Monday, May 25, 2009

Entertainment's endangered species

Last night we went to the drive-in for a double feature: Night at the Museum 2 and Star Trek. The lot was dusty, the line for the bathroom was a mile long, the film quality was poor, and by the end of the night it was pouring rain. But I count it as one of our best-ever family outings.

I remember seeing Star Wars at the drive-in with my family when I was around 4 years old. Or, I should say, I remember being at the drive-in to see Star Wars, because I don't remember anything about watching the actual movie. But I do vividly recall the theater's rickety playground, and I remember changing into my pajamas when the movie started and snuggling under a blanket in the cargo space (what we called "the way way back") of our station wagon with my brother and sister.

The drive-in we went to last night could have been that 1977 theater. The playground was a cluster of worn out swing sets, seesaws, and aluminum jungle gyms, and the screen was simply a wall of aluminum siding. Admission was $17 for all 6 of us, and popcorn was $2 a bucket. After the first movie, the little ones got on their PJ's and climbed into the open back of our minivan, where we'd made a cozy nest of blankets, and we sat outside in folding chairs to watch the late feature. And when the last movie was over, we left them sprawled out in the back, in true 1970's style, to sleep on the 40 minute drive home. That's right--sans seatbelts. Now they know what it's like to sleep in the "way way back" with road sounds rumbling under their ears.

Functioning drive-in theaters are, of course, an endangered species in the 21st century, as digital-quality sound and picture draw us to the overpriced megaplexes. But there is a nostalgic beauty in drive-ins, most of which haven't been renovated much since they opened, some of which are beautiful even in abandonment.

(image via WebUrbanist)

(images via Wired)

The last few drive-ins (there are something like 400 left in the U.S.) are still there for families with noisy, restless children; for people who'll take folding chairs over stadium seating if it means sitting in the warm night air; for those of us who find comfort in the quiet breathing of children asleep behind us as Dr. Spock and Captain Kirk learn what friendship means.

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