“THE DRIVE-IN MOVIE"

 

It is a real loss to our country that drive-in movies have died and gone to cinema heaven.  They were killed off by the television set, a slow and agonizing death.  But I have noticed in the news that a few new ones are sprouting up around the country.  I wish them success and a long life.  I suppose that I have a fondness for the outside movie due to the fact that my uncle, Ed Buckalew, owned the first (and only) drive-in movie in San Augustine, Texas, history.

 

When I was in high school, the drive-in movie, fondly referred to as the “passion pit” was about the only place to take a date in our small town.  My uncle Ed and I had a gentleman’s agreement – he would let me and my date into the movie for free, but I had to go work the snack bar during the intermission as payment.  My “cue” was a deep voice coming over the speakers, “Neal, come to the snack bar!”  Every car in the movie parking lot heard that announcement.

 

It is a shame that a whole generation of kids has grown up not knowing about the drive-in movie.  They don’t know what they have missed.  No one had to dress up; and you could bring the babies, grandma, or even your pets.  You parked your car beside a post with a speaker on it, rolled down the car window, and placed the speaker inside your car.  Just turn it on, and you were in business.  There was one thing that you would need in the car, and that was a coil of green substance that was placed on the dashboard of the car.  You lit the end of the coil, and the smell of this burning substance was supposed to keep mosquitoes away.

 

One of the best ways to enjoy a drive-in movie was to drive a pickup truck. Instead of pulling in to the parking spot facing the screen, you would back into the spot.  Then rig up some outdoor folding chairs in the truck bed, open your ice chest of drinks, lean back, and enjoy the movie and the cool night air.

 

A favorite trick used by teens was to hide two or three people in the trunk of their car.  At the ticket booth, they were charged for just the one occupant.  Then, after parking in a good spot way in the back, the driver would ease around the back of the car and unlock the trunk and let the stowaways out.  Eventually, Uncle Ed got wise to this trick, so he hired someone to keep an eye on the cars and their trunks for these scam artists.  That did not work too well, so later he made everyone open their trunk before they could drive inside.  It did not take very long for the teens to catch on that they would get caught, so that practice died down.

 

When I took my future wife on our first date in 1956, I took her to my Uncle Ed’s drive-in movie, the Edgewood Theater.  She did not know about the “arrangement”, so I just waved at the man in the ticket booth and drove right on in.   She asked me if I should not have paid the admission, but I just told her that I had “connections” and got in free.  Right before the intermission, that deep voice came over the speakers, “Neal, come to the snack bar!”  It startled her, to say the least.  Now, I had to confess that I was going to have to leave here for about twenty minutes to work my debt off.

 

Looking back on that situation, it was quite unromantic of me to leave my date cooling her heels alone in my car for that long.  But, that never occurred to me at the time.  However, I have been reminded a number of times over the years that it was not the “cool” thing to have done.

 

My uncle finally was forced to close down his Edgewood Drive-in Theater in the late 1960s due to poor patronage.  People were now glued to the television set, which, by this time, had begun transmitting color pictures.  However, for several years after, reminders of the theater were found in ditches and pastures.  The speakers, the victim of people who drove off without first putting it back on the post, were the reminder of those happy days of outdoor theater.  May they rest in peace.