A Child of the Drive-In
I was born in the tail end of the baby boomer generation, the generation born between 1945, when millions of American servicemen returned home from World War II to marry their sweethearts and raise their families, and 1965. To anyone of my generation, going to the Drive-In Theater on a warm summer evening was a touchstone of youth, a rite of passage, especially if you grew up in the Deep South, as did I.
I’ve written often of Dee Karen, the older sister who introduced me to Horror films, and how she, more than anyone, is to thank for my lifelong addiction to Horror. My younger sister, Cathy, came along too late to share in my childhood love of Horror, though she has embraced it somewhat now, even to the point of being my constant (if somewhat reluctant) companion at Horror conventions. But we have another sister, Wanda Susan, who also nurtured my love of Horror movies, as well as fostering a growing appreciation of, and love for, low-budget Exploitation film. She did this with frequent trips to the local Drive-In, trips that, had our parents bothered to examine more closely, would have surprised them.
First, anyone who, as a teenager, was forced to drag younger siblings along in order to get a night out will understand my sister’s consternation, and the arrangement she, my younger brother, our cousin, and I eventually arrived at to keep everyone happy. We would make ourselves scarce once we were in the Drive-In, so she could hang out with her friends; in return, she would take us to see whatever movies we chose. We had two Drive-Ins close to where we lived in the mid-1970s, and it was easy to find something we really wanted to see. Our mother would give her plenty of cash to buy tickets, drinks and snacks, giving Wanda an additional incentive for our trips to the Drive-In. She would stop at the closest 7-11, buy us each a 10¢ Coke, a 15¢ bag of potato chips, in my case Wise Onion and Garlic, and bundle us all into the trunk. Of course, she wanted to save as much of the cash our mother gave her as possible, but there was another reason we frequently entered the Drive-In in the spacious trunk of a 1971 Chevrolet Bel Air. As part of the price for our silence regarding her cheaping out on the snacks, not to mention her complete lack of supervision once we reached the Drive-In, our sister would take us to virtually any movie we wanted to see. Flesh for Frankenstein? Sure, not a problem. Jesús Franco’s Female Vampire? That’s cool, enjoy. Private Duty Nurses? That doesn’t sound like a Horror film, but okay, whatever. As long as we left her free to do what she wanted to, she was agreeable to any movie we wanted to see.
Once safely parked, we would be released from
the trunk, with our snacks, drinks, and blanket. The blanket was important—once
we were there, we weren’t welcome inside the car. The interior of the car was
reserved for my sister and her friends, who would meet up with her, either at
the 7-11, or the Drive-In itself. While we were waiting for showtime, we would
wander the confines of the Drive-In, from concession stand to playground. We’d
check out the other cars, doing our best not to be too obnoxious, and amuse
ourselves as best we could. Once it was dark enough, the screen would flicker to
life, and the three of us would hurry back to the car. We’d spread the blanket
on the ground between the car and the speaker post, crank the speaker up as high
as it would go, and sit back to enjoy the show.
I know that there are modern parents, many of whom were born after the era of the Drive-In ended, who are recoiling in horror at the thought of their precious darlings being subjected to an experience that I and my cohorts, quite frankly, looked forward to each weekend; not to mention the movies that we would see long before the MPAA and, more importantly, our parents, felt we were ready. And on that point, I’d certainly agree. We saw movies we had no business seeing, but in retrospect I think we’re safe in saying no lasting harm was done.
Where I would take exception would be with the idea that we were, in any way, neglected during these excursions. Unsupervised? Yes, definitely. Ignored? Most certainly. But that was the normal state of affairs for us, and for most kids of our generation, actually. At the risk of perpetuating a cliché, it really was a different time. Parents didn’t hover over their children, nor did they feel that they should. We were expected to head outside in good weather, and to find ways to keep ourselves entertained. We knew the limits of our freedom and when we had to be back home, and were careful not to violate those limits. We knew our neighbors, the parents of our friends, and we felt safe in our own natural environment. Our “shocking” independence at the Drive-In was in no way shocking to us—it was everyday life.
Creature Feature © D. Dyszel 2019
Dick Dyszel - Voice Actor