Steve Flores

Sunday, Sep 30 2012 06:00 PM

STEVE FLORES: Drive-in theaters much more than the movie

By Steve Flores

It was almost like going camping.

Blankets, pillows, lawn chairs, ice chest, snacks and homemade buttered popcorn were all on the checklist of necessary supplies to take for the family.

Yosemite National Park? San Clemente Beach?

No. It was the Crest, South Chester, Terrace, Edison or other local drive-in theaters.

Like 8-track cars stereos, playing video games in an arcade or yo-yos, drive-in theaters are linked to an era now sadly almost gone.

I have recently noticed on the Internet a resurgence of curiosity and nostalgia for drive-in theaters. What sparked my interest was a black and white photo of drive-in theater car speakers with a question asking how many Facebook members could identify the object in the picture.

So I asked my family if they remembered going to the drive-in. Without hesitation, each one of my now adult children, son-in law and wife of 38 years spoke of their memories of drive-in adventures from the late 1970s and early 1980s.

My wife, Susie, remembered having our four young children Nikki, Brenna, twin sons Sean and Aaron dressed in their pajamas. She would gather the blankets, pillows, snacks and freshly homemade buttered popcorn. I would load up lawn chairs, flashlights and ice chest. With the back seats removed, our van interior now resembled in the inside of a well-groomed camping tent.

As we approached the entrance to the drive-in theater, we would tell our young children to lay perfectly still under the blankets so we could sneak them into the theater without paying for them. I know. I am going to parent hell for this parent transgression. Unbeknownst to them, all children under 12 years of age, which they all were, were admitted free. It wasn't until years later we revealed the drive-in "free" secret to our children.

Drive-in etiquette required that you drive without your headlights on and sparingly use your brake lights. Once we found our spot, I backed the van up to the huge screen, opened the back doors to the van, hooked the speakers to each van window, pulled out the lawn chairs and we all settled in for the double feature movies. During intermission, the kids were usually on the playground located directly under the screen and came back to the van to fall asleep by the start of the main feature. Susie and I watched the movie under the stars, totally comfortable in our lawn chair seating, cold drink in hand and drive-in speaker sound system.

As I researched the history of drive-in theaters for this column, I learned that for multiple reasons, during the 1970s and 1980s, thousands of drive-in theaters closed. Remnants of drive-ins still exist here in Bakersfield. Most have been repurposed. One is an automotive salvage storage yard. Another is an upscale RV park facility.

I also read how Baby Boomers and others on the East Coast would drive up to two hours to have their children experience the fun and nostalgic romance of the drive-in theater.

The best news I found was that there is an operating drive-in theater about one hour north of Bakersfield in Hanford. I called the Kings Drive-In Theater just to make sure it really was still open. Admission is $8 per carload and they still have double features.

We don't have the van anymore and I don't think my adult children will wear the PJ's, but we still have our lawn chairs and ice chest. What an easy way to go back in time.

Make sure your headlights are off, don't use your brake lights more than you need and remove your speakers before you drive off.

I don't know what will be more fun -- reminiscing or watching the double feature.

-- Steve Flores is a contributing columnist for The Californian. These are his opinions, not necessarily those of The Californian. Email him at floressteve32@yahoo.com.

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