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The Drive-in Phenomenon and Their Resurgence During Quarentine

The drive in phenomena. We’ve all heard of them. We’ve seen them in movies and on TV. We may have even been lucky enough to go to one in our youth.

There was a time when they were incredibly popular. It was the easiest and best way to see movies while hanging out with friends or getting a little necking in in the privacy of your car. They developed a culture all their own that has been immortalized in films like Grease. Families could go for the price of a single car and even today the prices for going to the movies is minuscule compared to hitting the movie theatre to see the latest IMAX screening.

And for the most part new movies come to these wonderful pieces of history… and usually you get two or even THREE movies for the price of that single ticket.

Tibbs Drive-In Theatre in Indianapolis, IN. In business since 1967, this is the last remaining Drive-In Theatre in Indianapolis.

I mean… how can you turn down three full length movies for around $12. Popcorn costs more than that at a normal theatre! And you can bring your own snacks… can’t do that at your standard chain.

Even dogs can come to most drive-ins. How cool is that? All the comforts of home but with the social aspects of going to a movie theatre with your friends.

And this is why they became so popular. Kids could get their energy out on the playground (my local drive-in still has one set up at the base of screen 1). They could watch a movie and pass out in the back seat of the car while mom and dad watched a movie for themselves. Teens could meet up with their friends. Hook up with their dates. Kiss and (maybe) watch the latest horror flick.

But then they began to die out. With the advent of luxurious amenities like reclining seats, air conditioning, surround sound and high end concessions, chain movie theatres took over. Most towns have at least one large theatre owned by some sort of chain. From IMAX screens toting the largest film screens on the market to midnight movie premieres complete with celebrity appearances and special menus to luxury dine in theatres it is understandable how the idea of a complete in house theatre became popular. And hanging out at a drive-in in your car just… wasn’t anymore.

Hanging out at the drive-in before my double feature starts.

The other reason for this is the change in our society from the heyday of the drive-in theatre to now. Technology is partially to blame. But the other side of it is our family structures. We are just so busy. And honestly self-centered.

This culturally shift from community to the individual shapes the way that the world works. Companies and activities that center on their own culture shrivel and die when the community that they relied on no longer exists.

And so went drive-ins. Movies were exchanged for malls and then computers and video games. And now we can get pretty much anything sent to our TVs or tablets (even if we have to pay for them) so who needs a movie theatre you go to in your car anymore. Ick.

Then Covid-19 hit.

And suddenly those dystopian novels and movies weren’t looking so silly. The fact that we were trapped in our homes by a virus that is incredibly contagious and nearly as deadly hit all of us like a ton of bricks. And the independent world we had built for the last 70 years just began to crumble around us.

We needed something to turn to. Something to do while still complying with the restrictions in place to keep us safe. And… honestly… we needed a distraction. A really big distraction.

So drive-ins have come back! So much so that large box stores like Walmart and even malls have considered and talked about hosting drive-in films in the sides of their buildings.

But why support places like that when you can look local.

For me that would be Tibbs Drive-in. Formerly owned by United Artists theatres last year they were purchased by a wonderful local couple who has been determined to keep the place up and running. With 4 screens and plenty of social distancing the drive-in theatre is back and booming.

From spring to fall everything from big blockbusters to unique special events (like the 45th anniversary of Rocky Horror Picture Show) Tibbs has solidified itself once again in our community.

And I bet you don’t have to look too far to find one local to you. Families have held onto these properties and opportunities for years, often struggling to get by. But why? Why did we let this classic piece of American culture die?

And wheat can we do to keep it going?

Honestly the answers are simple. Look around and care about the community. And stop paying big companies for the things that the locals can do better.

Sun sets on the Drive-in. Getting ready to tune in for a great night

I say it here all the time. I’m nearly every single review you will see me say something like: support your local bookseller, or look at your local library. Well tonight I’m supporting my local drive-in. My local family. And my local community

So go! Go to the movies! Find your local drive-in. And support that family in these dark times.

You’ll be surprised at how much fun you’ll have. And maybe you’ll get hooked on the taste of the past. Because nothing goes better with the start of the fall than a good movie, some good food… and maybe doing the time-warp again.

It’s just a jump to the left…

Please note: this information has come from talks with various owners of drive-in theatres throughout my life, my own personal research through the years and a general love of basically everything from the 1950s. I do not have sources currently because, let’s be real… covid sucks and sometimes digging up where you heard or saw something is really exhausting. And right now. If rather just enjoy my movies. 😉

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