An American Classic: The Drive-in

  • American drive in movie

When I ask my groups the question "Have you ever been to the drive-in?" the answer is almost unanimously "no". In fact, today is different for Americans as well; with roughly 350 drive-in theaters remaining in the country, not all of us have seen a drive-in movie either, which were once so popular.

The fifties and sixties were undoubtedly the golden era of the drive-in; despite that, in the years that have passed since the experience has remained unchanged. The drive-in theater is an antique piece of Americana that has never been revolutionized like the telephone or television; it has always been a big, outdoor screen showing films exclusively at sunset. Movie-goers have always driven their cars or trucks to the theater (really, just a big parking lot), and most importantly, we've always tuned the radio to the right station to listen to the monologue. Just like grandma and grandpa did.

American drive in movie

Going to the drive-in is one of my favorite "surprise!" activities to do with Trek groups and one of the most popular drive-ins for Trek America is the Fiesta Drive-in in Carlsbad, New Mexico. It's rarely crowded and the desert night is warm and beautiful. We load up the van with our sleeping mats and camping chairs and arrive when the gates open to park and get situated.

Traditionally, everyone watches the movie from inside the car, but with four rows in a fifteen-passenger van this is impossible. Instead we place our chairs and mats in front of the van, sit outside and crank up the radio (and be careful not to let the car battery die...) In the good ol' days, the film would occasionally have an intermission so that watchers could get out and walk to the only building at the theater, the concession stand. Oversized popcorn, oversized sodas, hot dogs, candy, nachos, and more still grace the counters at the concessions booth. With no break in the showing, my group and I stocked up on goodies before the previews.

Once the movie begins, everyone loses themselves in the plot, forgetting that we're outside, in New Mexico, or at the drive-in. Whether the film was good or bad isn't really important. Having the experience of an American tradition spanning seven decades since the first drive-in in New Jersey in 1932 is what matters.

American drive in movie

While the future of the drive-in is unknown, a revival has started in recent years giving hope that this iconic American symbol will relive a little of the glory days. As the drive-in has already proven it's resistance to time and a declining market, I don't think they'll ever disappear completely.

Whatever happens, I hope it never changes.

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