I recently joined the 21st Century by purchasing my first iPhone, iPad and Mac laptop computer. My wife, Terri, who is much more computer savvy (and patient) than I am, has been showing me all of the wonderful features now available including watching movies 24/7. I’m sorry, but watching movies on my phone isn’t my idea of entertainment. The best place ever to watch a movie used to be the Drive-In. As a kid growing up in Valparaiso, Indiana, we had the traditional indoor Premier Theater on Lincoln Way, but my choice was the 49er Drive-In north of town on Highway 49. I took me years to figure out how they came up with the name. A summer evening at the 49er Drive-In was every kid’s dream. My mom and dad would load my siblings and me (plus a few neighbors) into our Chevy station wagon and head north for a night of adventure. The 49er Drive-In charged one admission price per car so my dad always felt like he was getting a great bargain when we had eight or nine kids stuffed in the back seat and the “way back” seat of his car. This was long before seatbelts so the back seat and the way back seat could hold as many kids as could physically fit into approximately 22 cubic feet of space.
Now you might be asking yourself, “how do eight or nine well behaved Hoosier children watch a drive-in movie all stuffed into the back of a Chevy station wagon?” Well, my dad had that all figured out. Our blue-ish 1960-ish Chevy station wagon had a matching plywood cartop carrier the same size as the top of the car. It was also painted blue-ish. You can’t say my family wasn’t classy! At the 49er Drive-In, cartop carrier became “balcony seating.” On our long summer vacations that same car top carrier held our tent, sleeping bags, clothes, groceries, cooking utensils and little camp stove… but that’s for another article. Now back to the show: We would always arrive around dusk so that we had plenty of time to enjoy the playground. I’m talking old-school playground complete with a metal slide, metal jungle-gym, metal monkey bars and giant swings with wooden seats. The only 1960-ish safety precaution was the playground wasn’t built on dangerous cement… it was located on a soft field of gravel. The playground was surrounded by a low wooden picket fence that was installed at the precise height to impale a 3rd grader. The playground was located next to the Concession Stand, or at least I think it was the Concession Stand. The Lange Concession Stand was located in the aforementioned blue-ish, 1960-ish Chevy station wagon. You see, my parents were quite frugal so my mom would bring a big bag of popcorn and a jug of Kool Aid which kept us full and occupied until the main feature started. (You would be surprised how far my friend Gus Stokes could blow popcorn out his nose).
If you go to the movies these days, the long, loud trailers of coming attractions seem to last as long as the movie you each paid $11.00 to see. Back then, movies seemed to go on forever. They were so long that there was even a 15 minute intermission where dancing hotdogs and paper cups of “pop” would invite you to visit the Concession Stand. To us, that building was our destination only when we had to pee. I saw some of the classic movies of that era at the 49er Drive-In with my brother, sisters, parents, a few neighborhood kids and about a zillion mosquitos. Those are memories I will cherish forever. $3 per car admission + popcorn + Kool Aid + “Guns of Navarone” = PRICELESS. Thanks, Mom & Dad!