There was a time when, for many folks all across America, summer weekend evenings meant one thing. Drive-in movies. Watching movies outdoors from the comfort of your own vehicle was a popular activity, not only for dating couples but also entire families. Kids would accompany their parents already dressed in their pajamas since it would be well past bedtime when the family returned home.
Between the smell of the popcorn, the hotdogs with mustard, Raisonets, the Cokes on ice in big plastic cups with straws sticking out of the lids, there was everything to love about drive-in movies. But then something happened. Drive-ins started facing stiff competition, from radio to television to traditional movie theaters equipped with air conditioning.
According to one recent report, drive-in movie theaters have faced many obstacles since they first opened way back in 1933. These days, the huge range of streaming services like Netflix that are available even on your smartphone has not only taken a toll on drive-ins but also traditional movie theaters.
Says the United Drive-In Theater Owners Association (UDITA). In the 1950s, it’s estimated there were about 4,000 drive-in theaters spread out over the U.S. But as of 2019, that number had dwindled to just a little over 300. However, it’s believed it’s the retro nature of the drive-in that keeps patrons coming back season after season. This is what’s been keeping the drive-in dream alive.
But there’s more to it than just nostalgia. Today’s drive-in theater experience is far better than it was during our parent’s and grandparent’s era. Now, instead of listening to a blockbuster film over a tinny metal speaker you attach to your driver’s side window, you can listen to the audio over car speakers from CarToys.com, or other similar stores. In a word, movies have never sounded so good.
The Rise of COVID-19
With the onset of the COVID-19 global pandemic, the mandatory closure of restaurants, boutiques, bars, gyms, brick-and-mortar stores, salons, and more has decimated the economy. Movie theaters have been especially hard hit. Once filled to capacity with moviegoers, they have been shuttered until further notice. Making matters worse, some folks say they will never again visit a crowded theater. To them, the risk of infection is just too great.
But another similar industry just so happens to be going through a financial renaissance of sorts. That is the drive-in movie theater.
The Highway-18 Drive-In
Says Marquettewire.org, social distancing is in full effect at Jefferson, Wisconsin’s Highway-18 Drive-In, just like it was since it first opened in 1953. With just a little additional space between cars, they are nonetheless at full capacity for anyone who wants to catch a brand new movie (or, on occasion, a classic film) and listen to the soundtrack accompanied action and drama in all its audio brilliance over the car stereo system.
Even if a drive-in movie theater is located in a four-season geographical location like Wisconsin, just being open in the summer months is not only good for business, it’s good for the minds and well-being of the otherwise locked down patrons who enjoy the escapism of a good flick.
A Generation Z’er does A Drive-In for the First Time
For those of you born in the very late 1990s or early 2000s, perhaps the thought of visiting a drive-in movie theater might be like driving around in a horse and buggy. But for a college senior, Nate Campbell, visiting a drive-in theater for the first time during the quarantine was a liberating experience. Because they are one of the only means of entertainment that remain relatively fully open, he and his friends had a terrific time.
Campbell went on to say, “The novelty of it. It offers a much more intimate situation for exactly the people that you’re going with.”
Because of the so-called inherent “pod system” that occurs with each group of moviegoers packed into one single car, the spread of COVID-19 is mitigated. Maybe the snack bar isn’t open, but it’s a no-brainer bringing your own popcorn, peanuts, sodas, and maybe even a three-course gourmet meal complete with red wine (the driver abstains from the latter, naturally).
Unlike the indoor setting in a traditional movie theater, drive-in movies are outside. The science that comes from the Center for Disease Control tells us that it’s harder to get infected outside than in. If you bring your own food and drink, there isn’t any reason to leave your car other than to visit a restroom.
So if you’re looking to get out of the house for an evening of stunning entertainment both on the screen and over your car’s stereo audio system, take in a flick at your local drive-in movie theater. It will be a great and much-needed escape.
Featured Image by Markus Distelrath from Pixabay