Nothing like several inches of snow to make one wax nostalgic for the carefree days of summer. One of the things I think about when casting back to hot temperatures and extended sunshine is drive-in movies. Yes, I am that old.
Truthfully, my family didn’t go to drive-ins as a summer time treat. Dad would watch movies every once in a while but they didn’t make movies like Red River anymore so he wasn’t all that interested. Mom could tell you where she sat and what she was wearing when she saw Ben Hur in the theater but she didn’t want to go. My experience with the bygone movie presentation was as a worker.
At the end of my sophomore year in high school a friend invited me to work with him at the Airport Drive-In (give yourself 50 bonus points if you ever went to a movie there). At that time there were two drive-ins in the area, the Airport and the South Hutch. The South Hutch played movies you could take the whole family to for a wholesome evening of entertainment. The Airport….didn’t.
Our specialties were four movie marathons featuring one of two things, crazed men wielding chainsaws, knives, machetes, or really pointy sticks (not all of them were very bright) or women wearing short shorts, tiny bikinis, spandex or cheerleader outfits (at least until they changed into the tiny bikinis). Now don’t worry, I was safely sheltered from these films which could poison the young innocence of a bright eyed high school boy because I worked in the concession stand. (On second thought you don’t get 50 bonus points if you ever went to a movie there. You should probably have points deducted, or simply think better of admitting it to anyone.)
It really was a great job. The manager was an older lady who would mother all of the high school aged workers. We all got along. Most of us were friends before and after the job and my cousin Kevin even met his future and still current wife working there.
There were three basic roles at the theater. The box office: This was almost always a girl who sat out in the tiny little “house” at the entry gate selling tickets to the degener…uh, customers. The concession staff: These were the hard-working stiffs popping popcorn, frying up burgers and shilling the sodas. The ramp man: This was the guy who was charged with walking the ramps, that is the inside vernacular for where all the cars parked to tilt ever so slightly upwards to look at the screen, in order to keep order and catch people who tried to drive in via the exit and charge them for admission.
Now for a peek behind the curtain of that mysterious and mostly extinct exotic workplace the drive in.
The concession stand had its standards for the food it served. These standards may or may not have been the ones suggested by the health department. We would bag up any leftover popcorn in a big trash bag to be used the next night. The rule of thumb was if you carefully took a single popped kernel of corn and gently bit down on it with just the maxillary and mandibular central incisors and heard a squeaking sound the popcorn was officially too old to sell. Also, yesterday’s hamburgers became today’s cheeseburgers, the cheese covered up the bits of bun which had stuck to the hamburger patty as we prepped them for cryogenic preservation (stuck them in the freezer) for the next day.
In our defense the clientele was not possessing of highly discerning palates. We would often laugh at the people who would purchase popcorn tubs big enough to transport a defecting family of Cubans to Key West with extra buttery flavored oil (that is what we were required to offer the customers – why there was a pang of remorse on the part of the company asking us to exercise some truth in advertising on this matter while doing all the other stuff we did was beyond me) multiple hot dogs and hamburgers, a package of Twizzlers, a package of Corn Nuts (the loudest foodstuff ever devised by man) a package of Milk Dud (it was not a package of Milk Duds because the air conditioning didn’t work so well in the storage room and the individual candies had coagulated into one giant Dud) and then yell at us because we didn’t carry any diet soda.
Christopher Pyle will be checking with his lawyer about the statute of limitations on certain actions and possibly share more drive-in information in his next column. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.