They were the glory days of the ’50s. Simple. Fun. Lots of cars. And the most fun was being with your family enjoying those simple, fun things together. Like drive-in movies.

On a warm summer night, what could be more exciting than my father coming home from work and asking with a big smile, “Who’s up for the drive-in tonight?”This was followed by a chorus of “Me! Me!” Not just from me but with Mom leading the charge. I wolfed down supper as fast as I could, didn’t complain about having to do the dishes, then raced to get ready, sometimes taking along a pillow or much-loved stuffed animal to hold fast should the movie have scary parts.

“I can see the screen!” I’d yell as Daddy’s car inched forward in the long line of vehicles that extended from the road toward the box office. Once “inside,” I’d shout, “Park in that row!” “No, the one in front!” “Don’t get behind the truck.” Daddy, being an extremely patient man, never let my shouts get to him, instead jockeying for what he thought was the best position right next to the speaker that hung on a pole. Daddy would roll down the window and carefully position it as Mom reminded him throughout the night not to drive away when the movie ended before replacing the speaker. Each time we went to the drive-in we’d laugh and point out the car that didn’t pay attention, ripping the equipment or nearly strangling themselves upon leaving. Once settled, my impatience mounted as I’d constantly ask, “How many more minutes till it starts? Now how many?”

Finally, it was dark, and the animated short advertising the offerings from concession stand started. They had dancing hot dogs and happy boxes of popcorn singing, “Only eight minutes left, hurry!” Finally, it was time for the movie. I sat straight up and took in every single frame of the experience. Just when the “good part” was coming, or in the case of a double feature the next movie, the dancing popcorn, hot dogs, and green glass bottles of Coke would once again appear, and I’d start whining, telling my parents that I ate supper so fast I didn’t have a chance to finish, and I’d likely perish before we got home if I didn’t get at least a bite of a dancing candy bar.

The drive-in is an important part of American cinema history begun in New Jersey in 1910. In the ’50s more than 4,000 of them dotted the landscapes from coast to coast powered by the boom of car sales following the war years. It was a place for the whole family, even babies who didn’t need to be left home with a sitter.

Drive-in popularity soared briefly during the pandemic, a place you could still find entertainment with plenty of social distancing now evolved from FM radio sound to digital laser projection and 75-foot screens, wireless audio streaming to smartphones and tablets, and concession stands with everything from pizza to veggie burgers. Yet in the ’90s, the appeal of the drive-in had dwindled as people were renting movies they could watch at home or going to a multiplex at the local mall with Surround Sound. The once-packed fields and lots became housing developments, and today only about 300 drive-ins still operate.

Like everything else back then it was a simple kind of fun. We didn’t have to have a lot of money to enjoy the entertainment, and we never cared what the movie would be because it was the experience of watching a big screen with a speaker hanging on the half-open window, with blankets brought along if we got cold, and a place I could wear my pajamas and no one would see, where my parents were free to smoke, and I could laugh and giggle and just be a kid without disturbing others.

Those were the days when for 25 cents per car and 25 cents for each person in that car we could be transported to the Wild West, sing and dance with Fred and Ginger, laugh with Bob and Bing, swoon over Rock Hudson, and at intermission hot dogs would dance on the screen as fireflies danced overhead. It was a place where Hollywood stars looked directly into our car from big screens in a field while even more stars shone overhead lighting up the night, making glad our hearts.

Rona Mann has been a freelance writer for The Sun for 21 years, including her “In Their Shoes” features. She can be reached at or 401-539-7762.

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