I’m going to a drive-in movie this weekend – for the first time in 42 years.
You see, the COVID pandemic has disrupted and rearranged our lives forever, but it’s also spawned some wonderful trends, like the comeback of drive-in cinemas.
According to CNN Business, drive-in cinemas have made a rebound in recent years, and it’s a trend that “looks like it’s here to stay.”
In 2019, drive-ins accounted for just 2.9% of total box office receipts.
But in the summer of 2020, thanks to the COVID lockdowns, drive-in theaters generated up to 95% of box office receipts in North America.
Even as people begin to return to brick-and-mortar theaters, drive-in theaters are still doing significantly more business than they did before COVID.
“During the first 30 weeks of 2021,” reports CNN Business, they “still gobbled up a larger share of box office receipts than before the pandemic: an average of 6.2% of weekend box office dollars this year versus almost 1.9% for the first.” 30 weeks of 2019.”
I really like the American drive-in cinema in part because its creation is unique in America.
According to Kerry Segrave, author of Drive-In Theaters: A History Since Their Inception in 1933, only two other countries, Canada and Australia, could match America’s “intense love affair with drive-in theaters.”
He writes that before drive-ins could spring up across America during the post-WWII boom, a unique mix of conditions had to exist.
First, relatively inexpensive land had to be plentiful.
Second, families had to be able to afford comfortable cars like our family’s wood-paneled Starship Enterprise station wagon.
Third, drive-in theaters needed lots of kids, and the baby boom era produced lots of them.
My family has taken full advantage of this affordable entertainment option every summer.
And so I have many vivid memories of my dad driving the station wagon to multiple parking lots before finding a working window speaker.
He’d open the tailgate and place curls of cheese and chips and ice-cold lemonade on top—one of those rare occasions we’ve been able to devour these treats with abandon.
Soon the blue sky darkened, the film projector began to rattle, and black-and-white numbers—”5, 4, 3, 2, 1…”—flashed across the screen.
Next came yellowed 1950s footage promoting hot dogs, popcorn, and other concession items we could never buy our dad. The feature film The Love Bug was finally about to play and our family reunion was underway.
I think the last time I went to a drive-in was in 1980, my senior year of high school – we were a bunch of wannabe “American graffiti” geeks.
We went into my friend Gigs’ Plymouth because it had a trunk big enough for two or three of us to hide in.
Our trick of getting past the theater owner and only having to pay for a ticket never worked – we always got caught, but it was great fun to try.
I’m not going to hide in my boyfriend’s trunk, but I’m going to the drive-in this weekend.
We’re driving in my convertible with the top down.
We enjoy cheese curls and ice cold orange soda while forgetting our worries for a while as we enjoy the night through the rebirth of the great American drive-in movie theater.
Tom Purcell, creator of infotainment website ThubersTail.com, is a humor columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Email him at [email protected]