MOVIES BY CAR: We don't go to movie theaters. It's one of our "things" that makes us so endearing to normal people. The last movie we saw at a theater was 1997's "Good Burger" because our 9-year-old son wanted to see it. Plus, you really need to experience "Good Burger" on the big screen.
There are literally countless (though the actual number is probably closer to seven) reasons we won't go into movie theaters, and these range from the fact that invariably a guy wearing a stovepipe hat will sit in front of us to the similar reason that a movie theater is a darned good place to catch polio.
You know what would make us go out to see a movie again? The return of drive-in movie theaters. There are countless reasons why drive-in theaters, which are, for all practical purposes, extinct (there are a couple still alive, but they refuse to mate), are great places to see a movie, and five of the key ones were enumerated in a full-page ad in the Press-Telegram when the Circle Drive-In opened in 1951:
Perfect for shut-ins
No baby-sitter problem
Enjoy complete privacy
Be flu and polio protected
They had the whole page. They could have added more. At the drive-in you can wear a stovepipe hat, split a six-pack of beer, eat a bucket of chicken, express your irritation by honking your horn at everyone from the projectionist to the film's villain to the moron arriving late and driving around with
Here are three drive-in memories we have. We actually have more, but you don't want to read about those:
1963: Our parents took my sister and me to a screening of "The Ugly American" at the Los Altos Drive-In, back when it only had one screen. Didn't understand one single thing. We skipped over in our pajamas to the play area and swang on the swings, went back to the car, and fell asleep.
1972: We had a date with a Wilson girl and we wanted to take her to the drive-in (duh). Problem was, we didn't have a car because we didn't have a driver's license. Our friend's parents were in Hawaii, so he generously let us use their motorhome. We picked up our date. Her dad answered the door. The cold-hearted man let us take his daughter off in a Winnebago.
1975: Twenty years old and living at home. Needed to get out. Grabbed a couple of Olympias out of the folks' fridge, swung by Popeyes for a box of chicken, stopped at a 7/Eleven for a pack of Benson & Hedges and caught a flick at the Circle.
In terms of quality movie-viewing, drive-in theaters were about a C-minus. The pig-iron speakers that you hung on your window had the fidelity of a soup can, and light pollution rendered dark scenes invisible. But what a small price to play for not getting polio.
In a recent column asking readers what they missed most about things that are gone in Long Beach, drive-in movie theaters were frequently cited. For all the cultural memories they evoke now, they weren't around all that long - maybe two generations. The oldest in Long Beach was the Lakewood Drive-In, which opened out in the middle of nowhere on Carson Street in 1948. There's a Del Taco and Carl's Jr. there now.
Next came the Circle Drive-In on Ximeno Avenue off the Traffic Circle. It opened in 1951. Now there's some offices and a fitness club there.
The Long Beach Drive-In on Santa Fe at the Long Beach Freeway opened in 1955. There's a parking lot there now.
The mighty Los Altos Drive-In opened in 1955 with an unreeling of "Son of Sinbad" and "Rage at Dawn." In 1972, the Los Altos became a Drive-In-a-Plex with three screens, with three lots capable of holding 1,074, 938 and 789 cars. There's a Kmart there now, and a car dealership.
They went down when real estate went up. The Long Beach Drive-In was the first domino to tip over, closing in 1979. Then the Circle fell in `85; Lakewood in `89; and our beloved Los Altos in 1996.
Do we miss them? Well, we have great memories of them, but we're pretty sure we'd never go back, and we're pretty sure, too, not many other people would go either. There's video on demand, streaming Netflix, Blu-ray discs, polio vaccines - and since when did shut-ins ever go out to drive-ins?