Writer’s Roost

Drive-in movie theaters disappearaing from landscape



Every time I see a news story about movie theaters in a newspaper, it resurrects memories. Small town theaters in particular evoke tales of yesteryear.

For a period of time, the theater business was a sideline and a source of income in those younger years when I tried to blend love, marriage, a career and a desperate need for enough money to support the mix.

While newspapering has always been a seven-daya week undertaking, that brief venture into theaterdom added seven nights a week to the schedule.

Thankfully, I was not in the drive-in theater segment, but the current state of the movie theater business in general, small towns in particular, rouses my interest in seeing how those in the business are managing to survive.

When I was a teenager in Teague, there was a period of time when we had two “walk-in” theaters, but that didn’t last long. Ultimately, the survivor bit the dust in a business that came to be dominated by film distribution companies. They dictate terms for all films and first run films are priced so small town theaters can’t afford to schedule them.

Drive-in theaters are experiencing even harder times and have dwindled to less than a score — 16 to be exact — in all of Texas, according to a list on Pinball Rebel.com.

I noted that one of the dozen and a quarter Lone Star state drive-in theaters was an “adult only” establishment (in El Paso). When I was a young man working and going to night school in Houston, the route (daytime) to and from my job always took me by the Red Bluff Drive-In Theater in Pasadena, which ultimately changed to an adult-only fare. I often wondered how many wrecks occurred on that highway as some doofusses rubbernecked at the bare carcasses on that huge drive-in screen.

Many of drive-in theaters not only have the movie of the day (or week), but their snack bar has become a bona fide entertainment center as well. Some are equipped with pool tables and any number of electronic games.

There was a drive-in theater in neighboring Fairfield, just eight miles away from Teague, when I was a youngster in the dating mode. To many, it was known as the “Passion Pit.” But, this being a family newspaper, we won’t delve too far into that aspect. But, as you might guess, there was a considerable amount of “necking and kissy-face” going on.

In my last two years in good Ol’ THS, I had a steady girlfriend. She was a really, sweet, bright, considerate young woman. She had to be to date me.

Any regular reader of this column may know that I am the oldest of four boys with the youngest being 13.5 years my junior. I did a lot of babysitting as a teen because, as Mother said, “I have to have help if I’m going to cook three meals a day (yep, that’s right, three), do laundry, keep house and have a garden.”

Uh-huh. I also learned to cook, do laundry, hoe weeds in the garden, change diapers, that is, if I wanted to live there and enjoy the greatest cooking in the world.

But, I digress. Back to drive-in movies.

Steady girlfriend loved my little brother as well. On occasion, I’d go to pick her up for a date and she’d ask where we were going. I’d say, “To the drive-in in Fairfield.”

Then I’d hear the words I didn’t want to hear because I desired hugging and kissy-face: “Well, let’s go back to your house and get Danny (little bruvver) and the diaper bag.”

“Aw, c’mon, Barbara Jean,” I’d moan. “Can’t we go to the drive-in just once without taking Spoilsport there?”

“Get the diaper bag!”

Of course, drive-in movies are made for families. But, I’d wager that if you checked the back rows you might find some teens playing kissy-face, thus the title “Passion Pit.”

Oh, and don’t get too involved. There’s a guy with a flashlight and he patrols all evening.

WILLIS WEBB is a retired community newspaper publisher of more than 55 years experience. He can be reached by email at wwebb1937@att.net.

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