Summer always arrives with a lot of noise and energy. There are fireworks, parades and grueling nine-hour drives to Myrtle Beach, during which you wonder a) why you had children in the first place, and b) if there is a legally defensible excuse for leaving most of them at the next Sheetz.
But as the hot-weather weeks drag on, summer loses some of its pep.
After you’ve squeezed in a vacation or two, watched nearly a thousand baseball and softball games and eaten your weight in watermelon, hot dogs and potato salad, what other summer delights are left?
Sure, there’s the local swimming hole to enjoy and yes, there’s probably still lots of ice cream to consume. But what about the drive-in movie theater?
That’s my best summer treat.
I’ve long had a soft-spot for drive-in movies. I saw “Star Wars” for the first time at a drive-in theater in Virginia, when I was barely seven years old. Dad drove me out to the lot in the family van, a beat-up hunk of baby blue steel that lacked heat, air conditioning or a radio.
It was amazing.
Watching the film from the front passenger seat felt like being inside one of the escape pods from the beginning of the film. I was entranced.
I remember everything about that night — the smell of the popcorn, the stickiness of the cement floor at the concession stand, and the gigantic size of that screen.
We went to a lot of drive-in movies when I was a kid, many of them inappropriate for elementary school children, like “Every Which Way but Loose,” arguably Clint Eastwood’s best film involving an orangutan, bikers and bare-knuckle boxing.
There aren’t very many drive-in theaters anymore.
They began disappearing around the same time that video rental stores caught on. Teenagers no longer needed to go to all the trouble of borrowing a car so they could pretend to watch a movie.
A few years ago, there were around 500 still in operation across the country. West Virginia had about a dozen, but now, there’s fewer, though some of them have had a bit of boost because of the pandemic and social distancing.
It’s worth the drive to go see a movie at one of these places.
The two closest to Charleston are probably the Meadow Bridge Drive-In theater in Fayette County and the Pipestem Drive-In on the edge of Mercer County.
There are several things to know about going to a drive-in. Go early and get a good space. Buy a jumbo bucket of popcorn, an orange soda and a box of Raisinets. Watch both films.
Skip the late-night drive home, get a motel room and sleep in. Your mom is probably not waiting up.