Jump In Your Car And Come As You Are

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For those of you who think the drive-in movie theater is a thing of the past, we have good news. There are still more than 400 drive-ins operating today (40 of them have been built or reopened in the last five years), and most are showing first-run films. (See drive-ins.com for a searchable list.) Even though this is significantly fewer locations than were open during the drive-in’s heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, the experience they offer remains magical.

Those who haven’t been to a drive-in lately might be surprised to find a few changes. At most drive-ins, the sound is now broadcast into the car through its radio, and the quality is much better than what came out of the little metal speaker that used to hang on the window. (A few drive-ins still offer the speaker as well as radio sound.) The concession stands sell a wider variety of food and candy; depending on your location, you’ll find everything from hamburgers and hot dogs to lobster rolls, pizza, barbecue, tacos, fried chicken, and cotton candy. Or if you prefer, you can always bring your own food and beverages to the drive-in—something you can’t do at an indoor theater.

My wife, Susan, and I have written two books ( Drive-in Movie Memories: Popcorn and Romance Under the Stars and The American Drive-in Movie Theater ) and made a documentary film, and in search of the elusive drive-in, we’ve traveled around America. Here are some especially notable ones.

The Brazos Drive-inGranbury, Texas

This one-screen location opened in 1951. It’s virtually unchanged and has a small-town feel. The cheeseburgers are great, and you can enjoy them while sitting on vintage metal lawn chairs in front of the concession stand ( www.thebrazos.com/home.htm , 817-573-1311).

Best Western Movie Manor Motor Inn/Star Drive-inMonte Vista, Colorado

This classic drive-in has a first-class playground and great food. A bonus is that you can watch the movie through a large picture window in your motel room. Another bonus if you’re watching outdoors: cool Colorado nights (800-771-9468, 719-852-2613).

Rodeo Drive-inPort Orchard, Washington

This drive-in has it all: three screens, a playground, swap meets, and FM sound. The cloudy skies of northwestern Washington help keep ambient light to a minimum, making for good picture quality ( www.rodeodrivein.com , 360-698-6030).

Silver Moon Drive-inLakeland, Florida

Stop in here for homemade pizza and beer seven nights a week. This is one of Florida’s first drive-ins, and it still uses the original 1952 neon sign. You can shop at the swap meets on Saturday and Sunday mornings ( www.silvermoondrivein.com , 863-682-0849).

66 Drive-inCarthage, Missouri

Completely restored and re-opened in 1997, this one is located directly on old Route 66. It has its original glass-block ticket booth and neon sign ( www.comevisit.com/66drivein/ , 417-359-5959).

Hull’s Drive-inLexington, Virginia

In 2001 townspeople founded Hull’s Angels in an effort to keep their drive-in open. Its grass field slopes nicely to provide a great view of the screen. It’s the country’s only nonprofit, community-owned drive-in. Open only on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights, April to October ( www.hullsdrivein.com , 540-463-2621).

Capri Drive-inColdwater, Michigan

The original family runs this two-screen theater, which has great food as well as an excellent FM sound system ( www.capridrive-in.com , 517-278-5628).

Becky’s Drive-inBerlinsville, Pennsylvania

The same family has run this theater for 50 years. It is one of the earliest drive-ins in America and has never closed. Great family atmosphere, complete with pony rides ( www.beckysdi.com , 610-767-2249).

Skyline Drive-inBarstow, California

Reopened in 1996 after being dark for nine years, this drive-in is proud of its pristine and comfortable concession stand. And how about those beautiful California nights! ( www.rodkey.net/skyline_drivein.htm , 760-256-3333)

49er Drive-inValparaiso, Indiana

Enjoy your popcorn at the brand-new, air-conditioned concession stand. This theater opened in 1956 and is still thriving ( www.49erdrivein.com , 219-462-6122).

What began in Camden, New Jersey, on June 6, 1933, changed moviegoing forever. Thanks to Richard Hollingshead, the inventor of the drive-in movie theater, you can still jump in your car and come as you are to enjoy an outdoor movie. And you can even bring your cell phone.

—Don Sanders