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Thomas Garrett

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Forget the lobby, let's all go to the drive-in
By Thomas Garrett   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Sunday, July 02, 2006
Posted: Sunday, July 02, 2006

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Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear when movies were shown outdoors and love was found in the back seat.


Remember drive-in theaters? I'm not sure why, but I started thinking about drive-ins and summer nights.

I know I plowed this ground a few years ago, but it's worth tilling again. Nostalgia never goes out of style; people always look back at better times.

It used to be there were drive-in theaters everywhere you went, those big screens dominating fields with speaker poles sprouting like skinny metallic corn stalks. Brilliant neon marquees lit up the night with names like "Majestic," "Sky Hi," "Starlight," "Tower," "Crossroads," "Longhorn," "Joy" and "Oasis."

I remember the 67 Drive-In at Texarkana (on the Arkansas side), the Longhorn Drive-In at New Boston, Texas, down the road from my hometown of DeKalb, and, from my college days, the Trail Drive-In at Greenville, Texas. When I made my way to the promised land here in the Ozarks, the Starlite Drive-In was still in business at Gassville, where the McDonald's is now.

It was fun to go to the drive-in. As a kid, you got to stay up late since the movies didn't start until it got dark. Besides popcorn, the snack bar usually had hamburgers and chili dogs and those gigantic dill pickles along with the usual assortment of theater cuisine. You could even get ice cream which, given midsummer night temperatures, melted as fast as you ate it.

A lot of drive-ins had swings and slides for youngsters at the foot of the screen. It's pretty impressive to be sitting in a swing and look over your shoulder to see a 30-foot tall John Wayne hovering above you.

One popular item at some drive-ins was a miniature smoke pot that smelled like cheap incense and was supposed to keep the bugs away. I don't remember how successful they were, but I do remember sometimes going home with mosquito bites.

As you grew older, there were other aspects about drive-ins that made them fun places, and some even had to do with the movies. In college, it wasn't unusual for a group of my fraternity buddies and I to suddenly decide about 11:30 on a Friday night to drive over to the Trail for the midnight show. Refreshments in hand, we'd pile in a car and make the trip from Commerce to the eastern edge of Greenville, where the drive-in was located.

Horror movies usually were on the midnight show. The Hammer films were popular among our fraternity members because along with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, they usually featured damsels in distress with heaving bosoms in low-cut 19th century gowns.

Another drive-in favorite was the old American International Pictures biker movies, the kind with hard-core bikers rampaging aboard modified Hondas and Suzukis. I'm not sure which was harder for real bikers to deal with — the image portrayed in B movies or Hollywood's use of Japanese bikes.

Anyway, it didn't matter if it was a muggy summer night filled with man-eating mosquitoes (which I think was another movie we saw) or if it was raining, or even freezing (the Trail stayed open until about mid-winter). We'd strike out for a night's entertainment.

One night, my fraternity brother Bruce wandered off to the snack bar shortly before it closed and returned with a garbage bag full of popcorn. They'd emptied the popper and gave it to him. We had popcorn for three days, which anyone who has been in a college fraternity knows is dining pretty high on the hog. It's right up there with cold pizza breakfasts.

Today, drive-in theaters are growing fewer and farther between. According to www.driveintheater.com, only three are left in Arkansas, and two of those aren't too far away — the Stone at Mountain View and the Kenda at Marshall. Missouri has more, the closest being Owen's Drive-In at Seymour.

We were heading home from Springfield one night when we saw a giant winged creature off to our right. It was one of the critters in "Van Helsing," which was playing at the Seymour drive-in. Amelia was amazed at the idea of watching a movie in a field.

I guess you could wait until dark, then sit in your car, or the back of a truck, or even in lawn chairs, and watch a movie on a portable DVD player.

But even with swarming mosquitoes, it just wouldn't be the same. It's hard to beat a gigantic John Wayne, or 30-foot-tall heaving bosoms.


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Reviewed by Kate Clifford 7/23/2006
Last one I went to was in CA while I was visiting a friend. Many wonderful memories. Thanks!
Reviewed by Sage Sweetwater 7/3/2006
Nostalgic in NEON and white jumpsuit flashlight ticket attendants here, Sonny! I remember as a little girl in the 60s, going to the drive-ins, then maturing into the 70s. It was such a keen thing to do and I have many fond memories. Shows like Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, Easyriders, The Graduate (yes I watched it!) The Dutchess and the Dirtwater Fox (some scenes filmed near my home) The Cowboys, Electra Glide In Blue, The Wild Ones, East of Eden, Giant, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof!! Can't get much better than that! We popped our own corn and put it in a big brown grocery bag and took a case of Shasta canned sodas, threw in some blankets and pillows and some 3-D glasses just in case there was a 3-D flick. Drive-ins are a dying breed. We have one within 30 miles of where I live now, just one, but one is all you need! Where slow and steady still wins out over fast and electronic! It was a sad day when I saw the huge concrete screen being demolished by a wrecking ball to make way for the big AutoPlex...ironic...selling cars that can't go to the drive-in. Good summer fun memories, Sonny...keepin' it alive to pass on to future generations of Kid Rock fans and J LO and Brittany, no comparison to John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Elizabeth Taylor, Burl Ives, Peter Fonda, Goldie Hawn, Dustin Hoffman, Marlon Brando, James Dean, those were the great drive-in kings and queens of tinseltown!

Sage



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