Opinion: Experiences of a drive-in theater rookie


I still have emotional ties to a girl named Pat Bishop. They stretch back to high school when I first met her. Pat was the first girl I dated after I got my driver’s license. It was also my first date with Pat.

We went to the drive-in theater. I realized later it would have been better if we had double-dated. That would have given both of us someone else to talk to.

There was never any problem driving with someone sitting beside me in the front seat. After all, I was busy dodging traffic and shifting gears.

But sitting inert for two hours side-by-side at the drive-in was something else entirely. We both pretended to be interested in “Selected Short Subjects” when it came up on the screen. Ditto the newsreel. Our laughter at the cartoon lacked enthusiasm.

I went to the snack bar twice for drinks and popcorn. We both worked at small talk. Still, the silences between us were twice as long as the chatter. It was odd because we never had a problem talking at school. Of course, we were never alone in the library or the lunchroom.

When the feature started, we both snuggled deeper into our seats and focused hard on the screen down front. I fiddled with the speaker on the window in an effort to get the volume right. Drive-in speakers were notorious for poor quality sound, and this one offered either a scratchy whisper or an ear-splitting blare.

As the evening wore on it got chilly. I started the car to warm things up. In between warm-ups, Pat pulled her sweater tighter around her shoulders. I dug myself deeper into my seat. We focused on the movie.

When the movie was mercifully over, I started the car and drove away without first returning the speaker to its stand. It broke the window, and dropped the speaker into my lap.

I drove Pat home that way, afraid to comment on either the evening or the dramatic finale. At her house she thanked me for a lovely evening and disappeared into her house. We never went out again.

Pat and I finished high school and went our separate ways. I heard she moved to Alabama and married an Army helicopter pilot. I never heard anything after that.

Going to the drive-in became routine entertainment over the years. When the kids came along we started taking our own popcorn.

In the 1950s there were more than 4,000 drive-in theaters across the country. Surprisingly, there are some 300 still operating.

I wonder if nervous first-timers still drive off with the speakers.