Recently, I wrote about my End-of-Summer Bucket List, and on it, I included going to see a drive-in movie. When I was a little girl in Brewton, Alabama, I went to the drive-in movie more than a few times. I remember going with my parents, my friends and their parents, and I remember going one time with my mother and her friend, Martha. Martha was one of my mom’s fun friends. She had three boys around the same ages as my brother and me, and we loved spending time with them. I must have been about five or six when we all piled into Martha’s station wagon and went to the drive-in movie.
While I can’t remember what movies we saw at the drive-in, I remember the experience. The trip to the drive-in with Mother and Martha sticks out in my head, because things went wrong and everything was funny. Mother and Martha laughed all the time, anyway, but this was a comedy of errors. While I don’t remember a lot of details, I remember parking and re-parking, because it was difficult to find a speaker that worked. These days, drive-ins play the audio through radios, but back then, there were corded speakers on poles. Movie-goers would take the speakers off the poles and hang them on the car door or window, so they could hear the movie. Eventually, we found a speaker that worked that night, but Mother and Martha thought it was so funny that we had to search for one. When it started raining, we had to put the windows up, and that was another source of laughter. With the windows closed, the windshield steamed up…more laughing. No wonder I can’t remember the movie!!
Back then, you could see drive-in movie theaters everywhere…in cities and towns all over the country, but now they are few and far between.
In 2016, my daughter and I went to a resort in Upstate New York with our friends from Ohio. Every year, we go on vacation with my friend, Jennifer, and her daughter, who is the same age as my daughter, 14. That trip was our third stay at Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, New York. We flew into Albany and drove from there, with a stop in Hyde Park for snacks. While we were in Hyde Park, we noticed a drive-in movie called Hyde Park Drive-In right across the street from the FDR Presidential Library, which I had forced them to visit on another trip to the area. I asked Jennifer how long it had been since she’d been to a drive-in, and she said, “Never.” Really? It became my mission to make sure we went to the drive-in one night during our stay. I checked the website and found out the movie for the weekend was Ghostbusters, the latest one with the female characters.
Jennifer was game for the drive-in, but the girls didn’t want to go. I tried to talk them into it before I finally just told them they were going. This was something they needed to do, an experience.
We picked a night and discussed what we would need. We didn’t need snacks, since we knew there was a concession stand. We opted to take mosquito bands to keep mosquitos away (even in upstate NY they have mosquitos), blankets (one for the ground for me and Jennifer, and two for the girls inside the hatch of the truck), and cash, since credit cards aren’t accepted.
We arrived early, and the owner took our money at the entrance. We ended up renting a radio from him to hear the sound, because we couldn’t get the accessories (radio) on our rental SUV to operate without the lights staying on. We didn’t need a dead battery at the end of the night.
People don’t do drive-ins the same way they used to. We used to stay in the cars with the doors closed, but now people back up their SUVs and open the backs so kids can sit there. They also put blankets on the ground like a picnic behind their SUVs. That’s what we did, too. Once we got everything set up, we took turns going to the concession stand before the movie started. This particular drive-in theater, Hyde Park Drive-In, opened in 1950, and we were thrilled to see the concession stand looked like it hadn’t been renovated since its opening. The bathrooms looked original as well…pink tiles in the ladies room. We got popcorn and drinks from the concession stand and settled in at the car for the movie to start. Of course, we had to wait for the sun to go down, and as soon as it did, the vintage ads came on…advertising the concession stand and mosquito coils, making us feel as if we’d stepped back in time. You can see the concession stand ad here. You can see the mosquito coils ad here.
After the movie was over and we were driving across the Mid-Hudson Bridge on our way back to the resort, I asked the girls if they had fun, and the answer was a resounding, “Yes!” Then I asked why they had resisted, and they told me they didn’t know how drive-in movies worked. I asked my daughter, “What? I told you we used to sit in cars and watch movies!” She said, “I know, but I thought we were going to sit in the car and watch a movie on iPads.” No wonder she didn’t want to go. We could do that anywhere! And didn’t she know we didn’t have iPads in the 1970s?!
Everyone agreed it was a night to remember, and now I want to do it again. I’m hoping to round up some kids in the next couple of weeks to go to the Sunset Drive-In in Shelby (click here), NC, or the Hounds Drive-In in Kings Mountain, NC (click here). If you have an opportunity to visit a drive-in theater, I highly recommend it. You never know when they’ll be obsolete and we won’t be able to enjoy movies under the stars.