Jun 6, 2012

Drive In Theaters are alive and...well? I was conceived at a drive in theater. Well, I can't be sure about that statement, except for the "I was conceived" part. But there has to be some infantile connection with drive in theaters because I feel so at home there. I don't know if it's the aroma of hamburgers or popcorn wafting through the air, the sounds of kids playing on the rickety, outdated playground, or the old time rock and roll music that penetrates the airwaves, but something definitely touches a nerve at these venues.
Recently, the wife and I found that the old Auto Drive In in nearby Greenwood, SC had reopened, and, was being operated by a couple of old acquaintances from our days in Greenwood (in the early eighties). Tommy McCutcheon and his wife have bought the old place and have added a screen, bringing the total to two giant screens. Tommy used to own the Civic Center Cafe, across from the Civic Center in Greenwood. We were among their first customers, and would visit there quite often. Even after we left Greenwood for Greenville, and eventually Newberry, we would make the drive and get one of Tommy's delicious hamburgers, made from fresh ground beef, and so big that the fries on the plate were hardly ever touched. The Auto show first-run flicks, unlike the drive-ins of my day when second-run features and 'b' movies were the standard fare. We caught "Snow White and the Huntsman", had a couple of Hot dog plates and enjoyed an evening of pure, unadulterated fun.
The Auto Drive In shut down in the late eighties. It soon became a flea market and eventually nothing but a weed farm. When the screen went dark, we all thought that an era had passed us by-forever. The Auto Drive In was once owned by a gentleman named Pete. He also owned several other businesses in town, including the local Burger King franchise. Although he was an astute businessman and could have spent his days lounging around the pool, counting his substantial income, Pete was always on hand at the drive in. You'd see him behind the counter, cooking up a batch of chili or slinging hamburgers to his appreciative customers. When I learned that he was a multi-business owner, I had to ask him why he chose to spend every evening at the theater. "These are my people", he replied. "I feel more at home here than I do at home". Rest in peace Pete! Over the years I have echoed his sentiments.
When Laura and I visited the Monetta Drive In, located about 60 miles SW of Newberry, I said the same thing: "These are my people". At the time, the Monetta Drive In, or the Big Mo', was the only drive in theater in the state, hanging on to that past which had almost forever vanished, in this state at least. Now, there are two theaters within pretty easy driving distance from us. The food at the Monetta is good, and pretty reasonably priced, but it's not Tommy's famous fare. The Auto's concession prices are kinda steep, but in perspective, I don't mind paying 8 bucks for a hot dog and fries versus 8 bucks for a small popcorn and drink at a typical walk in theater.
Way back when I worked at the White Horse Drive In,(see previous blog) , I popped the corn, slung drinks and helped at the box office. After the shift was over, I would catch whatever was left of the feature before I rode my bicycle home. The experience that I gained while working there was probably negligible, but the memories I made there were priceless. First real girlfriend, first kiss, first time rounding second base, first x-rated flick, etc. etc. Maybe it's trying to relive some of those times that makes my love for the drive in so overpowering. Although I will never again have a first kiss, I can somehow revel in those memories and feel, just for a moment, the rush of careless youth. Folks-lay on the horns-it's time to start the movie!