Thoughts at the Drive-In


This was, originally, an email sent in July of 2007. I will add postscripts as the status of the drive-in's future changes.

Click on the pictures to the left to read the entire story

The girls and I have been going to the Drive-In just about every week-end we've been together since April.

I suggested it when I read that the Sacramento Drive-In had received the first of two approvals they need to 'doze the current six-screen complex and replace it with a shopping mall and an indoor theater. This is either their last or second-to-last summer. This particular drive-in opened on June 28, 1973. When it is gone... there will be no drive-in theaters anywhere near Sacramento.

I wanted my daughters to experience the difference. I wanted to show them what I remembered so fondly as a kid and as a high-school student.

Instead, I've learned new lessons and part of me is sad because of it.

The first one is about the community at the drive-in.

Go to a multi-plex. Get your ticket and find a seat. I bet one of the first things you do is scan the space around you. Who's behind you? Who's to the side? How in the world are we going to keep someone from sitting in front of us?

At the drive-in, we've watched groups of cars pull up and create a mini city. The adults getting together. Kids move in a group to the snack-stand, run to the little playground, or just pile up to watch.

A little while ago, Natalie spotted a class-mate and her little sister. They were there with their mother and we chatted for a bit. Long before the movie started the girls had moved their chairs to our car and fifteen minutes into the movie they were all in the back of my turned-around SUV; sharing snacks and completely engrossed in "Shrek, The Third."

Their mother showed up when the movie ended... the girls exchanged hugs and kisses... and we drove away with hands waving out the windows and shouts of "bye, see ya later, that was fun."

But the best lesson is that it's still possible for me to connect with my daughters.

Last night, we went to see "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix." As many of you know, Amelia and I are serious fans of the books and the movies and we've been looking forward to this for a long time.

We talked my brother Pat and his wife Deb into coming along and they parked their truck next to us. We all ate our dinners and settled in to watch the movie.

Now, Natalie is a "social animal" as you all know. She wasted no time deciding to spend the evening with Pat and Debbie. She'd show back up just before a scary part (they had seen it already in the theater) but otherwise was happy to be the "special guest" next-door.

Amelia and I snuggled up. Rather than settle into individual chairs like you do at an inside movie, the cool Sacramento evenings and the unstructured space of a truck-bed or SUV cargo-area encourages people to pile-up and snuggle together.

Amelia spent almost the whole evening leaning against me with my arm around her.

Best of all, we talked. We discussed the differences between the movie and the book, the ways things had been interpreted that differed from our imagination, how the actors had grown, and just about anything else that came into our minds.

We laughed and were able to say "did you catch that?" without fear of being "shushed" by anyone else. Through the whole movie we knew what the other was thinking.

This continued on into the second feature. By then, Natalie had fallen asleep with Pat. She was comfortable and happy to have the treat of sleeping in his truck. Amelia and I watched "Oceans 13" and our conversations wandered.

It's amazing how a "buddy film" like that can lead to discussion on how people misjudge other people... how honor works... and so many other things.

I was sorry to see the movie and our conversation end.

So much of life today is "busy busy busy." We rush from obligation to obligation and entertainment to entertainment.

The drive-in is not perfect. The playground has suffered over the years. The bathroom are just as unpleasant as I remember them from 30 years ago. There are still people who can't figure out that if you're going to arrive late or leave early you really need to drive around with JUST your parking lights on instead of blinding everyone else with your headlights.

But I will miss the last Drive-In in Sacramento. I will miss the "event"; getting dinner (and loading up on snacks at the 99c Store), driving there, setting up, eating, and spending the entire night together.

But most of all, I will miss an environment where I see my daughters relax and hear their thoughts as their minds are engaged.

Too soon, they'll be going off with their friends and I'll be relegated to dropping them off, picking them up, and generally chasing around behind them.

But for one perfect summer at least, I get to be their date... I get to enjoy an "event" that they will probably not be able to share with their kids (a movie OUTSIDE? What's Grandpa talking about?)... and I get to really listen to them.


Since I wrote that... the second approval to destroy the drive-in has arrived.

We found out in May of 2008 when we went to a free "Customer Appreciation" night. They were showing "Wizard of OZ" (how many of YOU have seen the full uncut version on the big-screen? It's amazing!). It was an absolute treat. The only sad part was that it was clear that 2008 would be the LAST Summer of this Drive-In.



The Drive-In from space



The Entrance

Snackbar and
Projection hub

Everybody ready?

A little dinner

In Pat's truck

With Morgan

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