77  years ago Sunday night, the world's first drive-in opened in Camden, New Jersey. It cost 25 cents a car, or if there were more than 3 people in the car it was a dollar. If you walked in it was 25 cents a person.

The drive in was the invention of Richard M. Hollingshead, Jr., a sales manager for his father's Whiz Auto Parts who wanted to combine his two favorite passions: Cars and movies. Oh, and the idea of making a few bucks along the way didn't bother him either. :)

That was in 1933. Although the drive in was immediately a moderate success, it didn't really come into its own until the end of WWII.  The "boys" were home, the war was over, and another craze was sweeping the nation: automobiles. Everyone wanted to get out and go.  The drive-in provided the perfect "go to" destination.  Mom and pop could throw the kids in the car and everyone could be entertained for an evening without the hassle of dressing up or finding a sitter.

The drive-in peaked out in the fifties and declined rather slowly until the eighties.  The eighties ushered in cable television, satellite, and the uber huge home video market.  People had so many ways to be entertained at home that they just chose to STAY at home.  Simultaneously, the eroding interest in drive ins made it hard(er) for owners to spend money on keeping aging equipment working, to keep booking 1st run movies, and to generally appeal to "families" ( as by the eighties everyone in the family was doing their own thing).

Today, drive ins are all but gone (like hula hoops, lemon twists, and poodle skirts). A few remain. A few even thrive, but they do so more out of nostalgia and novelty than they do from being a national pastime.

Drive-ins may be a relic of  a bygone era for most people but for me it still remains a love true and dear to my heart. I can't imagine any greater movie awesomeness than watching a film under the summer stars, on a ginormous screen.

I love the smell of popcorn floating along on the summer breeze, mingling with the smell of fresh cut grass and perhaps with a hint of rain on its way. I enjoy watching the kids play frisbee and tag and other summer games while the adults wait for night time to fall. A lot of times the drive in will broadcast a local radio station that plays pop and rock tunes.  Nothing like hearing Hotel California echoing slightly from an old pa system 30 minutes before showtime.  There's always the chatter of people around me and the crunch of people clomping along on the gravel, making their way to the concession stand. When the movie starts I like listening to the whirl of the old projectors.

And then, there's the movies! So many wonderful flights of imagination blown up way larger than life on a huge screen nestled under twinkling stars.  That's just the best! I feel fortunate to have experienced that simple pleasure most of my life.  It's getting harder to do. One by one my childhood haunts are disappearing.

Parsons Drive-in is loooonnnng gone.
Tals Drive-In has been gone 10 years now.
Gas City Drive-in has been gone 2 years.

I keep driving further and further...but it's worth it.

A couple of years ago I bought a digital projector, a painter's tarp, a cheapie dvd player, and a cheapie speaker set and sat up my own backyard theatre.  Not anywhere near as cool as having a real drive-in but its as close as 470 bucks will let you get.  I recorded my first test of the equipment about 8:20pm at night. It was still very light but even so you can see that the projector worked incredibly well. The picture easily filled the whole side of my shed.  My friend Andy and I enjoyed a whole summer's worth of backyard movies together and that was great fun. The concert I had playing here was Roy Orbison: A Night in Black and White-so....that's why the concert's in black and white! :)

Here's a few pics of my favorite drive ins over the years.
TALS in Coffeyville, ks (demolished)

Gas City Drive In (CLOSED)

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Iknowmyassishot said...

I remember you talking about TALS in Coffeyville. The guy does not LOOK like the type that would be interested in movies much less create the concept of the drive in does he? Very sad about the drive in's disappearing. Very sad. I did not know that they had one in Gas. I recall going to the one in Parsons. Glad to know that at least I had a part in something that is near extinction. Maybe you should build your own? I know, it takes money, but it would certainly be up your alley.

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