Thu 14 Jun 2012
by Walker Martin
While recently engaged in one of my favorite activities, mainly that of watching movies on DVD, I suddenly realized that it was the birthday of one of my former hangouts, the Drive-In Theater.
On June 6, 1933, the Drive-In was born in Camden, New Jersey. It immediately became the place to go and by the height of its popularity in the 1950′s and 1960′s there were over 4,000 theaters across the country.
In the 1970′s, my wife and I went to the Drive-Ins just about every weekend. Even in the winter, the places were so popular that there were theaters that provided in-car heaters. Of course you would have to turn your ignition and also use the car heater.
There were several in the Trenton NJ area and we used to visit them all: US 1 North Drive-In, Roosevelt Drive-In, Lawrence, Route 206, The Dix, Ewing Drive-In. Too many to remember.
They are all gone now, and maybe for me personally it’s a good thing. I probably would not have survived to 2012 if I had continued to go to them. I believe most of them died in the 1980′s and if they had lasted much longer, I would have died with them.
Why? I got into the habit of following my “Drive-In Routine,” which consisted of cigarettes, a six pack of beer, and Arby roast beef sandwiches and french fries.
We would eagerly arrive while it was still daylight in order to get a place in the front or second row. I would hold off the orgy of eating and drinking until the opening credits and then it was not a pretty sight as I devoured Arby’s and swilled cans of beer, tossing them outside the car window as I finished each one. One beer equaled one cigarette.
My wife hated my smoking because the smell of old cigarette smoke would sink into her hair and clothes. But, being the typically guy, and since she was a non-book collector, what did I care? Even at the Drive-In, I still applied my life long philosophy that there are two types of people, collectors and non-collectors.
There was another annoying thing about many Drive-Ins: the bugs and insects. In the hot summer nights we would of course have the windows down and in they would come to feast on me. They mainly ignored my wife because she was only half my size, and the Arby’s and beers must have made my blood taste good.
To try and drive the bugs away, many of the theaters sold a product called PIC. I forget what the initials meant but it was a coil that you lit with a match and placed on your dashboard. It seemed to work on clearing the bugs out of the car but after awhile you also wanted to leave the car.
Of course, after a few beers I no longer cared about them and I had no trouble concentrating on the movie.
My wife and I followed the same routine. Me with Arby’s, french fries, beer, cigarettes, while watching all 3 movies, and she gasping, coughing, scratching, and complaining while she watched the first feature. She never made it past the first movie because she always fell asleep during the first intermission.
It seemed I always picked the movie, and they just about all were the triple feature horror movies. This was before the VCR and the video revolution, and you could not find many of the movies on TV.
Some were foreign imports showing more than the usual violence and skin but my favorites were the Hammer horror films. Nothing like a Hammer horror movie combined with Arby’s and beer. Heaven!
Actually my first experiences with a Drive-In came late in life but once exposed, I was hooked until they all died. I’ve always had my nose stuck in a book during my childhood and into my twenties. It was not until I was drafted into Army that I started regularly attending. While at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, a bunch of soldiers would pile into a car with a couple cases of beer and go to the Drive-Ins off base.
The first time I went I was not used to drinking and instead of drinking beer I drank a bottle of blackberry brandy. The last thing I remembered was the opening credits of the first feature. The next thing I recalled was the closing credits of the third and last movie. I had passed out and missed all three films. I made sure that never happened again.
There used to be hundreds of the theaters in New Jersey and now there is one in Vineland NJ that I’m aware of. Too far away. What killed the Drive-In? The VCR and the video revolution killed them.
No longer did movie lovers and horror buffs have to go to the Drive-In to see films of the bizarre and unusual. Instead they could stay home and watch the movies on their VCR’s in the comfort of family surroundings.
No more fighting insects, smelly PICS, or terrible drive-in rest rooms. I never tried drive-in fast food but it looked deadly.
So Happy Birthday to the Drive-In. I know there are a few scattered survivors in other parts of the country. But in New Jersey, the birthplace of the Drive-In, they are sadly missed. Rest In Peace.