hankering for something to drink and candy or popcorn.

I remember our family was at a drive-in movie once during a hailstorm. We left and headed home only to find that a couple of our windows at home had been broken out by hail. My dad had the windows repaired the following day.

The magazine article on drive-in theatres brought back a lot of memories. What about you? Have you thought of drive-in theatre’s in years? I also have a faint memory of going to a drive-in movie in Nocona two or three different times. If I’m not mistaken, my aunt helped out in the snack bar. It was through that experience that I was introduced to corndogs and mustard. Sixty years later, I still like that taste.

As a teenager, I most often opted to go to indoor theatres. The sound was better and it was a lot more comfortable venue for watching a movie. Perhaps the biggest advantage was climate control. First let me say that when I was a kid growing up, my parents never had a vehicle with an air conditioner. I guess for that matter, the first new car I purchased didn’t have an air conditioner either. It was a 1967 VW. The following year, the General and I got married. I remember many times when we were going on a trip, we’d buy a bag of crushed ice to eat in an effort to stay cool. When it came to climate control, an in-door theatre was optimum.

Three or four years ago, the General and I were visiting a friend in Quebec City, Canada. It was simply by happenstance, but the city was celebrating a monumental landmark in terms of history and heritage. To honor the occasion, a movie had been made to highlight the history of Quebec City. The movie was shown in an out-door venue. The screen was the side of a series of side-by-side grain elevators that covered an area about the length of a football field.

We actually watched the movie from an elevated portion of the city adjacent to old town. However, there was a large area of seating available for the community on the lower street level in front of the grain elevators. The view and sound was spectacular.

The quality of the picture and the sound seemed an upgrade from what I remembered from the venue of outdoor movie theatres. Do you remember the gray metal speakers that hung on the side of the door window? Wouldn’t you hate for that to be the source of sound for any movie you watched today?

The drive-in’s peak popularity came in the late 1950s and early 1960s, particularly in rural areas, with some 4,000 drive-ins spread across the United States. One of the largest drive-in theaters was the Johnny All-Weather Drive-In in Copiague, New York. Covering over 29 acres, it could park 2,500 vehicles. It had a full-service restaurant with seating on the roof, and a trolley system to take children and adults to a playground and a large indoor theater for bad weather or for those who wanted to watch in air-conditioned comfort.

According to “Southwest – The Magazine”, drive-in movie variations are on the increase. For example, there is an outdoor venue located near Austin that features a variation of seating. Movie-goers watch the movie while floating on inner-tubes in a small pond. Of course the movie venue features the movie, “Jaws”. The screen actually touches the water’s edge. Consequently, it was easy to ascertain you were in the ocean when you were seeing water mixed with water. Is that not surreal with a heavy layer of terror to top?

I cannot imagine why anyone would even consider that kind of movie experience as an option. I watched the movie “Jaws” once. That was more than enough. If I had watched “Jaws” while floating on an inner-tube in a pool of water, it likely be my last moving-going experience. If I survived the heart attack, I would probably have also developed the capacity to walk on the water.

Perhaps some things are better left to memory. I don’t think I’m eager to duplicate a big screen experience at a traditional outdoor drive-in. However, if given a chance to watch it on the side of a series of grain elevators in Quebec City, I’d gladly embrace the opportunity.

All My Best!

Don

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