Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Group Writing: Drive-in Movies, Popcorn and Car Beds

 

Taking a family of five to a regular indoor movie could be very expensive in the 1950s, even if you tried to sneak in your own candy (which we did). It was much cheaper to go to the drive-in theater. When I was around 10 years old, my brother was 8 and my little sister was 3 (and always slept through the movie), we would pile into the car to see a movie. Going to the drive-in was a true adventure, full of the unexpected and out-of-the-ordinary experiences.

Before we left in the late afternoon, Dad would make a huge batch of popcorn. He used a heavy metal skillet with a heavy glass lid. I would often watch him as he carefully measured the oil, the popcorn, and put on the glass lid, followed by shuffling the pan back and forth on the gas burner. (Obviously, this was long before popcorn poppers or Jiffy pop.) The amount of shuffling was important, since getting just the right rhythm ensured that most of the corn would be popped and not burnt. I was his right-hand girl, breathing in the aroma during the entire process.

Once he finished making the popcorn, he let it cool a bit and then put it in a large grocery bag, adding salt to each layer. (No one worried about germs from a paper bag back then.) Mom would pack up sandwich-sized wax bags so that we could each hoard our own portions when she handed them out at the theater. She would also make an extra-large thermos of ice-cold water, which was perfect for washing down errant kernels or quenching our salty throats.

Just before we headed out for the theater, Hi-Way 39, Dad would put the car bed in the back seat. If you’ve never seen one, it’s kind of a plywood contraption; I think ours had hinges so it could be folded up and put in the garage when it wasn’t being used. We covered it with quilts and pillows and bounced up and down, anticipating the undertaking. It was still daylight when we pulled up to the theater. Since they only charged by the carload, it was a pretty cheap entry for us. Dad would look for just the right position in the drive-in parking lot, scouting for the optimal view. His next duty was to check out the speaker. Dad would roll down his window and reach for the speaker on his side of the car, hook it over the window and turn up the volume. They usually played music before the movie began and if there were vocals, we could decide if they sounded more like zoo animals or human beings.

Once that task was taken care of, we kids would race off to the playground. There we had swings, slides, and a whirl-around, placed near the snack bar. (I’m sure that was strategic.) We were in our pajamas, slippers and robes, of course, and I have no idea if other kids were dressed the same way. Dad would keep an eye on us, and when it looked like the movie was about to play, we’d race back to the car—popcorn!!

As we patiently (not really) waited for our little waxed bags of popcorn, Mom would open the big shopping bag. The scent of still-warm popcorn was mesmerizing. I took my wax bag in hand and was determined to eat only one piece at a time, to make it last as long as I could. (I still eat popcorn that way.) The first piece would trigger my saliva glands, so I slowed down, but just a little. That first kernel tasted so good!

Suddenly the drive-in screen lit up! Advertisements for the snack bar tried to tempt us, and I don’t remember if we had cartoons before the main feature. I could swear that one time we saw The Wizard of Oz there, but I can’t be sure. Anyway, I would have my first paper cup of ice-cold water and snuggle into the blankets on the car bed. By then, my sister was usually asleep. I asked for another bag of popcorn (“say please”) and settled in for the duration.

Those were great times.

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  1. Phil Turmel Coolidge

    Susan Quinn: He used a heavy metal skillet with a heavy glass lid. I would often watch him as he carefully measured the oil, the popcorn, and put on the glass lid, followed by shuffling the pan back and forth on the gas burner. (Obviously this was long before popcorn poppers or Jiffy pop.) The amount of shuffling was important, since getting just the right rhythm ensured that most of the corn would be popped and not burnt.

    I still make popcorn this way. Large batches with an aluminum pot and coconut oil. Yum!

    • #1
    • August 4, 2020, at 6:36 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  2. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn: He used a heavy metal skillet with a heavy glass lid. I would often watch him as he carefully measured the oil, the popcorn, and put on the glass lid, followed by shuffling the pan back and forth on the gas burner. (Obviously this was long before popcorn poppers or Jiffy pop.) The amount of shuffling was important, since getting just the right rhythm ensured that most of the corn would be popped and not burnt.

    I still make popcorn this way. Large batches with an aluminum pot and coconut oil. Yum!

    I love coconut! Dad would have thought it was nuts to use coconut oil, but it does sound yummy! Thanks, @philturmel!

    • #2
    • August 4, 2020, at 6:38 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  3. JustmeinAZ Member

    We had too many kids to pile into a car (6) but I do remember going to the movies when we lived on Guam from 1952-1956. I was then age 6-10. The movie “theater” was a big outdoor screen with rows and rows of wooden benches – we lived on the Navy base. We had to be sure to remember to take the mosquito coils which we would light and they would smoke to keep away the mosquitos . Since no one else was interested, or old enough, my dad would take me with him to see any science fiction movies that came out. I distinctly remember seeing This Island Earth then. Strangely enough I don’t remember popcorn.

    • #3
    • August 4, 2020, at 6:54 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  4. Old Bathos Moderator

    I have some similar fond memories of drive-in movies in the family station wagon with a custom-made cushion designed and ordered by my mother to turn the entire back half of the car into a bed for kids. It was especially handy for long trips in a pre-seatbelt era.

    My kids and grandkids have no memory of drive-in restaurants with young women on roller skates bringing trays that attached to the car door window slots. I vividly recall what a treat it was to go to Jimmy’s Hurricane in Miami and get the fried red snapper. And the Hot Shoppes drive-in in Bethesda, Maryland whose clientele gave it an American Graffiti feel back in the day.

    • #4
    • August 4, 2020, at 7:01 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  5. Eustace C. Scrubb Member

    I remember going in the family station wagon as a kid. Among the films I remember seeing: The Love Bug, Butch Cassidy, Hateri, Thunderball. So glad my parents didn’t stick solely to “family” fare.

    My brother and I could see the Star View drive-in with binoculars from our bedroom window. We couldn’t really make anything out, but we could see something was playing.

    We took our kids to the drive-in. And we’ve gone twice during the pandemic. As Joe Bob Briggs claims, “The drive-in will never die!”

    • #5
    • August 4, 2020, at 7:29 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  6. PHenry Member

    Drive ins are making a comeback, there is one about 45 minutes away that has two screens, you point your car at the one with the movie you want to see and tune the radio to the right frequency. Since COVID, you have to buy tickets ahead of time.

    My memories of the drive in track with yours, we had a station wagon, and back then there were 3 or 4 movies playing. The early ones we kids watched, then went to sleep in the back while Mom and Dad watched the ‘grownup’ movies (I remember James Bond, but I’m sure there were many others).

    Then in high school drive in’s took on a new meaning, as taking a girl to a movie in the privacy of your own vehicle was a great way to spend a Friday night!

    One of my favorite memories was going to see the original Night of the Living Dead with a friend at a drive in. It was so much more creepy and scary at the drive in!

     

    • #6
    • August 4, 2020, at 7:40 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  7. OldPhil Coolidge

    The Hi-Rock Drive-in near us in mid-late 50’s Western Maryland had pony rides in the playground area. Quite a treat!

    • #7
    • August 4, 2020, at 7:47 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  8. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    JustmeinAZ (View Comment):
    We had to be sure to remember to take the mosquito coils which we would light and they would smoke to keep away the mosquitos

    I know about those coils! Whenever we’d eat outside in Bali, they’d put those down for us. They really work!

    • #8
    • August 4, 2020, at 7:47 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  9. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    Old Bathos (View Comment):
    My kids and grandkids have no memory of drive-in restaurants with young women on roller skates bringing trays that attached to the car door window slots.

    I know of them but don’t remember going to drive-in restaurants. I didn’t think you were that much older than I am, @oldbathos!

    • #9
    • August 4, 2020, at 7:48 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  10. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    OldPhil (View Comment):

    The Hi-Rock Drive-in near us in mid-late 50’s Western Maryland had pony rides in the playground area. Quite a treat!

    OMG–I would have been in heaven!

    • #10
    • August 4, 2020, at 7:50 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  11. PHenry Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Old Bathos (View Comment):
    My kids and grandkids have no memory of drive-in restaurants with young women on roller skates bringing trays that attached to the car door window slots.

    I know of them but don’t remember going to drive-in restaurants. I didn’t think you were that much older than I am, @oldbathos!

    A&W was my favorite drive in. But we had a few others as well. I went to a reasonably new drive in Sonic in Daytona Beach a few years ago, so they aren’t extinct!

    • #11
    • August 4, 2020, at 7:50 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  12. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    My experience must have been when we owned Dodge Valiant station wagon! I couldn’t remember, but it was the only station wagon we owned. Did anyone else own one, where you had push-buttons for the gears? Loved that car.

    • #12
    • August 4, 2020, at 7:52 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  13. Some Call Me ...Tim Coolidge

    Dear Susan,

    Great post! It brought back a lot of fond memories from my youth and was quite enjoyable to read (something that isn’t always true in these trying times).

    Of course, one’s drive-in experience varied with one’s age. As a child, my memories are similar to yours, with the parents packing five boys off to the drive-in. The front seat gave the best view, but seven of us could not fit on the bench seat of the station wagon. So some of us would sit on the door frame window sill, which was pretty neat but got uncomfortable quickly. But usually someone would get tired and fall asleep, freeing up room in the front seat.

    Now as a college student in the late seventies, the experience was quite different. Drive-ins were on the way out, but there was still one on Airline Highway (where the ballpark is now, or is it Sam’s Club?) which we frequented. They didn’t seem to get first run films much at that time, but there were some great B (or B+) movies to be seen. They charged by the person, so usually one or two of us were in the trunk. The beverage of choice was vodka and orange juice. Due to an unfortunate incident with hard liquor in my younger days, I could not abide whiskey (which I have now come to love). Poor college students that we were, we calculated that we could get the most bang for the buck with that combination. Beer was good, but the amount required to enjoy the evening properly was prohibitive, and the cooling apparatus took up too much room (remember there was no room in the trunk.) We had some good times, but strangely, I don’t remember much after we got there and the movie started.

    Again, wonderful post. Please keep them coming.

    s/f

    Tim

    • #13
    • August 4, 2020, at 7:53 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  14. Arahant Member

    Nostalgia like this is pure @jameslileks bait.

    • #14
    • August 4, 2020, at 7:53 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  15. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    PHenry (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Old Bathos (View Comment):
    My kids and grandkids have no memory of drive-in restaurants with young women on roller skates bringing trays that attached to the car door window slots.

    I know of them but don’t remember going to drive-in restaurants. I didn’t think you were that much older than I am, @oldbathos!

    A&W was my favorite drive in. But we had a few others as well. I went to a reasonably new drive in Sonic in Daytona Beach a few years ago, so they aren’t extinct!

    Okay, okay. We had an A&W, too, but I don’t remember the drive-in. And we have a fairly new Sonic, too, but we haven’t been there. I guess I’d better get moving, @phenry!

    • #15
    • August 4, 2020, at 7:53 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  16. Arahant Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    I know of them but don’t remember going to drive-in restaurants.

    I remember drive-in restaurants, but I am younger than you.

    • #16
    • August 4, 2020, at 7:55 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  17. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    Some Call Me …Tim (View Comment):

    Dear Susan,

    Great post! It brought back a lot of fond memories from my youth and was quite enjoyable to read (something that isn’t always true in these trying times).

    Of course, one’s drive-in experience varied with one’s age. As a child, my memories are similar to yours, with the parents packing five boys off to the drive-in. The front seat gave the best view, but seven of us could not fit on the bench seat of the station wagon. So some of us would sit on the door frame window sill, which was pretty neat but got uncomfortable quickly. But usually someone would get tired and fall asleep, freeing up room in the front seat.

    Now as a college student in the late seventies, the experience was quite different. Drive-ins were on the way out, but there was still one on Airline Highway (where the ballpark is now, or is it Sam’s Club?) which we frequented. They didn’t seem to get first run films much at that time, but there were some great B (or B+) movies to be seen. They charged by the person, so usually one or two of us were in the trunk. The beverage of choice was vodka and orange juice. Due to an unfortunate incident with hard liquor in my younger days, I could not abide whiskey (which I have now come to love). Poor college students that we were, we calculated that we could get the most bang for the buck with that combination. Beer was good, but the amount required to enjoy the evening properly was prohibitive, and the cooling apparatus took up too much room (remember there was no room in the trunk.) We had some good times, but strangely, I don’t remember much after we got there and the movie started.

    Again, wonderful post. Please keep them coming.

    s/f

    Tim

    The trunk?! OMG! Your adventures with “beverages” sounds similar to my husband’s in high school. It’s a wonder you guys survived. Thanks for the kind words, @SomeCallMeTim!

    • #17
    • August 4, 2020, at 7:56 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  18. Arahant Member

    PHenry (View Comment):
    A&W was my favorite drive in.

    Dog’N’Suds.

    • #18
    • August 4, 2020, at 7:57 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  19. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Nostalgia like this is pure @jameslileks bait.

    I’m honored that you would even mention him on this post, @arahant. He’s the master!

    • #19
    • August 4, 2020, at 7:58 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  20. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    I know of them but don’t remember going to drive-in restaurants.

    I remember drive-in restaurants, but I am younger than you.

    Hey, watch it! I mean, what does that mean?

    • #20
    • August 4, 2020, at 7:58 AM PDT
    • Like
  21. Arahant Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    I know of them but don’t remember going to drive-in restaurants.

    I remember drive-in restaurants, but I am younger than you.

    Hey, watch it! I mean, what does that mean?

    It probably means that your parents either saved their eating-out money for classier joints or didn’t take the family out to eat much at all.

    • #21
    • August 4, 2020, at 8:07 AM PDT
    • 1 like
    • This comment has been edited.
  22. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    I know of them but don’t remember going to drive-in restaurants.

    I remember drive-in restaurants, but I am younger than you.

    Hey, watch it! I mean, what does that mean?

    It probably means that your parents either saved their eating-out money for classier joints or didn’t take the family out to eat much at all.

    We rarely went out. I don’t even remember the two of them going out to eat. If we did go out, it was McDonald’s or Carl’s. What a treat to also get a soft drink and fries with the burgers!

    • #22
    • August 4, 2020, at 8:12 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  23. PHenry Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    What a treat to also get a soft drink and fries with the burgers!

    McDonalds used to advertise burger, fries, a drink, and change back from your dollar!

    • #23
    • August 4, 2020, at 8:17 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  24. PHenry Member

    Make that 2 burgers!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4oBpdBn5GZw

     

    • #24
    • August 4, 2020, at 8:23 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  25. Percival Thatcher
    PercivalJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Susan Quinn: We were in our pajamas, slippers and robes, of course, and I have no idea if other kids were dressed the same way.

    You were the ones! 🤣

    • #25
    • August 4, 2020, at 8:52 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  26. Percival Thatcher
    PercivalJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I first saw The Dirty Dozen, The War Wagon, and Fantastic Voyage at a drive-in theater, among others. I saw fewer of them there when I reached high school. The fourth or fifth time I saw Star Wars stands out. Went once in college to see Friday the 13th. There were two that were near home: the Bel-Air and the Hill-Top. The Bel-Air is a housing development. There are rumors that the Hill-Top is coming back.

    • #26
    • August 4, 2020, at 9:02 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  27. JustmeinAZ Member

    PHenry (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    What a treat to also get a soft drink and fries with the burgers!

    McDonalds used to advertise burger, fries, a drink, and change back from your dollar!

    I remember going to Wienerschnitzel and getting two hot dogs and a drink for way less than a dollar!

    • #27
    • August 4, 2020, at 9:11 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  28. Arahant Member

    Percival (View Comment):
    There are rumors that the Hill-Top is coming back.

    That would be nifty, especially in the age of CoViD-19. They may start building new drive-ins again.

    • #28
    • August 4, 2020, at 9:37 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  29. Arahant Member

    Here is a fun list.

    • #29
    • August 4, 2020, at 9:46 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  30. Lois Lane Coolidge

    I haven’t been to a drive-in in at least 20 years, but they are their own special experience.

    The detail from the essay that I like the most? The heavy lid on the popcorn… the process of making this with the oil. Details like that make good writing. I could see you as a little girl watching. Like… you know… I was watching a movie in my mind. ;)

    • #30
    • August 4, 2020, at 10:16 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
    • This comment has been edited.