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America's Last Drive-Ins

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Updated on Jul 14, 2008

What do you think of when you think of a drive-in movie theater? Teenagers necking in the backseat? Bad sound from tinny speakers? Clouds of bugspray? Or just a quaint relic that’s gone the way of bobby socks and saddle shoes? Well, think again. Drive-ins are back with updated technology, and they’re perfect for a family outing.

When the first drive-in opened in New Jersey in 1933, it was marketed as the ideal spot for family date night. Parents didn’t have to hire babysitters; they could nurse babies and shush kids in the comfort of their car. Kids could wear pajamas and make as much noise as they wanted. The idea caught on, and by the 1950’s, Americans were in love with the drive-in.

Of course, that didn’t help their reputation much. Usually well-chaperoned teenagers took advantage of the privacy provided by parked cars and soon drive-ins became known as “passion pits” unfit for families. Rising real estate prices, the spread of daylight savings time (drive-in screens are only visible after dark), and the invention of VCRs and DVD players for home viewing all contributed to the decline of this all-American pastime.

And now we reach “Drive-in Movie Theaters: Part Two.” Led by nostalgia buffs and families fed up with $12 tickets to jam-packed theaters, the drive-in is on its way back. Ask your kids what a drive-in is: chances are they’ve seen one in movies like Cars, Twister (the real-life Beacon Drive-In in Guthrie, Oklahoma), Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and Lost Boys (Skyview Drive-In Theater in Santa Cruz, California). They’re popular with families who bring their own snacks, don’t have to worry about someone tall sitting directly in front of their children, and let their kids chat as much as they like. New technology at most theaters allows viewers to listen to the movie in stereo on their radios – no crackly receiver or bugs allowed. Best yet, families save a fortune over the cost of an outing to a theater: at Hull’s Drive-In Theater in Lexington, Virginia, tickets are $5 for a double feature with free entrance for kids under 11.

Nearly every state has its own selection of drive-ins new and old, although in many parts of the country they’re open only in summer. Showtime typically starts at sunset. To find a theater near you, visit: www.driveintheater.com/drivlist.htm

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