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The drive-in brings back memories

I’m as nostalgic as the next guy. I mean, I don’t get choked up over the thought of bell bottoms or soap-on-a-rope and I didn’t buy that very special Time Life complete collection of “Hee Haw” episodes (now on DVD! Operators are standing by!), even though that and the Lawrence Welk show formed the soundtrack of my Saturday night “going out on the town” preparations as a teenager. My mother always enjoyed Lawrence Welk. I’m not nostalgic about him myself, you understand.

I do miss some things about that era. I miss human interaction by some means other than cell phones and social media. I miss the days when having soup beans and cornbread was considered a meal. I miss making and eating homemade peach ice cream on the porch on Sunday afternoons after church. I miss Little League baseball when the dads weren’t coaches. And I miss drive-in movies.

One of the very first movies I ever saw on the big screen was at Twin Oaks Drive-In, which was located on the outskirts of my hometown. My first cousin and her boyfriend took me with them to see “The Poseidon Adventure,” a movie about a renegade preacher leading a handful of survivors to safety after a tidal wave capsizes a luxury liner on New Year’s Eve — almost precisely at the stroke of midnight, wouldn’t you know it?

Disaster movies were very big in the 1970s. There were the Airport movies, “The Towering Inferno,” “Earthquake,” “The Hindenburg” and “Meteor,” as well as a bunch of movies in which nature goes awry and people get attacked by giant rabbits, giant spiders, giant snakes and so on. In those days, Americans enjoyed going out to see movies about people in great peril due to some calamity.

These days, disaster movies aren’t as popular. I guess with Donald Trump as president, this type of movie must seem redundant now. We’re already living in a real disaster, day after day. If given the chance, most Americans would probably take their chances on the SS Poseidon.

After I got my first taste of the drive-in movie experience, I couldn’t get enough of it. Once I was old enough to drive myself, I went to the Twin Oaks Drive-In just about every weekend, either with a date or with a group of friends. I drove a red Ford pickup truck. If it was warm enough, I’d flip it around so that my buddies and I could all sit on the bed, drinking cherry cokes and eating our chili dogs, greasy hamburgers with lettuce and mayonnaise, soggy French fries and hot buttered popcorn until our stomachs groaned for mercy.

There was usually a double-feature. Sometimes, the owner would thoughtfully pair movies, such as showing “Friday the 13th” and “Halloween” on the same night, instead of “Friday the 13th” and “The Summer of 42” or some similar fare that would make the target audience for the “Friday the 13th’” movies bust out of there right quick in search of more exciting adventures, such as the procurement of a bottle of Boone’s Farm wine and a pack of Swisher Sweet cigars.

When I graduated from college and moved to Waynesville, I was thrilled to discover that the town still had a drive-in theater, one of the last in the state still in operation. Unfortunately, it was a short-lived thrill. I was able to see only three or four movies before it closed down for good. That was nearly 30 years ago, and I haven’t been to or even heard of an open drive-in since.

Then, about three weeks ago, we were in Bristol, Tennessee, to see the Tuscola High School marching band — with our son on one of the bass drums — perform at one of their competitions. On the way through town, we saw the big race track — the Bristol Motor Speedway — which made me nostalgic for the days my dad would force us to listen to NASCAR races on the radio on the way back from Mamaw’s house after our weekly Sunday lunches.

A few miles past that, there it was on the left. An actual drive-in theater. Suddenly, it was 1977 again, with Richard Petty battling Cale Yarborough and the Allison brothers in Bristol, and a double feature on the marquee of the drive-in theater.

Fortunately, the band performed early, which gave us a chance to sneak off to see “The Joker” at the drive-in and still get back in time to see the award ceremony, as long as we didn’t stay for both movies. We paid our admission — cash only, naturally — found our place right of center about eleven rows back, and then walked down to a big cinder-block building where concessions were sold. We bought sodas, chili dogs, nachos and cheese, Sugar Babies, popcorn and a dill pickle, all for about thirty bucks.

For a just a few hours, I was 17 again, out with my best girl for a night on the town. Only now I have two best girls, and one of them is about the same age now that I was then. I hope when she’s my age and comes across “The Joker” while flipping channels late one night when she can’t sleep, she’ll think of that night in Bristol and maybe remember her old man as warmly as I remember mine.

(Chris Cox is a writer and teacher. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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