Drive-ins on the Endangered List

For the most part we talk and argue over movies here. For once, as far as I can tell anyway, I’m going to talk about the movie going experience as it pertains to drive-ins. This is a topic close to my heart so hopefully you’ll bear with me as I discuss where I see a movie, rather than the actual movie.

I enjoy the movies, always have. I’ve seen the movie going experience change so much over the years, from better sound to better picture, it’s been interesting watching how the theater experience keeps progressing.

The last few years however, my movie going experience changed when I discovered a drive-in theater not too far down the road. Originally I went for the novelty of it, out with friends it was a cool thing to do every now and then. The last couple of years though, that drive-in has become my movie destination during those months it is open. Why would you do that, especially when the quality of the movie and sound can’t compete with a regular theater, you ask. Well let me tell you, it’s the whole experience that puts it head and shoulders over any indoor theater.

Quick thing, I am only basing this off the drive-in I frequent, others may do it differently so check your local listings.

First off, it’s always a double feature. I get two movies for less than I pay for one at the theater. That alone makes a huge difference. I may not always like both movies, but I always feel I get my money’s worth and besides, it’s not totally about the movies for me. It’s about the food…

My drive-in makes the best patty melts, hands down. So I’m always getting one of those with onion rings and a drink to eat for dinner before the movie. Just to keep track, that dinner and the ticket to get in is still less than a ticket at the indoor theater and popcorn and a drink. Lots and lots of value.

Now there is a boring part to this, I always get there as soon as the gates open so I can get parked next to the concession stand. So after eating dinner there’s still a couple hours to wait for it to get dark enough for the movie to start. I usually spend this time people watching, listening to them play oldies over the sound system and read. Oh, and play trivia for popcorn (yes I do occasionally win).

Once the movie starts you settle in and enjoy. Now, here’s another thing I love about the drive-in…you don’t have to move again. You don’t have to worry about somebody in the middle of the aisle needing to potty during the movie who ends up making you have to move in your seat or stand up to let him by. Only time I get back up is when the credits roll and I rush to get my popcorn and drink refill before the second feature starts. I have this down to a science so I don’t have to stand in the lines that long.

Now, I wrote all that to give you a bit of perspective about the experience before I tell you that the drive-in (and other smaller theaters) are heading for extinction. The forced upgrade to digital is a cost most of these smaller venues can’t afford. There is some good news as some drive ins have found ways to afford the change. But quite a few are shutting down because of this.

I’d say in most places you all have several theaters, but if you really look there’s likely only one or two different companies that overall owns them. Regal and Carmike are the two big ones where I’m at. The drive-in here is totally independently owned and operated. They run double feature about 5-6 months a year, two nights a week (three features and three nights on Memorial Day and Labor Day). They make the majority of their money off concessions only (and despite that they don’t stop you from bringing in your own stuff). But the big thing is, they are local. They are not sending the money they make to some corporate headquarters. That money stays there in the community.

Fortunately my drive-in is upgrading to digital. However another a couple cities away is closing down for good. I ask that all you who read this go here and place a vote. Even if you don’t visit a drive-in at all. Go in, and vote for the closest drive-in to you. Let’s do what we can to keep some history alive.

Originally published September 11, 2013