Dreaming of Puckheads in the ‘Passion Pits’

Are you aware that there is a revival of drive-in movie theaters taking place nationwide? I wasn’t either. But on Monday, ambling up congestion-free roads toward a business appointment and enjoying the pastoral beauty of Rt. 15 toward Harrisburg, Pa., I passed a still-operating drive-in movie theater in Dillsburg. It advertised a current playing of ‘Get Smart.’ Were it not nearly 90 minutes from my home I’d be there this Friday night.
I was stunned. How could VCRs, DVDs, cinema-replicating, massively sized modern televisions, and NetFlix have failed to vanquish our ‘Happy Days’-style of theater experience? How could high-tech, high definition America embrace cinema in surrounded-by-woods sound — in analog un-crispness?
Maybe what goes around actually comes back around in American culture. Who for instance would have thought that American teens would re-embrace skateboards?
Returned home Monday evening, I resolved to research my run-in with this sliver of seemingly archaic Americana. Two excellent web sites chronicling both drive-ins’ history and current status are found with driveinmovie.com and driveintheater.com. One thing seems certain: America’s perception that the theaters had vanquished entirely from our landscape is undermined by the largely rural reality of their staying power. It’s true that you aren’t going to find 50 acres in Fairfax or Montgomery County devoted today to the theaters. It’s also true that the theater numbers nationally are about one-tenth what they were in the experience’s heyday: from a peak of about 4,000 in the early 1960s to around 400 today.
But new ones are being built. Maryland once had 42 such theaters, according to driveinmovie.com. Today she is home to just two, but three new ones (all in Carroll County) are in the planning or construction stages. Virginia has eight of the theaters in operation today. Pennsylvania is a veritable hotbed of throwback cinema: 35 illuminating today’s Friday and Saturday night skies.
But what can possibly account for both the theaters’ residual existence out in the American hinterland as well as its sudden if modest resurgence this decade? NetFlix, after all, mails its movies to Dillsburg.
Perhaps it’s because the theaters are a marvelous confluence of enduring American pastimes: the great symbol of liberty, the automobile; our never-out-of-vogue love affair with big screen film; and teenagers in heat desperate for isolation. Those plots of land, their darkness so enveloping save the screen on the horizon, were the great liberators of hormones. Wikipedia’s summary notes that at their peak popularity media labeled the sites “passion pits.”
By God, Revive, Revive I say!
It’s probably also true that in grand summer weather, like that we’ve had in D.C. early this summer, a lot of folks don’t want to go indoors to see films, especially to the cookie-cutter shopping mall holes in the corners masquerading as theaters.
Interesting to note, I think, that in and around D.C. we do rather robustly celebrate the outdoor film experience. ‘Screen on the Green’ runs on Monday nights on the Mall in July and August, and Strathmore’s outdoor film festival commands a week in August. They’re necessarily a car-less bit of culture, but they do seem to harken back to the spirit of the drive-in.
Drive-in theaters are as American as apple pie and Coca-Cola. If indeed they are on the rebound it’s cause for great celebration.
And if they’re back we’d do well to keep them around, this time for good. It would be wise, perhaps, to update their offerings. Can’t we bring more to the outdoor screens than merely contemporary Hollywood? If next summer you were given a month’s notice of ‘Slapshot’ being screened at a faraway drive-in one Friday night, an event promoted and patronized by Washington’s hockey bloggers and hundreds of their readers, even though you’ve seen the movie 63 times, wouldn’t you consider a 64th viewing then?
And wouldn’t it be swell if we found a way to beam in satellite signals upon the gatherings? And if so, the theater proprietors would appreciate knowing of events that command grand gatherings, in city after city, especially for just single nights.
Shouldn’t we galvanize the surging momentum of the NHL Entry Draft, and in particular the city-specific parties it engenders, and make appeals to the drive-in proprietors next June to host a grand evening for DraftGeeks and pucksheads? Wouldn’t a Friday draft following involving some tasty tailgating, a little tonsil hockey in the dark, and all that first-round trading frenzy super sized onscreen be just about the best-ever draft party?
Victor Hedman, next June’s likely towering top choice, would look very big there indeed.

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11 Responses to Dreaming of Puckheads in the ‘Passion Pits’

  1. Kim says:

    What about beaming in away games? I’ve been trying to find a decent way to tailgate for Caps games for some time. A Drive-In Caps theatre would be, to steal Ovie’s favorite word, Unbelievable!
    Tailgating with football/futbol fans is a fun experience, but I still maintain that hockey fans would rule!

  2. Teka says:

    Here’s what I find amusing… I used to live in Oregon, less than half an hour from the last drive in out there. Now I live in PA, where the drive-in craze is, as you noted, a little ridiculous.
    And I do love how you studiously, perhaps, neglected to note the giant screen the Pens put up outside Mellon for the Cup run, so that people could watch the feed from inside. But I’d not expect any less from you 🙂

  3. Dan, Jr. says:

    Drive-In movies are much cheaper, and FREE OUTDOOR MOVIES are nice too.

  4. Curtis says:

    I live in York PA. I once had the choice of two Drive in movie’s….one in Dilsburg and the other in Columbia both are 30 miutes away! But now only Dilsburg survives….I agree a great time for anyone whom has kids…and for those who want to swap spit under a start lit night!!
    Thanks for bringing up great memories!
    Football is just around the Corner!! Go Skins!

  5. I’ve got spirited and co-ed commentors, but no . . . under the stars confessions from yesteryear. Let’s own up! I’m a Marylander, and with but two theaters in my entire state, I’m exempt.

  6. Dan, Jr. says:

    When I was much, much younger, I took my girlfriend to the Big M Drive-In (Churchville – Harford County, MD) to see a Cheech and Chong double feature. We were suppossed to be watching “Up In Smoke”, but we couldn’t because the car windows were Up In Steam!
    How’s that Pucks? By the way, I don’t think being a fellow Marylander makes you exempt. Did I mention she was double jointed? Or was it that she had some joints? Can’t quite remember. Oh well.

  7. Dan, Jr. says:

    Sadly, the Big M stopped showing movies a couple years ago, after 53 years of service. I think they still have car shows there, but not the steamy kind I’m sure.

  8. Dan, Jr. — now that’s what I’m talking about. Nicely played.

  9. uncatim says:

    I live about an hour away from the Haar’s Drive-in in Dillsburg. My girlfriend & I occasionally make the trip from MD — we are both old enough to have great memories of drive-ins from our childhood. It would be great to see “Slapshot” at a drive-in for the 64th time!

  10. Megan says:

    Ahhhhh Haar’s Drive In. Still a good date in Central PA. (Or for us single gals and their girlfriends)
    There’s another one in Newville, just down I-81 as well, which is the better of the two drive-in theaters here.
    Gotta love it. Wish there were more.

  11. Thanks for the reminder that it is Drive-In season! I had forgotten all about it, and there is a theater within 25 miles of my house– Fork Union Drive-In. I think I’ll go this weekend– they are having a double feature of “Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull” and “Iron Man”. Perfect Saturday night fare!

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