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Drive-In Memories

I’m a day late with this, so you may have seen it. If not: rejoice. Drive-in theaters still exist in the metro area.

That’s assuming you like them, I guess. Not everyone does. It’s one of those things about which we’re expected to have warm nostalgic memories. Like so many other things, we let our childhood memories temper the actual experience. We remember how cool it was to hit the snack bar; we forget Dad’s eruptive reaction when we dumped the shake down the speaker grille on the dashboard. The reality isn’t always perfect – the last Drive-in I attended had a speaker that made everyone sound like they were gargling nails in a empty warehouse, and during the first feature the rain came down in blinding sheets. We turned on the heat, which fogged the window. Couldn’t hear, couldn’t see. As a result, the subtle nuances of the film (Rambo: First Blood) were mostly lost. We left.

But that doesn’t mean I won’t take my daughter to one, because I must; it’s something kids need to do. Our hometown had two theaters, the Starlite and the Moonlite.

Note: “Church Service Every Sunday.” I would have love to know how they handed communion. Roller-skates were involved, perhaps.

The Starlite was just a few blocks from our house. Sunday nights when we drove back from the farm, I’d catch sight of those giant silent heads glowing in the dark, talking about something – very mysterious and thrilling when you’re five. (It was right by the airport, too, and I wondered if the guys in the control tower ever took their eyes off the radar to sneak a look at the cheap teen beach-bikini flicks.)

Couldn’t wait to go, and it didn’t disappoint. There was an ancient playground at the bottom of the screen – more like a Tetanus Distribution Center, really, with all those rusty pipes – and we’d play beneath the screen in footie pajamas for a while, then head back to the car for hot dogs and popcorn. You’d end up with a stomach ache, asleep in back seat, exhausted and content. Summer in a small town.

The drive-in closed a few years after I left high school; the land became too valuable to waste on a big seasonal attraction, and a grocery store replaced it. There's no evidence left, but I never pass the site without thinking about it, just as I rarely drive down France without a dim recollection of the giant drive-in that stood near the freeway. The list of lost Minnesota drive-ins is long, but some still stand, and if they perish we've only ourselves to blame . I always say this is the year I’ll go back to the drive-in, but it never happens. This year, perhaps.

I hope they show this before the movie begins.

(And here’s an evocative slide show from a local survivor.)

Posted in   James_Lileks's blog | add new comment

A bit before my time

but I would still like to see them make a comeback... I know some of the recent upgrades allow the movie audio to be piped through your car's stereo system (low-power FM transmitters).

Greywar at JoeUser

Greywar at

Laborare Est Orare

drive-in movies

I LOVE drive-ins. My first movies were all at the drive-in. (The Hub near Forest Lake, I belive.) Our family had a van, and that worked quite well for the double features. We kinder had no need to curl up in some back seat - we practically had an entire room to sprawl in! I actually finally made it back to a drive-in a couple of years ago (Vali-Hi near Woodbury). Good times, especially if you bring a lawn chair. And triple features, if you have the fortitude it takes to stay up until 4:00am or so watching crappy movies!

The concession video was kinda disturbing...

Particularly during the Pepsi ad where the not-so-subliminal "NOW" kept flashing up on the screen.

I was half expecting it to flash "OBEY" and see Roddy Piper buying a pack of bubblegum...

"We are the Hokies. We will Prevail... We are Virginia Tech!" -Nikki Giovanni, April 17, 2007.

Let's all go to the snack bar!~~

That get's stuck in my head EVERY time someone metions drive-in theaters. I think it's from The Simpsons. Yeah, there was a little dancing popcorn box and soda I think.

I haven't been to a drive-in since I was little. All I remember is getting to sit on top of the car with friends and eat junk. Good times...


Don't let anyone take your bucket!

Hoping for a Comeback

I was lucky enough to have Drive-Ins last through high school, with all the memories associated with being a teen and having such a great social meeting ground.

We thought it was great, I'm sure it scared the bejeebus out of our parents. I had an old love seat that when the rear legs were removed was just the right shape to fit across the bed of my pickup with the back resting on the wheel wells. Nothing like snacks and a movie at the Drive-In when you kick back on your own couch for the show.

As a dad with little ones, I really miss those places.

Drive-in movies...

As bad as the old metal box speakers were that you clipped to your window, I like the sound being piped through my FM stereo even less. A double feature could just about kill the battery.

Mom used to take us to Drive-ins in her old Buick Limited.... and invariably try to sneak a kid or two into the movie in the trunk, which was about the size of a barge on the Mississippi.

We'd put blankets on the roof of the car and lay out there on our stomaches, watching the movie, until the mosquitos drove us back into the backseat.

Drive In Theaters!

We have a lovely drive-in on the south side of Kenosha, WI. Over the years it has received many upgrades (including the miraculous sound from your car stereo!) but managed to keep its 1950's charm.

Each of the car berths has the old speaker pole but that's not the best part. The best part is the dancing food suggesting you run to the snack stand and "get yourself a treat."

Ahh Drive-ins

My childhood home in Missouri was on a hillside, directly across from my house was the channel 8 TV tower, but down in the ravine was a drive-in movie theater. It was directly across from my sisters bedroom window, so we would get our chairs and our popcorn and candy and soda pop and set up in the room in front of the window. I would man the cord that opened the Mother Goose themed curtains and, as I slowly pulled open the curtains, I would trumpet forth the 20th Century Fox (or approximation thereof) fanfare and we would stare at the heads talking with no sound!!

I too, cannot drive by three particular shopping centers without thinking of the drive-ins that once occupied those plots of land.


Nice piece. Here in Los Angeles we still have a few Drive-ins left. My favorite is the Pacific Vineland Drive-in which has FOUR (!) screens, each playing a nightly double feature. (Their recorded message is often amusing, invariably beginning with the sound of the person dropping the phone before they start the message and often listing some very odd double bills. This week it's Ocean's 13/Shrek the Third and Knocked Up/Georgia Rule.)People are almost always amazed when I tell them that there is a Drive-in in the area. I guess this one survives because it is in the City of Industry and the land isn't particularly desirable for anything else.It's kind of hunkered down in an area of warehouses, train yards and dead/dying light industry.
There are a few sites on the intarwebs that deal with Drive-ins, this seems to be the best one .

p.s. I liek ur bucket.

I loved the high voltage

I loved the high voltage warning for the "in-car" heater and the warning for the guys to keep it in their pants during the show.

if I had the land, I'd own a drive-in theater

I've lived in 6 different states over the past 15 years, and we always managed to find at least one local drive-in still in business. Of course by "local" I mean within a 200 mile radius. One theater in Alabama was little more than a grass field to park in and the movie was projected onto a white canvas stretched across the side of a tractor trailer.

Most places have the FM transmitters now. And with some cheap pocket-sized FM receivers and ear buds, it saves the car battery.

But as far as I can tell, ALL drive-ins still have the mosquitoes.
~ Fae

-:¦:- Bling Blog -:¦:-

A different kind of nostalgia

I never thought of drive-ins as kid places. To me, they were where the teen agers went to make out, and other stuff. I remember hearing from my older brother about drinking Mickey's Big Mouth malt liquor while at the drive-ins.
For me it was just about the only un-chaperoned "alone time" that I could get, and I used it accordingly. Or tried.
But I grew up in the age of the VCR, so if we wanted to watch a movie while lounging with friends, we did that in our living rooms. If we were parking on tarmac at the foggy, chill edge of San Francisco bay, listening to a movie on what looked and sounded like an electric sander, we were darn well up to something.
Now that I have kids, I could see taking them, if the movie set the right tone.

Drive-in memories

Some friends of my folks lived on a hill right near the South Drive-in, and their kids were already out of the house. After dinner the adults would play bridge and I'd watch movies (sans sound) through the picture window. Sometimes I'd make up dialogue for the characters too.

I remember seeing Patton at the drive-in. It was the only movie Dad ever intentionally viewed, even at home, in my memory. Dad wanted to compare the movie with his own recollections of what it was like in Europe in 1945 serving under Patton. I was six and unable to stay awake for the whole thing, but I felt guilty about falling asleep. I still like both that movie and George C Scott. Dad was disappointed with the movie, which he thought was too sympathetic to the subject.

In summer visits to family in Fergus Falls in the 70s, I remember actually going to church services at the town drive-in. Everyone still dressed for church, though. I suppose it was a tad cooler to sit in a car with open windows than to sit in an old brick building with no ventilation.

By high school years, the drive-in took on a whole different connotation. Even so, there were no notices to "keep it your pants". BTW, no mosquitos at drive-ins in Colorado.

Alas, no drive-ins left in

Alas, no drive-ins left in the D.C. metro area. There used to be one—up until the mid-80s—just outside the Beltway in Virginia, but was torn down and replaced by a multi-mega-googleplex with 500 theaters and screens the size of postage stamps.

First movie I ever saw was at a drive-in

I remember being about 5 or 6 years old and visiting my grandparent's home in Richmond, VA. My mom and dad took all us kids (four of us!) to the drive-in, and we saw "The Aristocats". I thought it was the most incredible thing ever.

When I became a teenager, there was a drive-in in Newport News, VA that me and my friends used to head off to on Friday nights. Usually a double feature, almost always kreptacular, but it was an excellent opportunity for underage drinking and other illegalities. Now that I have a four year old, I'm glad they're disappearing - I'd hate to think of my kid doing the same things we used to do!


I still love going to the drive-in, although the only example still around this area leaves a lot to be desired. (I had to have my husband walk me to the restroom the last time we went--I just didn't feel very safe.) We used to have two drive-ins right across the road from each other, on one of the busiest roads in town. I still think about them when I drive of the lots is a Sam's Club now. So sad.

Let's all go to the lobby!!

Let's all go to the lobby!!

I love that song.

drove in

In Indianapolis, we're lucky to have a couple of drive-ins, but I heard on the news just last night that plans were in the works to shut one down to construct some warehouse facility or something. :( Fortunately, we will still have the Tibb's Drive-In, which seems to be alive and well. It is a 4-screener, which I had never heard of until moving to Indy. It's like the MetroPlex of drive-ins! It also has a great snack bar. Just went to the Tibbs on Memorial Day weekend in fact. I saw Pirates 3, followed by about the first half of Shrek 3, after which it got so foggy outside, the screen was no longer visible. It's a great deal overall. You pay $9 per person, which covers 2 movies (or 1.5, in my case...).

We also used to have a drive-in in my hometown of Madison, IN. I was hacked off when they tore it down to put up a modular home sales lot. Like we needed any more of those. I think there already was one across the street from it. Stupid modular homes. :(

Moonlite, the southern sister to the Starlite

I lived a stones throw from the Moonlite Drive-In just south of Moorhead - close enough to pick up the theaters FM broadcast.

Before it closed in the late 80's I could sit in my bedroom and watch movies out the window. My first big screen TV.

I always remember the eerie feeling when there was severe weather in the area. The action on screen and the dark clouds and lightning in the distance had a very surreal feeling.

We go every summer

I took my wife and kids to see "How to Eat Fried Worms" at the McHenry, IL Drive-In last summer. The summer before I think we saw "Shrek". I'd say it definitely beats being cooped up in a regular theater. And I can bring a little flask of something to sip on. I'll always remember seeing "Airplane" with my parents at the Crystal Lake Drive-In back in 1980. The bouncing-booby scene seared itself into my 8yo brain. I think we ate at the "Dog-n-Suds" down the street beforehand. That Drive-In restaurant and the Drive-In theater are both long gone. But the one up in McHenry still operates, and had a decent crowd on Saturday night. Another classic activity that I've shared with my little girls is the roller rink. I'd guess the 70s retro isn't James' thing, but it's great exercise!

Chris M

Church at the Drive-In

Our suburban NY parish held Mass at a local drive-in during the 60's and early 70's. No car-side service for Communion though - you had to make the long hike over the undulating rows of parked cars to a small booth under the screen.

As a child, going to the drive-in was A Very Big Deal because we were outside in our pajamas. Getting sent to the snack bar for treats seemed like a major step on the road to adult responsibility.

BTW - your level of output is scaring a lot of your fans James. We're afraid that you're going to injure yourself.

I spent many pleasant

I spent many pleasant childhood evenings going to the drive-in with my parents, or just with Dad, IN MY JAMMIES! Oh, the novelty! And if it was just Dad and me, we'd stop at the A&W for a treat on the way out to the theater. It was there that I was introduced to the joy of the chocolate-pineapple shake.

The theater was less than 10 miles from my small hometown on a pocky highway. When I got my first 10-speed bike, in fifth grade, I decided to ride out to the drive-in so I'd have a chance to use all the gears. For some reason, my parents agreed to this.

So I spent a couple terrifying hours being nearly whipped off the road by the windstreams from passing livestock trucks. What really scared me, though, were the corpses of snakes on the road. The promise of live ones in the ditch was all that kept me from taking refuge there.

The drive-in is closed now, and Dad is gone, but I still love shakes and hate snakes.


harmony * grace * compassion

Re: no DC drive-ins

Hey sonnymoon42, a few years ago we lived in Maryland, within that DC/Baltimore sprawl. If you are ever in the mood for a day trip (or, night trip, I suppose) you need to visit the big and beautiful Bengies Drive-In on the east side of Baltimore.
(I love the sign!)

-:¦:- Bling Blog -:¦:-

No D.C. drive-ins


I agree—that's a great drive-in movie sign!

The nexty time I'm up in Baltimore I'll check it out. Thanks for the tip!

Sidney Lust

In the 1960s, there was a theater in Beltsville, Maryland (right off the D.C. Beltway, of course) called the Sidney Lust Drive-In. Is that a great name or what? When I was a kid, I thought it featured x-rated movies, but it turns out there was nothing sleazy about the place; the Lust family owned a chain of independent movie houses in the area, including a beautiful art deco-style theater in Bethesda, which is still in operation.

We have them in Dallas, too

We have a new (well, opened in 2004) drive-in just south of Dallas.

Four screens, FM sound OR speakers, no credit cards, old 60s style intermission fillers, open 364 days a year (except for very bad weather), very nice snack bar, and a good crowd just about every night.

Saw "Cars" there a while ago. Can't think of a more appropriate movie to see at a drive-in.

You simply MUST take Gnat.

Best regards,

Drive-In danger

You've heard of the Minnesotan family that froze to death at the drive-in? They'd gone to see "Closed for the Season."
And why don't drive-ins offer discount matinees?


Was anyone else who watched that drive-in intermission video as blown away by the tiny size of the snacks (especially the burgers and Pepsis) as I was? No wonder there's an obesity problem in this country today...

I haven't gotten to go yet, but there's a fairly new four-plex drive-in just south of Dallas on I-45.

Drive-in memories

When I was a wee lad (late 60s/early 70s), we'd go to the drive-in fairly often. My parents would put my sister and me in our pajamas before we went, because we'd invariably fall asleep in the back seat after the cartoons. I remember going often, though the only specific movie I can remember we went to see was "A New Leaf", with Elaine May and Walter Matthau.

As a teenager in Green Bay, my friends and I went to the last remaining drive-in there one evening. They played two awful exploitation movies; the one that I still remember was a bad rip-off of "Alien" called "Inseminoid". Oy, even at 16, I recognized how bad it was.

Double (and triple) bills

"...often listing some very odd double bills. This week it's Ocean's 13/Shrek the Third and Knocked Up/Georgia Rule.)"

I used to have a National Lampoon book of unintentionally-funny signs and newspaper headlines. The absolute best one was a triple-feature at a drive-in:

The Fly
Gods Must Be Crazy

Nope, never did trust them Fly Gods.

Drive in romance

Took my husband to his first drive-in - in 1992! Born in 1956, yet had never had the pleasure of making out while mosquitoes attacked uncovered skin until I corrupted him.

Yeah, I, too miss the Mann France Avenue Drive In - our family's favorite. Wearing PJ's that Mom made, we got to sit on the hood until the movie started.

Lately, I've tried to make an annual sojourn to Litchfield, home of the Starlite Drive In, a relatively recently revived theater. There are three (!) screens there, plus all the favorite foods. A great road trip.


Drive-ins were kid places too

My favorite thing to do on a warm summer night was to beg dad to take us to the drive-in. We'd get in out PJs, wrap up in blankets and eat popcorn until we fell asleep halfway through the movie.

It was soothing from the inside, but driving by those huge silent animated heads used to give me the creeps.

All our Drive-ins in the San Gabriel Valley are parking lots or swapmeets now.

Check this site out! The San Gabriel was my drive-in.


We've still got a Drive-In!!

Catracks - Thanks for the URL!

Turns out we *still* have a Drive-In in San Jose!

I just told Hubbie we're past-due for a "Cheesy-Date!"

Yup! I figure dinner at Denny's (Or - better still - looks like the concession will deliver pizza to your car - Wow!) and a Drive-In Double-Feature!

My bucket runneth over.........

Bad speakers, goofy names

That's what I remember about drive-ins. Sometimes you'd try four of five spots before you found a speaker that everyone in the car could hear. I don't think I went to one after the speakers went wireless. Our local theatre was right between Pratville and Montgomery, Alabama - the Pratt-Mont Drive-In. I'm sure there was one somewhere nearby with "-Lite" in the name.

Drive ins..

I remember seeing the Last Starfighter and Back to the Future at a drive in, I believe in Eden Prairie close to the Flying Cloud Airport. Ah yes:

I really have nothing but fond memories of the experience, er, it might have been cold. It's nice to see they made it into a beautiful development overlooking the bluffs of the Minnesota River Valley(hint: check what it really became then check it out on google to see its location - those city planners are some brillant guys and very environmentally conscious, aren't they?).

We still have a drive-in in

We still have a drive-in in Jacksonville, Florida. It plays first run movies now, but the retired military around here can tell you of the days when it played porn and porn alone. The theater is on the flight line of the naval air base and apparently was a highlight of many training flights.


James, you're probably aware, though you didn't mention it, that Robert Schuller (of Crystal Cathedral fame) got his start with a drive-in church in L.A. And no, I wouldn't have a clue about communion; though I suspect that it could be handled by simply not having communion.

We just lost ours :(

We still had a working drive-in, actually making a go of it at showing first-run films.

Unfortunately, the sole proprietor recently died, and the drive-in closed.

We'll miss you, Bob Groves, and your big dog Blackie.

Hail the Starlite!

That intermission video...

Hehe, at 3:45 on the youtube clip, there's a message: "See you in church Sunday!"...

And those images of burgers and pepsi and all is making me hungry. So I guess that, as in-your-face as it is, their ad still works, some 40 years later...

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