Thursday, October 12, 2006


If you know what Zarex is, then you might have seen those Drive-In Movie shorts before. When I was very young, our parents would put us in our pajamas, then pop an enormous supply of popcorn made with kernels from a big bag, in a huge pot on the stove with a puddle of corn oil in the bottom. Then they'd get out a big plaid cylindrical steel Coleman cooler, and mix the Zarex fluid with water-- a sort of human antifreeze beverage --and put it in screw top glass bottles in ice, and off we'd go to the Drive-In theatre in the Rambler station wagon.

It's difficult to describe the Drive-In theatre experience. Everybody knows what it is, because even the current i-Pod generation has seen it used as a cultural metaphor in innumerable television shows and movies. But I know who Gisele Bundchen is. That's not the same as knowing Gisele Bundchen.

A trip to the drive-in was a sort of amusement version of the Bataan Death March. A frivolity endurance test. Now that I think of it, I saw The Bridge On The River Kwai at the drive-in, so maybe that's not as crazy as it sounds.

A movie was still a luxury for us. A movie theatre was generally too expensive to bring a family of six to. And standards of decorum were not yet in disrepair, so our parents would never think of bringing the youngest of us to a place where our natural childish fidgeting would annoy other moviegoers. And parents didn't abandon their children much to strangers then. We all went everywhere, or didn't go. People yak on the phone during movies now, and yell at the screen; my wife and I had to listen to a toddler yammer continuously behind us during an opera recently. I shudder to think of what it's like at the movies now.

It's fun to think of such anachronisms as the Drive-In movies, but let me assure all of you -- it was a dreadful way to get your amusement. Everything is so much better now. Back then, you couldn't see. The audio would be delivered on a speaker that makes a bus station announcement sound like Bang and Olufsun's best. You could suffocate, and look through the fogged, pitted windshield, or you could open the windows and be eaten alive by the mosquitoes. The movies were mostly bad, and generally not first run anyway. The projection was almost always sketchy. Your brother was always bugging you -- like any car ride. It's difficult to describe the feeling of spilled Zarex congealed on a vinyl car seat.

Why would people brave all that, just to get their amusement?

Because it was marvelous, all the same.


Pastor_Jeff said...

Man, there was a time when the biggest political issue confronting average Americans was Daylight Savings Time?

No wonder the old-timers go in for nostalgia.

Patrick Martin said...

Last month, the Wall Street Journal had an article about the emergence of informal outdoor movie theaters. Individuals rig up a make-shift screen and get one of those presentation projectors and play a DVD off their laptop. They invite the neighbors to stop by, make popcorn, and have their very own mini-drive-in. It sounded like a lot of fun.

I remember being snuck into a drive-in when I was 4 or 5. My folks had me hide on the backseat floor under a blanket to save money on admission or something.