The drive in movie isn’t dead yet

By Helena Rodriguez

As we recently drove past the Stars & Stripes Drive-In Theater in Lubbock, it brought back fond memories of the old Varsity Drive-In in Portales, once located on the Roswell Highway.
We took the girls to Texas Water Rampage for the day, and my eyes lit with excitement when we drove past the drive-in theater on the Clovis Highway.
Every Sunday night was Spanish movie night at the old Varsity. Before we went, I remember Dad popping a big brown paper bag full of popcorn on the stove, back when you could take your own food. Sometimes we brought apples and Cracker Jacks, too. Then Mom and Dad would load us girls up in the car and head for the movies. When we were lucky, Dad would buy us those little striped, cardboard boxes of popcorn from the refreshment stand.
Once a vanishing part of American culture, drive-in movies seem to be making a comeback in recent years. The Stars & Stripes Drive-In, located on Highway 84, about three-quarters of a mile west of North Quaker Avenue, opened last July. I remember only a few years ago when the Town & Country Drive-In opened when I lived in Abilene, Texas.
When I took my daughter, Laura, and her friend, Madison, to the drive-in in Abilene, it immediately brought back vivid childhood memories. Since I didn’t understand Spanish, I often laid down in the back seat and just gazed up at the stars for hours and listened to the sounds of people walking past us, chattering in the dark with armsful of sodas and candy.
Yes, I felt like I was back at Varsity Drive-In. There was the familiar sound of car honks in the distance and the rustling sound of footsteps walking past the car. There was also the occasional shouts by rowdy movie-goers and the playful sounds of children nearby. It all came back to me.
The only difference was that instead of the old static of speakers, the sound was now being transmitted to us via FM radio and we brought along a portable radio so we could sit outside. Before those old static-filled speakers, the drive-in movies of the 1940s were nothing more than a big screen surrounded by horse stalls and hitching posts in the parking lots.
Of course, there was both good and bad associated with American drive-in theaters. They sometimes served as nothing more than a lover’s lane for some people. For others, drive-ins were a place for all kinds of mishaps and misdeeds. I remember a family friend telling me how they got busted trying to sneak into the Varsity Drive-In. As you know, people will try anything to get in somewhere for free and in the old days, it wasn’t so hard. You just had to hide somebody under a blanket, or in extreme cases, in the trunk.
My friend told me they took a camper truck to the Varsity Drive-In and hid people in the most obvious place, the camper shell. The attendees did not bother to check inside the camper, don’t ask me why, so it was almost a perfect plan until they ran out of gas right there at the ticket booth. Guess who had to get out and help push the truck out of the way?
Another one of my favorite drive-in memories was being forced by my parents to go along with my older sister Becky and her date, for obvious reasons of course. I had nothing better to do and I liked the idea of a free movie. Guess who paid? Guess who also paid for my popcorn, Coke and candy?
They kept trying to get rid of me. They would hand me a handful of cash to go off and get refreshments, but to their discontent, I would return oh too soon. It was one of those rare cases in which a couple actually saw an entire movie at the drive-in.

Helena Rodriguez is a columnist for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. She can be reached at: