I miss drive-in movies. When I was kid growing up in Indiana, they were our primary form of summer entertainment. The whole family could see a movie or two for a couple of dollars. But it wasn’t just a movie. It was an experience.
On drive-in days, we kids couldn’t wait for the sun to go down. We’d put on our pj’s, grab pillows and blankets, and jump into the back of the family station wagon. We’d arrive at the drive-in a little before sunset, find a good spot, and move the car forward and backward until it was at just the right angle so that everyone in the car could see the screen through the windshield. Take the speaker from its post and hang it on the driver-side window, and you’re ready to go. (Be sure you put it back before you leave. Every drive-in had its sad, headless posts, frayed wires dangling where someone had thoughtlessly decapitated the speaker in their hurry to get home after the movie.)
Before the show, popular music played through the speakers, and kids ran back and forth to the snack bar or played on the playground equipment in front of the movie screen. Then, when it was finally dark enough, the screen lit up: first an ad for the snack bar, followed by previews of coming attractions, and finally, the feature film—often a double feature. For a little kid, it was hard enough to stay awake through one movie, let alone two, which is why we wore our pajamas and brought pillows and blankets.
The Warsaw Drive-In was the only one in town, but Fort Wayne had three: the East 30, the Lincolndale, and the Hillcrest. On those summer weekends when I was visiting my grandmother and aunts, I would look through the newspaper, circle whatever movie I wanted to see, and my aunts would take me. I subjected them to some real turkeys. The worst, as I recall, was billed as a horror double feature but turned out to be soft-core porn of the worst quality (not that I’m any judge of porn—soft core or otherwise). It was an embarrassing experience for all concerned, and we took a solemn oath not to tell my parents.
During the 70’s and 80’s, it was hard to find a drive-in that wasn’t showing porn of the worst quality, but there were a few. A double feature of Willard and The Abominable Dr. Phibes stands out in my memory. I didn't have my driver’s license yet, so my mother took me (a true measure of her love, as she was never a fan of the horror genre). I also saw two of the greatest science fiction films of all time during this period: 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Blade Runner. I have seen both films several times since then, but nothing can compare with the impact of seeing them on an immense screen, surrounded by stars.
The last drive-in movie I saw back east was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Loretta and I went with her brother and his wife. (Our niece was there too, but she was still several weeks from being born, so she probably doesn’t remember it.) About five minutes into the movie, my brother-in-law, who could fall asleep in the middle of a bomb attack, was snoring loudly. Shortly after that, my sister-in-law began to whine about how uncomfortable she was. Loretta spent most of the evening swatting at mosquitoes. I seemed to be the only one interested in watching the movie, and I missed most of it, due to the snoring, whining, and swatting. I couldn’t wait for the video to come out so that I could finally find out what happened.
The Simi Drive-In was still open when we moved to California seventeen years ago. And it was open year-round, which was unheard of back east. We saw a double feature of Toy Story and Jumanji on New Year’s Eve. No mosquitoes, and because it was winter, the show started early enough that we had no trouble staying awake through both features.
The last movie we saw at the drive-in was Independence Day. It wasn’t very good, but seeing it under the stars made it somehow seem better. Now the Simi Drive-In, like the Warsaw Drive-In and the others of my childhood, has been torn down. In its place is a housing development, no different from millions of other housing developments.