Summer Memories: The Drive-In

Ok, I’m going to get a little nostalgic here. Raise your hand if you miss what I consider to be as quintessential a slice of Americana as apple pie, hot dogs, and waving the American flag.  The place that launched a thousand make-out sessions, and brought together young and old. The place to be on a weekend night that boasted pony rides and playgrounds for tots, and crammed multiple friends and families members into one car, simply because admission was often charged by the vehicle, not by the number of people inside it.  Yes, I’m waxing poetic about the All-American drive-in theater.

RIP, Westbury Drive-in, 1954 to 1998. All photos, courtesy of Bob Koenig.

Today, drive-in’s, for the most part, are a distant memory.  According to pop culture expert and drive-in enthusiast, Bob Koenig, there are still some left in America–but you pretty much have to head out to rural areas to find them, where land is still plentiful.  For years, Bob has been a member of a drive-in fan club, which periodically meets up at drive-in’s in Maryland and sometimes upstate New York. Bob loves drive-in’s so much, he even tried to save from the chopping block my hometown’s Westbury Drive-in. A regular David meets Goliath, he helped take on the owner, United Artists, which wanted to tear it down to make way for a multiplex and a wholesale membership warehouse. Goliath won.

The Warwick Drive-in can be found in upstate New York.

Like Bob, I love the drive-in. The romance of it—watching films in the great outdoors, under the stars. Sipping on chocolate malts, while dining on burgers and fries with your significant other or others. Like a mini-vacation. It was an experience for the ages.

Going to the drive-in was a sign of summer and a testament to how much we Americans loved our cars—so much so that we were willing to sit in them and peer over the steering wheel to watch a film, while listening to the soundtrack through tinny speakers perched on the car’s windows.  Occasionally, the sound system was out of sync—but who cared?  You were enjoying the best of America!

This drive-in, located in Baltimore, Maryland, is still open for business.

When I was 11, my family moved to Long Island. There, I felt like I hit the drive-in jackpot. One of my first friends there, Liz, happened to live across the street from the Westbury Drive-in. I thought she was the luckiest girl in the world. Free movies all summer long! We could watch them from her back porch, although, truth be told, we couldn’t hear the sound.

I asked Liz and her, brother, Michael, what they remember about the drive-in being so close to their home. Here’s what Michael had to say:  “I loved watching the movies from my porch every night, until they put up trees around the perimeter and forced us to watch from the roof. As teens, we’d sneak in or watch from the nearby schoolyard. In the 70’s they started playing softcore flicks. There’d be car accidents every time giant boobs towered over the treeline.”

The last time I went to a drive-in was when I first moved to California, 20 years ago.  The drive-in was a great place to take little ones, since no one could hear their screams.  My son was old enough and sat in the front seat enjoying the double feature with us, while my baby daughter, slept sporadically in the back. That night, we saw a double feature, City Slickers and Back to the Future 3, which had been released the year before.  Of course, as the mom of a newborn, I dozed off by the middle of the second film, but that didn’t matter. I was in bliss.

I once went to a drive-in while in Venezuela, proof that the drive-in culture had wasn’t limited to the U.S.  I was 13 and we went to see a funny film starring a little known comic actor making his directorial debut: Woody Allen in Take the Money and Run. There were nine of us cousins packed into the car and the only way I could see the movie was by sitting on the car’s rolled-down rear window, with my legs hanging over the side.  All I remember was how incredibly uncomfortable I was, and how I kept having to adjust myself, in search of a spot in which the receded window didn’t poke my bottom.  But I also recall how I got all teary, laughing so hard. Even in Spanish, Woody Allen was hysterical.

Who knows when the drive-in’s started to disappear from our cultural landscape. It happened one by one, plunked from the landscape to make room for new construction.  “It’s all about real estate values,” affirms Bob.

Gone, without a second thought. For those of you who still live near one, make a date to see a movie there. While you still can, that is.  The rest of us can pine for the hey day of drive-in theaters, knowing that drive-in’s were once the best of summer.

Clowns Gone Postal

Friends, the saga continues. It pains me to tell you, but I can hide it no longer. There is a clown in my psyche screaming to get out.

I know this because I have uncovered something, which is more ghastly than the birthday greeting card I received for my sixth birthday.  There’s no easy way to say this, so I will let you see for yourself. After all, one picture is worth a thousand words. Or in this case, three pictures.

Exhibit B

Exhibit A









Yes, I am secretly obsessed with clowns.  So hush-hush is my obsession that even I did not know about it.  I have been deluding myself and now I am coming clean.  Apparently, as a child, I’d draw these pictures of clowns over and over. Incessantly. Ad nauseam. And these are just the tip of the iceberg.  What does it mean? I wish I knew.

I rest my case.

Which brings me to the latest clown terror in my life. I’m talking about the creepy, maniacal toy clown, that has firmly planted its over-sized clown feet, smack in the middle of our pop culture. It’s a toy clown gone postal! And we can thank the United States Postal Service and its ad agency for this addition to our collective consciousness.

The U.S. Postal Service clown. Could anything be scarier?

In the words of Johnny Depp, “Something about the painted face, the fake smile. There always seemed to be a darkness lurking just under the surface, a potential for real evil.”

Well said, Johnny. Well said.  But Mr. Depp wasn’t referring to the toy clown in the Postal Service commercial. According to a blog post, Top 10: Scary Clowns of All Time, he once shared this insight in an interview with The San Francisco Chronicle. But, if you ask me, he might as well have been talking about this particular clown gone postal.

For the few who haven’t seen this commercial, in it, an unassuming family of four has just returned home to find an ominous toy clown on their living room floor—apparently the result of an online purchase gone awry. Too afraid to go inside the house, they talk to a mailman about how to get rid of it.  Each time the camera pans back to the clown, it has mysteriously moved closer to the family, ultimately terrorizing all, even the hapless mailman.

The Postal Service commercial is frightening, and yet I find myself obsessively drawn to it each time it airs. Perhaps I’m hoping for a different ending, one where the toy is vanquished.  Whatever the reason, this shocking commercial rattles even the hardiest of psyches. It should only be played late at night when little children are asleep. Because the next thing you know, they’ll be drawing pictures of clowns. Again and again.  Ad nauseam. It’s a vicious cycle.

So maybe I’m obsessed with clowns. Maybe there’s a clown inside me, screaming till its curly orange hair stands on end. If so, I take solace in knowing that I am not alone in my phobia. There’s a website, and a Facebook page called “i hate clowns”—with 6,670 people who “like” it, including myself. Our fear has a name: coulrophobia, which means, a persistent, abnormal, and unwarranted fear of clowns. Unwarranted? I don’t think so. We coulrophobia-sufferers know better.