Tuesday, April 13, 2010


The lil hucky and I, deciding it is obscene to waste precious water on a regular lawn out here in the high desert, decided to plow under the back yard and plant drought-resistant buffalo grass.  To that end I rented a roto-tiller and went at it.  Tiring, bone-shaking work, but fun.  The most interesting bit was ripping out the extensive root system under the soil and discovering all manner of weird looking roots.  The predatory, weed-like paradise trees trees in our area form these bulbous, misshapen nodes for new trees to grow out of.  So alien looking, but those curving, fractal lines kept reminding me of fetuses, all day long.  Odd image, I know.  In a sense, though, I guess they are fetuses.  For baby trees.  

Afterward we went to the drive in.  Longtime readers of these posts know of my abiding love for drive in movies.  Packed up the kids and the lawn chairs and the twizzlers and the sleeping bags and showed up before the gates were even open.  Played catch til the movie started.  We saw Alice In Wonderland (better than I expected, but still way too much emphasis on art direction, not enough attention on story and character and narrative coherence).  The movie is secondary.  The trippy experience of being able to watch a movie in a lawn chair with stars and clouds overhead is the thing.   The community of it all: teenagers flirting and necking, people walking back and forth from the concession stand with corn dogs and popcorn, whole families spilling out of the backs of vans and pick-ups.  People talk.  Babies cry.
The best part was that the car next to us was a gaggle of four sisters, aged 8 to 12.  They set blankets on the ground next to the car to watch the movie together.  Our eldest, who does not make friends easily, joined them, snuggling with them under the blanket as the night got colder.  Not only did she make friends, she got to hang out with Big Girls!  She came back to the car beaming.

That kind of thing doesn't happen in a regular theater, sitting in the dark and silence.

It certainly doesn't happen when you rent a movie to watch at home, doors and windows closed to your neighbors, the magic of the night sky unseen and forgotten.

It happens at the drive in.     


Wanderlust Scarlett said...

That's pretty awesome. Made me want to head out to one, but unfortunately, I don't think we have any more of them here in Denver.


I'll have to hunt one down.

Scarlett & Viaggiatore

PS~ The Harry Potter post is up... you and the Mrs. will want to see that. ;D

Anonymous said...

Beautifully written.

There was an old drive-in by our summer house, back in my years of skinned knees. My favorite memory of the visit, though, is not from those younger days, but from a much more recent time.

My sister must have been off at college already, because I was the one driving the truck. The drive-in was only open for a few weekends a year by that point. As the only one in the family with a flatbed, I'd been put in charge of a mattress, going from one house to the other.

We parked the truck so we could see the screen from the flatbed, and brought some pillows so we could sit on the mattress while leaning against the cab. The sliding window we left open to hear the radio, and we hid under a blanket for the movies. (Finding Nemo and the first Pirates, I think - great combo!)

I remember that.

And then the sweatshirt I always wore, purple and stained and too small, but a constant companion for fireworks, late-night boat rides, and lazy American summer nights. It is a much more tangible experience, somehow, watching at a drive-in. It feels real.

Shayna Prentice said...

I loved reading about your experience at the Drive-In theatre! You described it perfectly. It brought back such tremendous memory flashes of my midwestern roots and my love of Drive-In Theatres! (my oddest memory of them is when I fifteen - I snuck into one in the trunk of a car and was discovered. how embarrassing) Thank you for this great post.

meno said...

You have inspired me to try and find out of there even IS a drive-in theater around here.

Laurita said...

Great post. You really have a way of conjuring images. SOunds like the whole family had a great night at the movies. I've never been to a drive-in theatre. Next time I travel I'll have to search one out.

ArtSparker said...

Wonderful description, I remember my parents taking my siblings and myself as a child. To my mind, there is something the reverse of magical about Tim Burton's wonders- he takes the mystery out, everything becomes opera and telling not showing. I haven't seen his Alice.

Fresca said...

Lovely post.
Going to the drive-in made me practically sick with excitement when I was a kid!

Lately I've been going to the new microcinema in town--only seats 50, so everyone sits next to each other to watch old movies.*
People laugh and applaud---haven't had that movie-goer community in years and years.
It's half the fun.

* I went to a Brit Noir fest, Ray Harryhausen, and now Hitchcock (I'm only going to his British films, when the women weren't just crow bait: I'm not a fan of most of his Hollywood stuff.)

Gordo said...

Community is everything. Well, it should be, anyway.

Thank you for the reminder, I'd forgotten about the drive-in. It's just re-opened for the season, but there's nothing playing that we can take a 5 and 12-year-old to. :-(

Hilary said...

Oh you bring back some wonderful memories of being a kid. I haven't been to a drive-in in over 20 years. There are none nearby. I'm glad they're still in operation elsewhere and that they're still making memories for younguns. Very cool for your daughter too. :)

Clowncar said...

Scarlett, when I lived in Denver there were two! The Cinderella closed, but I think one is still left.

Beth, that's a nice memory. I love your description of your sweatshirt. And American summer nights in general.

Thanks Shayna. My favorite memory is when my parents dropped us off at the drive-in with lawn chairs to watch "Frogs." Then came back to pick us up after. Lawn chairs set up in a sea of cars. Fun.

meno, go look! I think they've mostly survived in places with long summers - Colorado, California. We have one up in the San Luis Valley attached to a motel, so you can watch from your room!

Laurita, you've NEVER been to a drive-in? You must keep an eye out. It is so much fun (the lawn chairs are key - watching it from inside the car is much less interesting).

Fresca, I LOVE Ray Harryhausen. Jason and the Argonauts. Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. I think we had an exchange about how iconic that saucer slicing through the Washington Monument was.

Gordo, they have double-features here - first one is always for kids, the second, not so much. We're always too sleepy to stay for the second one.

Hilary, they are an endangered species, with a razor-thin profit margin. The one here almost closed a couple years back. I hope it lasts. They are certainly memory makers, as the comments here attest.

femminismo said...

Cool opportunity to remember the good times of drive-ins. Your daughter must have been in seventh heaven, getting to "hang" with older girls. I remember those summer nights in Oregon fondly. I think there is still at least one drive-in around the Portland area.

Clowncar said...

It's cool and interesting that everyone has such vivid memories of drive-ins. That's partof the pull - hoping to make some childhood memories for our own kids.

järnebrand said...

Nice. I have never been to a drive-in-theatre, but they sound great. I remember corn dogs from when I was an exchange student in the US (back in the Stone Age...).
Loved you post. Congrats on the POTW from Hilary! Love/ Jo.

Brian Miller said...

cool post. love going to the drive in...and taking my boys...its where i saw star wars the first time...congrats on the potw!

slommler said...

I miss going to the drive in! None around here..sigh!! You made me wish they were! And what a blessing for your daughter.
Hugs and congrats on your POTW

TechnoBabe said...

Oh how I miss the drive-in movies. My kids grew up on them. Pretty much as you described: Lawn chairs, pajamas on (me too), snacks from home. There definitely was a sense of community at the drive-in. Great post. Congrats on POTW.

Land of shimp said...

We've no drive-ins left here in my part of Colorado, but I remember them well. Also, hello my fellow buffalo-grass grower! It's an odd shade, and a strange texture, but Kentucky Bluegrass was never meant to grow in our high desert. Good luck with it, and I'm sure it will do fine!

Back to the drive-in, it reminds me of something. A comedian commenting that at the DMV we are all equal. You go there, you see a huge cross section of humanity, and we all have to wait in those infernal lines, regardless of status. It forms of sense of oneness...in irritation.

The drive-in is like that in a different way, isn't it? The level playing field, everyone there to have the same experience, for the same freeing reasons.

Gah, I always leave the longest comments, sorry about that. I'm still not done, if you can imagine that. My grandmother, long gone now, told me a story about the first drive-in she ever went to, many years previously, in the forties. She and my grandfather were in Oklahoma, as my grandfather was covering another teacher's year long leave.

There had been a terrible drought in the area, and the entire community feared for the growing season. A new drive-in opened in town, and as happens with new attractions, just about everyone for miles showed up, ready for the feature when...and you knew this was coming...it began to bucket down rain.

Everyone got out of their cars, and danced around in the rain, cheering, clapping as Joan Crawford towered overhead.

That was long before I was born, and I never even met my grandfather, but it's the strangest thing, that's my most powerful memory of a drive-in. One I wasn't even witness to.

Community reaching across time, eh? I can see it in my mind, Crawford's rather severe face, obscured by long prayed for rain.

Thank you for making me remember that, I hadn't thought of it in years :-)

Daryl said...

Congrats on the POTW mention from Hilary

Clowncar said...

Thanks, everyone who wandered over from Hil's site.

And Shimp, your comment was so moving I posted it today, for (hopefully) more to see. What a charming story. Thanks you for leaving it.

Frank Baron said...

Nicely-written piece. I'm glad you're still able to enjoy what for many of us, is a lost pastime.