Drive-In Movies Then and Now – The One Constant!

I wish I could “Transcend” the “Amazing Spiderman”!

Peggy and I went to the drive-in movie this past weekend—it was a double feature at the three-screen Montana Drive-In, in Estill Springs, Tennessee. The double feature we chose was “Amazing Spiderman” coupled with “Transcendence.” I confess neither film really held my attention and, sitting there in the car, my thoughts began to wander back to my teenage years (these days that is a long trek).

Drive-in movies were an important part of our social life, especially as soon as we, or a friend, had a driver’s license.

We lived in a rural area of Virginia (see earlier “I Grew Up on a Farm in Virginia” entries). The nearest movie theaters—walk-in or drive-in—were 20 (Williamsburg) to 45 (Richmond) miles away. There were two drive-ins that we went to frequently.

The familiar Airport Diven-In Marquis was a beacon of entertainment for us in the 1960s (from cinematreasures.org)

The familiar Airport Diven-In Marquis was a beacon of entertainment for us in the 1960s (from cinematreasures.org)

Drive-in theaters were the movie venues of choice because: (1) they were generally less expensive than walk-in theaters and even better when they had car-load prices (four people—a double date—could get in for the price of two), (2) we did not have to find a parking space for the car (our walk-in theaters were NOT in malls with acres of parking), and (3) it was easier to cuddle up to your date in the car (we had bench seats, not bucket seats!).

We frequently went to the Airport Drive-in in Sandston, Virginia, not far from the Richmond Airport. Although it was farther away, it seems that the girls I went to the movies with lived in the north end of the county, closer to Richmond than to Williamsburg. If the movie we wanted to see was playing only in Williamsburg, we would go to the Stockade Auto-Torium Drive-in.

The Williamsburg Stockade Auto-Torium was in the path of Williamburg's expansion west, and was quickly replaced by restaurant row. The movie screen can be seen near the bottom of the red arch. (from driveins.org

The Williamsburg Stockade Auto-Torium was in the path of Williamburg’s expansion west, and was quickly replaced by restaurant row. The movie screen can be seen near the bottom of the red arch. (from driveins.org

Both of these drive-ins have been demolished and the land redeveloped.
Most movie dates were double dates. We would pull up to the ticket booth, get our tickets and drive around in the dark looking for a good open spot to park. We had to pull up beside a metal pipe that held the speaker for the movie. The speaker had a long wire to the post so we could put it on the window of the car and we could adjust the volume. Positioning the car just the right distance from the speaker pole was critical. We wanted to be able to get out of the car to go to the concession booth, and invariably the girls would have to go “powder their noses.”

The first order of business was to get popcorn, candy, and drinks, hopefully before the movie started. I usually enjoyed the cartoons that preceded the feature movie more than the movie (of course I never told anyone that!).

Then the feature would start. Within fifteen minutes the guys knew whether we were going to really like the movie or not. And if we really liked it, the girls probably didn’t and they talked much of the time, especially during the important dialog parts!
If the girls liked the movie, we guys just sat back and ate the popcorn, occasionally making some crude comment about one of the characters on screen, only to get a sharp jab in the ribs or shoulder.

The best movies were Elvis Presley, Cary Grant, or Doris Day movies. They tended to be entertaining and romantic on a level that even the guys could appreciate. And with Elvis there to warm up your date, you felt you might have a better chance to snuggle a bit.

But, even then, more often than not, as I slid across the seat (those bench seats), cleverly slipped my arm over the seat back and around my date’s shoulders, and—hoping to channel a little of the future “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”—nudged her closer to me, I would hear, “Just watch the movie.”

Montana Drive-In, Estill Springs, Tennessee, is a three-screen theater with FM radio sound. They feature current movies and double features on every screen. They provide excellent concession service.

Montana Drive-In, Estill Springs, Tennessee, is a three-screen theater with FM radio sound. They feature current movies and double features on every screen. They provide excellent concession service.

From the back seat, I would hear a quiet, “Shot down again, huh,” followed by a chuckle.

It turned out that the best movies were the ones that no one liked. Then we got into conversations and found out if we liked each other and if you were lucky, you might hold hands and even get a kiss. By then it was time to go home.

I was drawn back to the present by some loud explosion in the Spiderman movie. I guess I jumped a bit. Peggy asked, “Did you go to sleep?”

“Not really,” I replied, “but the movie is not holding my attention and my mind wandered off.” I reached over to clasp her hand, (bucket seats are still absolutely no good for drive-in movies!).

And she said, “Just watch the movie” (the one constant!).

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One Response to Drive-In Movies Then and Now – The One Constant!

  1. peggyrichmond says:

    Hah, you know what holding hands leads to… dancing! and bucket seats and the console doesn’t help your cause mister, no way to slide over the gear shift, two sodas, popcorn, and a trash bag. But I still like going to the drive in with you!

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