When I was a kid we’d go to the drive-in movie places that dotted the landscape to catch whatever summer movie was playing that week. You’d roll up to a parking spot, and we’d roll out of the back of the station wagon and establish our turf with blankets and folding chairs. Half the fun of drive-in’s was the social aspect of seeing a movie with friends, cars parked nearby and bouncing around to see who else was there and to visit the snack shack for popcorn and candy. If you wanted to preview a different movie you’d go to a multi-screen drive-in and simply turn around and see what was happening behind you.
Drive-in’s don’t make a lot of sense as a business. You need cheap land to pull it off, but enough people to fill it to make any money. And then you factor in the weather and the sharp reduction in opportunities to pack the place for maximum profit and you see why the drive-in’s failed over time. I still see a few in out-of-the-way places in the northeast, but mostly they’re a thing of the past. Sometimes you’ll see a lonely screen standing in a neglected lot or on the side of the highway and recall what used to be. But mostly the land is swallowed up for more profitable tenants, with box stores and condos taking the place of the drive-in’s. The last movie I saw at a drive-in was Top Gun at a place that’s now a Home Depot. I tried to listen for the echoes of movies past one time while buying fasteners, but all I heard was the hum and beep of forklifts.
Last night we tried something different during a party. We erected a pop-up screen and placed a projector on a table connected to a laptop and had a movie night in the back yard. We streamed Hamilton and sat around the table with a fire and the stars and rising moon lighting up the ceiling. And just as with those old drive-in’s we had to wait out the mosquitos before settling into the movie. Hamilton competed with the sound of exploding fireworks as the rest of New Hampshire celebrated the 4th of July in a different way. But it died down as the evening progressed, and it became easier to lose yourself in a broadway musical as other stars danced above us. It brought back those memories of drive-in movies and simpler times when maximizing the profit of the land wasn’t always the primary consideration. I went to sleep with Hamilton tunes stuck in my head and a smile on my face.
Originally posted 5 July 2020