I’m of the Baby Boomer Generation. And, as such, was a young adult in the 1970s. This was the time when you could buy a meal at McDonald’s and get change back from your dollar and gas was 35 cents a gallon! It was also the time of the Drive-In Movie Theater! One of the most popular weekend date locations of the time! Where else could a couple go out and watch a double feature in the warmth and privacy of their car for $1.50 per person, plus the small cost of popcorn and drinks from the theater refreshment stand! Something unheard of today, where a bag of popcorn and drinks cost more than the price of a single feature!
In the early 70s, I was in the Air Force and was fortunate to be stationed a few hour’s drive from my home town. So, I was able to drive home on weekends to go out with my fiancé, Helen! Going to movies at the drive-in, was one of our favorite things to do!
Drive-in Theaters at that time, as with the few that still exist today, are pretty much known for what patrons did inside their cars, as opposed to what was being shown on the screen. My mother used to refer to the drive-in theaters as; The Passion Pit!” And, for anyone of my generation knows, drive-in movie theaters were, for their time, sort of the modern-day Lover’s Lane, that also included double feature movies and a refreshment stand!
This is a story of one night at the drive-in, where the entertainment went beyond the steamed-up car windows, or the movies playing on the screen.
Helen and I liked to park way in the back rows of the theater lot as it was more private and there weren’t a lot of people out walking around going to and from the refreshment stand in the projection building. Little did we know that night it would be the prime viewing location for one of the most interesting shows we had ever seen at the drive-in.
The first feature had ended and Helen and I had gone to the refreshment area to restock on drinks and use the bathroom, and were now back in our vehicle, ready for the next two-hour movie to begin. As we waited, a movie started, however, it was not the second feature, or even trailers for coming attractions! What started playing instead, was a commercial! It featured, Danny Thomas, who was promoting his pet project and creation, St. Jude’s Children's Hospital!
As the commercial played on, the light emitted off the screen and through the vehicles in front of us allowed for a silhouette of people sitting inside their vehicles. Some just sat there watching the commercial, while others we noticed showed arms raised while shirts and sweaters were being removed, followed by them disappearing down below the level of the car seats. I have to say, it wasn’t rocket science to know what was going on in those vehicles!
This is where the real show began!
The commercial ended, and the second feature started without pause! As the title credits of the film began, a voice came over the speaker hanging on the driver’s car window that said, “And now, members of our staff will go car to car collecting donations for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital!”
We could feel a mass thought emanating from the entire drive-in theater that said, “You’re going to do what?” Silhouettes of people suddenly rose up in unison in the seats of the cars from the back rows all the way up to the screen! Arms once again were raised as shirts and sweaters were put back on. We could also see a male figure that came out of the refreshment building that began going from car to car. Almost every time the figure left a car and headed to the next, the people in the previous car could be seen once again removing shirts and sweaters. This show went on as the figure went from car to car.
Somewhere around the middle of all the rows of cars, the figure's movements became less uniform as they were at the beginning. He appeared to be more guarded in his approach and actually quickly backed away from some vehicles.
It wasn’t long at that point that we notice the guy was sort of just wandering around out in the parking area and I actually had to call him over to my car to give him a donation!
“Are you sure you want me to come over there?” The young man said.
“Of course! I want to give you some money!” I said.
“Most people have been yelling at me to go away! Some guys, even threatened to beat me up if I came over to their car!” The young man said.
“Well, we want to give you a donation! So, come on over here!”
“Okay! And thank you!”
After giving the guy a couple dollars, he left and was last seen making his way back to the main projection building.
After having a bit of a laugh about what we had observed, Helen and I, of course went back to just watching the movie! As with the first movie! The second, was also a great two-hour feature!