Rotary phones, eight-track cartridge music systems and telephone booths are relics, relegated to a museum exhibit. Alas, drive-in movie theaters are hurtling into a similar oblivion.
“I’ve seen a phone-booth in a museum in Kentucky, in their children’s section,” college student Mary said.
Jean and Justin, also college students, admitted they’d never seen a phone booth. However, Justin was familiar with the public telephones that had plastic covers on each side.
“I played with one that didn’t work,” said Justin, referring to a rotary phone.
Mary said dialing a rotary phone when she was a child fascinated her.
Jean and Justin roared when I explained how an eight-track music system operated. The system featured four channels, but it lacked the ability to play the song you wanted. You could only select the track that included your song. In addition, the system lacked fast forward, rewind or repeat capabilities.
On New Year’s Eve, The Continental Drive-in announced on Facebook they were closing. My wife, my dog and I enjoyed a nostalgic summer evening at the Harpersville Drive-in. It’s closed now. We watched a movie, gorged on popcorn and listened to the movie on the car radio — an upgrade. The Continental’s closing was the most recent casualty — the drive-in’s vitality is eking and ebbing away.
Co-owner Chase Taylor was asked did the business close due to an internal business decision or because of financial sustainability.
“There’s really only one reason a business closes,” he said.
In 2015, there were nine drive-in theaters in Alabama. Now there are six. It’s reminiscent of the Agatha Christie novel, “And Then There Were None.”
My dad was rummaging for a large grocery bag and his stain-tattooed cooking pot he used to make popcorn. Dad’s actions — a prelude and a punctuation mark — yippee, we were going to the drive-in movie theater. The aroma saturated the house; Dad scooped the steaming popcorn into the soon grease-splotched grocery bag. My mom and dad herded two boys and two girls into the back seat of our average-sized car, not a stretch limousine. Therefore, it was inevitable we pressed against each other. However, petulant children, we just carried on.
“Mom, he’s touching me,” someone wailed.
“Mom, she’s touching me,” another whined.
Oh, the whine-a-thon.
Once we got to the drive-in, my brother and I dashed from the car and darted to the playground. We ripped and ran ourselves into a state of exhilarated exhaustion but made it back in time for the movie.
The All-Weather Drive-In of Copiague, New York boasted enough space to accommodate 2,500 cars, a playground for the kids and a full-service restaurant, spread out on 28-acres. The forerunner to tailgating. In 1958, the drive-in phenomenon peaked, 4,063 theaters dotted the U.S. What a bonanza for teenagers and young adults: privacy, popcorn and, wow, even a movie.
DriveInMovie.com estimates only 330 drive-in movies operate in the U.S. In 2004, Blockbuster Video had 9,094 stores worldwide, 4,500 in the U.S. Customers could rent movies or rent video games. Why clean up, dress and drive to watch a movie? Thanks to Blockbuster, you could watch movies from your couch, your recliner or in your pajamas. Redbox, Netflix, Hulu, etc. joined the fray and provided the push that compelled Blockbuster to file bankruptcy in 2010.
Thus, the drive-in is akin to a patient who’s suffered multiple heart attacks — one more will prove fatal. For the drive-in movie-the fatal blow, a $70,000 hit per screen, to convert from 35-mm format to digital format.
Alabamians, move fast if you desire the drive-in movie experience.
Marc D. Greenwood is a Camp Hill resident and weekly columnist for The Outlook.