Recently there have been plenty of Important Stories in this newspaper -- articles about politics and sports and crime and so forth. But I'll bet there are plenty of people who agree with me that the Most Important Story concerned the survival of Riverdale's Motor-Vu Drive-In.
Yours truly was just plain tickled to learn that owner Brent Coleman has found digital projectors to replace the theater's soon-to-be obsolete 35-millimeter film models. But my joy was tempered when the story noted that Brent's father, Howard, had passed away last year. Despite the fact that my movie reviews had the potential to harm his ticket sales, Howard was always kind to me during my years as a film critic for the Standard-Examiner.
My affection for drive-ins comes from summers growing up in Wyoming's Big Horn Basin, where I patronized the Cory Drive-In. It was like every other rural American drive-in theater in the 1960s: gravel lot, bermed rows punctuated with evenly spaced speaker poles, a concession stand lit with yellow bug lights, and restrooms with toilets you prayed you never had to use; the urinals - two metal troughs bolted to the walls - were bad enough.
The Cory -- named after the owners' son -- scheduled one double feature Sunday through Tuesday, and another Wednesday through Saturday. My friends and I saw four movies a week, decades before the convenience of home video.
Our parents would take us. We'd get there early to play on the swing set directly in front of the giant wooden screen, which was painted each year with a new coat of white. When the weather was good, we'd sit on a bench fronting a row of speaker stands near the swings. If it rained, we'd retreat to the back seat of the family sedan, which was parked with its front grille pointed up at the screen.
At the Cory, when patrons thought it was dark enough to begin the movie, and the projectionist hadn't yet flipped the switch, people would begin tapping their horns. One person, then another and another -- everything from little toots to loud blaring. I loved that sound, because it meant the movie would soon begin.
After dark, especially if the movie was a musical and not a spaghetti Western, we'd investigate the back row where teens, and sometimes adults, would not be watching the movie ... if you know what I mean.
It was summer, so everyone had their windows rolled down -- only the driver's- or passenger's-side window would be raised enough to hang the tinny-sounding speaker. Walking on the gravel lot was noisy, and even though we were confident our ninja-silent-sneaking skills were unmatched, a lot of males who were engaged in amorous clutches heard us and made specific threats of violence.
Another thing: If we couldn't afford the price of admission, empty pockets never stopped us. When we were younger -- 10 to 12 years old -- we'd go through the back fence. In our early teens, high-school-age friends would sneak us in via the trunks of their cars. We never got caught, but one time we paid a higher price.
Once when we were safely away from the admission booth, our chauffeur shouted back to us in the trunk, "How much money you guys got?"
We quickly discovered our answer, "Nothin'," was incorrect. He started accelerating, just a little, over two or three rows of the berms. We, of course, were being tossed all over in the trunk as the car went up, down, up, down, up, down.
Needless to say, we coughed up the ransom.
Do kids still have these sorts of experiences at drive-ins? I hope so.
Long live the Motor-Vu.
Email Don Porter with your drive-in memories at email@example.com.