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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

REMEMBERING DRIVE-IN THEATERS



Those of you who are old enough can remember the fun of going to the drive-in theater. Whether you went as a child with your parents, went with your teen age buddies, or with a date (if you were lucky!), the drive-in was THE place to go for kids of the 1950s.

It was fun to go to the drive-in as kids. My parents always knew better than to park behind a pick-up truck because of height and we had a great time on the swings before the show. We would frequently bring lawn chairs or sit on the hood of the car and lean back on the windshield. For whatever reason, I always remember the refreshment stand having great barbecue sandwiches. It was probably because of how they promoted them so much between double features.

The Oakley Drive-In of Cincinnati is where I made a career choice. It was usually easy to sneak into the place by driving down the exit drive with your lights off. On one particular night in 1957, I drove in with some buddies, parked, and put the speaker in the window when suddenly the manager appeared and he was angry. He had been watching for "sneakers" and had caught us red handed. I got out of the car acting humble and apologetic and generally playing the role of the "good kid" who had done something stupid on a dare. He actually believed me, softened up, and even let us stay and watch the movie for free. I said to myself, "Jim, you are a born salesman", and that is what I eventually became. I’m glad we didn’t have any guys hiding in the trunk that night or the guy may not have been so forgiving!

When I went out with my 1959-1961 girl friend, I don’t remember us doing much other than going to the drive-in to make out. Even in the winter, it was great even though those cheesy little heaters they had didn’t do much good. You also had to be careful of the window speakers. Many customers would drive off without replacing them and break the wires or the car window. Today, at the few drive-ins left, most have the sound play through the customer's radio.

If you are too young to remember these places, you can still go to the few that are left and enjoy an evening "1950's style." It’s about $6.50 admission these days (75 cents in 1957!) and I suggest taking your own food and drinks. Also, since the sound comes through the radio now, bring a boom box if you sit outside, it’s better than turning up your car radio.

Arizona had its share of drive-ins during the 1950s with a high of 49 being in operation in 1958. Sadly, today there are only a few left in the state, mostly in the Phoenix-Scottsdale area.

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