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My Favorite Drive In Movie Experinces
Sadly, the days of the Drive-In Movie Theater have faded away. In a time not long ago, it was common for several Drive-Ins to be located in or near a major city and every decent sized town had at least one Drive-In to call their own.
My connection to Drive-Ins is a personal one, when I was a senior in high school I worked the concession stand at the 11th Street Drive In, located in Tulsa, Oklahoma. For nine months I saw sold popcorn, cooked hot dogs, threw ice at my fellow employees and got to see such “classic” films as John Carpenter’s “The Thing”, Chuck Norris’ “Good Guys Were Black”, Cheech ‘n Chong’s “Nice Dreams” (a big hit by the way), every cheap Bruce Lee imitation films known to man (not starring Bruce Lee mind you, but a series of guys who sorta looked like him), and finally the biggest hit film we had, running jam packed full of cars for six weeks, the Kenny Rogers’ classic “Six Pack”. Never heard of “Six Pack”? Hey, it had Diane Lane, Anthony Michael Hall in early role in their film career…and Kenny Rogers, too.
Oh well, the 11th Street Drive In closed down in 1982, but my memories of the good ‘ol drive in days goes both before and after that. I’ll admit that most of them were pretty mundane, although at the 11th Street when “The Thing” would play, I would run out from the concession stand when the head of one of the characters sprouted legs and scurried across the floor and scream, “Step on the bug! Step on him before he gets to the children!!”…hey, I was young then.
During the premiere of “Men in Black” for example, there were so many bugs that they clogged the projector, causing the film to break and 45 minutes of waiting for the poor projectionist to clean out the mess and re-start the movie. Or perhaps the time we watched “Anaconda” (yea, I paid money to see “Anaconda”) during a 60+ mile per hour windstorm.
Here are three experiences (all sober mind you) that I had at the Drive-In. I hope you enjoy them and maybe for some of you out there, it will bring back a few drive-in memories of your own.
True Grit (1969)
My parents…or should I say, my Dad was and still is a certified John Wayne fan. When I was a little kid we would go to the drive in (usually the 11th Street, but sometimes the Admiral Twin, which was featured in the film, “The Outsiders”) once or twice a month and catch the latest family-type film or more usually the big John Wayne western.
On this occasion, the film was “True Grit” and I was packed into the back seat of our navy blue 1965 Plymouth Valiant, Mom had made us some popcorn and we were off to the movies. Normally, I would jump around a bit in the back seat, pay attention to five minutes or so of the film, then fall asleep.
This time around, I was captivated, even though I was barely 5 years old. I knew that John Wayne was an icon, perhaps the symbol of the American western hero. Bigger than life and never to be messed with, this time Wayne was playing an older, grumpier, and far more vulnerable version of a hero than I was used to seeing. So I stayed up and watched the entire movie, standing up on the back seat while resting my chin against the back of the front seat.
My two big memories were Wayne taking on four bad guys and the final, sweet ending freeze frame catching John Wayne jumping his horse over a four rail fence. I may not have understood all of what was said, but I enjoyed what I saw and that began my lifelong “obsession” with film. Of course, I did fall asleep on the drive home and remember waking up on my Dad’s shoulder as he carried me into the house. Those memories are priceless.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Fast forward my life to the small town of Tahlequah, Oklahoma. I was working at the local university and there was a small Drive-In located about 3 miles north of the town. If the feature drew my interest, I would go and see the film. On this occasion, my good pal “Easy” (how he got his nickname would take another hub) and his new bride Katie and a couple of her friends joined us at the Drive In.
Now, the weather in Oklahoma cooperates about as long as it takes to say, “cooperates” and before the movie started the rain began coming down. Katie and her pals stayed in the van while “Easy” and I came prepared. Both of us were sitting on lawn chairs, “Easy” wrapped in his poncho, I in my waterproof blanket complete with umbrellas for us both. The rain was steady, but about the time Jodie Foster’s character broke into the rented garage, a line of thunderstorms passed a few miles away behind the screen flowing from left to right, adding considerably to the atmosphere of the film.
This was a unique moment in watching a film for sure…or so I thought.
The Fifth Element (1997)
It was spring, it was warm, and we knew something was going to happen. This time out, the van was the same, but filled with college girls and my good pal Mike. We didn’t bring the lawn chairs for some reason and stuck it out in the van. About 2/3rds the way into the film, a thunderstorm which had filled the sky with rain, thunder, and lightning collapsed into a massive hailstorm so thick we could hardly see out the windshield, much less the screen.
The hail ended rather quickly, so I took the opportunity to run to the bathroom which was behind the concession stand, slipping around quite a bit on the hail that had fallen. And when I came out, the theater screen was filled by the image of a blue-skinned alien, the “Diva” if you will, and she began her long, slow opera song. As she began to sing, steam started rising from the ground creating a surreal, fog-like effect that surrounded the vehicles and gave a glossy, eerie sheen to the image on the screen.
The combination of the song and fog was something I’ll never forget.
I hope you enjoyed reading these memories as much as I enjoyed telling them. Perhaps you can share your memories as well from the bygone days of the Drive-In movie.