Wednesday, August 8, 2007

At the drive-in

Consider the drive-in.

The invention of Richard M. Hollingshead Jr. of none other than Camden, New Jersey, the first drive-in opened on Admiral Wilson Boulevard on June 6th 1933, and didn't take long for the idea to catch on in other states.

In the post war prosperity of the fifties, the drive-in became a phenomenon. With money to burn and a new found love for cars, Americans had constructed some 4,000 drive-ins across America by the 1960's. Drive-ins were "passion pits," carnivals, family outings, organized chaos.

Alas, economics played a role in the drive-in's decline starting in the 70's. Land became too costly for a small business that could only operate in warm weather and starting at dusk. The advent of cable TV and VCR's also contributed to the decline, and by 1990 the number of drive-ins across America had fallen below 1,000.

Nowadays the number of closing drive-ins has slowed considerably, with many old ones being renovated and opened under new management, such as the Delsea Drive-In in Vineland, New Jersey, the only operating drive-in in the state. I can be fiercely nostalgic even for things I am too young to have experienced the first time around, which is why I have been trying to visit as many drive-ins as possible on this trip. So far I've been to them in Texas, New Mexico and Montana. Last night I went to one in Muskegon, Michigan.

The Getty Drive-In is one of the best drive-ins I've ever been to. I pay $4 for a double feature ("The Simpsons Movie" and "Live Free or Die Hard"), and drive in to a large circle with four screens on the outer edges and a concession stand in the middle. As I walk up to the concession stand, industrial fans set into the walls blast the warm smell of cotton candy and popcorn at me. In the arcade there is the 1988 arcade game for the original Die Hard. I play several rounds but never make it very far. No matter, I'm immensely happy for the whole experience.

And the best part? It's the only drive-in I've been to that still uses the window speakers that you attach to the door of your car. Kids shriek and chase each other with glow sticks, people sit on lawn chairs and the hoods of their cars, and I lean back in Black Betty's cockpit to watch two great summer flicks.

I don't leave the drive-in until 2am, and I drive out to the shore of Lake Michigan to park for the night. I awake two hours later to a flashlight shining in my face. The flashlight is being held by a police officer.

He is extremely friendly and asks to run my license, and then he'll let me stay the rest of the night.

"Unless you're some crazy killer from New Jersey. You're not, are you?"

"Uh, no."

He runs the license and returns it through the slit in the car window a few moments later.

"Ok, you're all set. Have a good night and enjoy your time in Michigan."

"Thank you officer. I will."


Anonymous said...

Good post. I'm lucky to live about 20 minutes from a drive in.

On my own future road trip I was planning on doing some sleeping in my car. Has sleeping in your truck worked out for you? Are most cops/security guards as friendly as the Michigan trooper?

Scotticus said...

Sleeping the car has worked out well. I've parked and slept in Walmart parking lots, a Starbucks parking lot, several day recreation areas, Main Street and of course that night in Kentucky outside of Mary Todd Lincoln's birthplace.

This was actually the first time a cop, or anyone at all for that matter, woke me up in the night, so it's hard to say if I'd be so lucky if it happened again.