Confession: Our sons (ages 23 and almost 19) have never been to a drive-in movie before. So when I learned that the local West Wind Drive-In theater was showing free movies on Thursday night, I decided that now was our chance to share the drive-in movie experience with our sons before it goes the way of the buggy whip and dinosaurs.
This particular drive-in movie business-- The West Wind Sacramento Six Drive-In-- has been "about to close" as long as I can remember. (Over twenty years, at least!) I am beginning to think it is a clever ploy to draw business while at the same time exonerate the owners from the sad state of disrepair for what could be a much more satisfying venue. Nevertheless, the experience was still worth while.
This was one of our (mini) Mystery Trips for the family, where I plan a fun outing and they get to be surprised. I say "mini" because it was brief (an evening's entertainment rather than a full day or more) and because by the time we left the house, everyone knew where we were going.
I think it was the popcorn, fizzy drinks on ice, sandwiches and the suggestion to bring a sweater that tipped them off. That, plus the fact that we needed to choose which of the three movies on offer we would see: Iron Man, Don't Mess with the Zohan, or Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. We opted for Iron Man, even though we had already seen it. We had also seen the new Indiana Jones movie, and the reviews for Zohan were dodgy. Iron Man fit the bill for what you want at a drive in: lots of action and not too much dialogue. Perfect.
I was surprised that there were no longer individual wired speakers to hang on the car door window for the movie sound. This was a disappointment for me, as I wanted the Retro experience of my youth. But I can totally understand how the current system of tuning into the sound through the car radio is much better than the frequent problem of forgotten speakers being ripped off their posts when the movie-goer is ready to go home.
Having no speaker-posts to guide us, cars parked more or less randomly, pointed toward the screen, or sometimes away from the screen for those who wanted to view from the back of a pick-up or SUV. I was glad to see a good crowd, with families and children running around (often not supervised) with glow in the dark toys. Many enjoyed pizza or even a little bar-b-que while we all waited for it to get dark enough to start the show. It was definitely a cool vibe, low budget and a little riff-raffy around the edges but mellow.
Suggestion: make sure to wash your car windows on the way to the drive-in as we did. The screen we watched was easy to see. My only technical complaint was the intermittent hiss in the background of the sound, just audible enough to occasionally annoy but not ruin the experience.
I was one of those who took a semi-perilous jaunt to the bathrooms during the movie. (Blame it on the fizzy drink). This is precarious, since the ground is shaped in rows of up and down hills, like small ocean swells, so the cars can park on an incline for better movie viewing. Walking along in the dark, trying to avoid glass, cigarette butts, disturbing other patrons, and trying to remember my way back to the car without tripping and breaking my neck... priceless retro fun.
The bathroom and snack bar area was functioning but not exactly pristine. Video games in dubious working order lined the walls, and one could order pizza delivered to the car. In my imagination, I was painting and redecorating the circular building and bringing it back to it's glory days of the fifties and sixties car-culture. Yes, I was there on free movie night, so clearly the business owners have a slum-lord mentality when it comes to their investment in the place. But it pains me to see the opportunity for a successful and top-notch family friendly venue go to waste. Especially now, when Retro Cool is all the rage. What are they thinking? Sad.
The verdict from our sons (and my husband and I) was quite positive about the experience. In fact I think they would go again, and willingly buy a ticket for a good night's entertainment with their friends. Maybe even take their kids some day, before it goes the way of the analog watch and the non-HD TV.