Southern California Nostalgia of The Iconic Drive in Theaters.
The giant marques, with brilliant neon displays, announced the featured movies. They illuminated the street with a touch of Broadway. We anxiously waited for Thursday mornings to see the new movies coming for the week.
A child’s anticipation throughout the day was one of a happy day, because tonight we were going to the Drive-In.
We arrived early before the ticket booths open. A line of parked cars awaited anxiously for the ticket guy to open up the ticket booth. We wanted a good spot near the snack bar. When the attendant was seen arriving at the booth, cars quickly started their engines. Synching up the line to miminize spacing. Wow, what a deal. .75 per adult for 2 movies and special short subject features. My father was too cheap and sneaked us in when we were 13,14 years as a under 12 year old child free admittance.
I remember going in my pajamas. When I was younger, I couldn’t make it through the second feature before falling asleep in the back seat. Going to the snack bar was a bit embarrassing donned in cowboy themed sleeping attire. My father would carefully carried my exhausted limp body securely to my own bed later. Being careful not to awaken me. And when I was old enough not to go in my PJ’s. I was a big boy. That was my first mature transition from baby to boyhood.
In my boyhood years at the drive-ins, my duties were to clean the windshield when we first arrived. A chore I was eager to do. Pretending I was a gas station attendant. I would jokingly include an oil and radiator check with the used paper towels from the cleaning of the windshield. My brothers and sister would point out the spots I missed. On some colder nights, the vapors of our warm breaths would fog up the windshields. The defroster would momentarily be on to clear up the windshield.
We would also arrive early to play in the playground right under the big screen. Yes even in those said PJ’s. The lights would flicker as a warning that the show was about to start. We hurried back to our cars, stopping between each row of cars, yielding to passing cars as they scurry to find their spots. If there was a late start of the previews, anxious movie goers would honk their horns in anticipation. Notifying and demanding the projectionist it is time to start the flick.
You got 2 movies, Outdated “News of the Week”, a cartoon or two, maybe a short feature, and coming attractions. If you didn’t get their for the first movie, you didn’t worry because fit was repeated after the second feature. I remember those horrible sounding speakers. A quality only to be found at a Jack in the Box ordering speaker. Later came the technology to use your own car radios. The incipient of wi-fi.
I remember mostly the Victory drive-in, The Sunland Drive-in, (which is now a K-Mart), and Van Nuys drive-in with it’s massive mural of the cowboy on a rearing horse. All in the San Fernando Valley of Smell A. My later years in San Diego county, I frequented the Aero and Santee Twin Drive-ins.
We brought our own KFC, pizza, snacks and popped our own popcorn. My dad was to cheap to buy inflated treats from the snack bar. Only on special occasions when my dad felt rich, that we were treated to real snack bar delights. We’d follow him humming the theme song, “LET’S ALL GO TO THE LOBBY, LET’S ALL GO TO THE LOBBY, AND GET OURSELVES A TREAT.”
At times I went by myself. Dateless and not proud. The ticket booth attendant was always suspicious of a single male entering. He’d search the car for warm bodies sneaking in. Although remembering occasions when we did sneak in friends in the trunk, or on the floorboard in the back seat under blankets.
When I was older and going on dates, it was a different experience.
Pickups and vans aligned on the back rows. As to not obstruct others view of the giant screen. I remember one time at the Sunland Drive-in featuring the movie, The Graduate, I had to move my ’56 Ford pick-up truck to the back row. My date was Kristie Richardson. I forgot to return the speaker to the post. While backing out, I shattered my window and yanked the post right out of the ground. When the pre-movie features started, people were leaving that row, fore we knocked out all the audio in that row. As a rule, the back row was reserved for high profile vehicles.
The back row was a special place to watch the flicks. Especially with dates. Single, or double dates with your best friend. We’d back up in the spot. With lawn chairs and blankets, we sat and laid in the bed of the the truck. Vans were backed up too with their double back doors wide opened.