Drive In Memories

Oh, the memories: Friends, late nights without a chaperone, the mattress in the back of your dad’s pick-up, snuggling under blankets in the cold air, steamy windows, food everywhere and a whole lot of NOT watching the movie. I think one of the main draws of the Drive-In was that it was the one place underage couples could go to be alone, even though most parents would only let you go if they knew you were going as a group. You also got to catch a glimpse of the rated “R” movies your parents wouldn’t let you see playing on the screens behind you.

By the time I started going to the Drive-In it had long since passed its heyday.  Far from being the great American phenomenon that it was in the 50s and 60s, by the 70s it was becoming a relic and just a novelty. The parking lot badly needed repaving and the speakers crackled or didn’t work at all. The first thing you did upon entering was to find a good viewing spot, then check to see if your speaker worked. I can remember driving to 4 or 5 different spots before finding one that did.

There were two kinds of Drive-In movie goers:

1. The Family

Going as a family, you looked forward to something akin to a mini vacation . . . which turned out to be like any other  vacation — kids arguing and complaining in the backseat where they’re too familiar and squished, arguments over blankets, pillows, poor visibility, food and the shared space and maybe falling asleep and missing the ending.

2. The Make-out couple and the friends that came with them.

The make out couple always called dibs on the back seat. The front seat usually went to the non-maker-outers because of A) the high visibility to the cars around you, and B) you wanted to actually watch the movie. The front seat was generally occupied by the couple who hadn’t been dating as long, so there was always the question of “should we be making out, too?” Either way it was awkward — two people going at it for most of the movie while you sat two feet away and pretended not to notice. Then there was the fogging up of the windows due to all the heavy breathing. Sometimes the movie wasn’t loud enough to drown out the slurping noises coming from the back seat.

If you happened to be there with just a friend of the opposite sex, the window would still fog and that was awkward, too, because you always parked next to your friend’s car. They would never let you hear the end of your fogged up windows, insisting that you were making out, too.

And then there was that awkward cartoon about the snack bar at intermission where the hotdog jumps into the bun. We ALL believed this was a blatant Freudian reference to sex.


You could really only see the movie from the front seat and were stuck with only one inefficient speaker. It got cold fast, but turning on the heater wasn’t an option because the engine noise would overpower other people’s weak, crackling speakers. The windows would fog up really fast, so you’d have to roll down the window and that would dislodge the speaker that was wedged in it because the clamp didn’t work. So, now it was really cold and someone had to hold the speaker up for the whole movie. It was always at the climax of the film that you’d hear the announcer say, “The snack bar will be closing in 10 minutes”. Gah!

The lure of the Drive-In was all about the memories that were made there.
Here’s my favorite Drive-In memory:

The year: 1985

The place: Capital Drive-In, San Jose

I was a Freshman in High School, spending the night at a friend’s house. Her Senior brother and his best friend (a Junior I had a crush on and my future first boyfriend) convinced us to go to the Drive-In (it didn’t take much convincing). We soon learned you didn’t just “go to the Drive-In”, you had to sneak people in because, well, because you could. The family van was secured and the plan was that the brother and I would play the couple (so awkward) and the others would hide behind the last seat covered up by blankets. I SO wanted to be stuck in a confined space with my older-man-crush. Instead, when we drove up to the ticket booth, I had to endure endearments from the older brother, “What movie would you like to see, Dear?” and “Aw, Honey, this is going to be such a special night together.” The ticket guy took our $5 and got out his flashlight, shining it through the windows searching for stowaways. He got to the back and paused. I held my breath. He gave us the go ahead and we moved through. Apparently, during the inspection, the two of them had been poking and tickling each other and when we started to move they thought it was OK to come up for air. The ticket guy saw them and yelled, “Hey! They’ve got more people in there!”  We put the petal to the metal and he chased us for about 100 feet, then stopped and turned back. We arrived safely at our spot and no sooner did the stowaways get out of the van when the ticket guy came running across the lot from the other direction. We started her up and bolted, leaving the other two to hightail it on foot. He chased them all the way to the bordering fence (which they scaled with amazing finesse). Our getaway car was waiting on the other side and we all escaped. $5 very well spent if you ask me.

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Do you have memories from the Drive-In?