Drive-in theaters were once an integral part of growing up.
My dad started working at the Harbor Drive-In Theater near Aberdeen when I was about 6. This second job allowed him to save money for a down payment on our family’s first house.
I was in third grade when Mom and Dad bought this house. At that time, Dad also proudly showed me the first $100 bill I had ever seen; he even let me hold it. I thought we must be very rich. He said it would be used for the earnest money deposit for our new home on West Perry Street in Aberdeen.
The Harbor Drive-In Theater helped us get this home. It also provided free movies for us every weekend while Dad worked there. My younger brother and I would play on the playground before the movie started and at intermission of the double feature. One evening, he fell off the top of the slide and broke his arm. I did not feel his pain. I was just disappointed to miss the movie that night because of the trip to the hospital.
For a few years, there were also four Shetland ponies that kids could ride for free. The horses were inside a ring and walked in a small circle. I was always thrilled to take my turn. But I was most thrilled when I got to ride Seabiscuit, because I knew that was a famous horse’s name.
Being a family guy with three kids, Dad was aware of every dollar spent. He worked in the box office on Friday and Saturday. Occasionally, he would let a family in for free. If he was given a $5 bill, he would return five $1s along with the tickets. He never said anything, so sometimes there would be confusion and sometimes a nod of appreciation by a fellow father. Of course, I did not know this as a kid. It was a story he told when I was grown up, one I’m sure the owner of the theater would not appreciate.
Dad only worked there for a couple years, but we still went to the drive-in. I remember having to check to see if the speaker we hung on the window was working, or whether we needed to move to another spot.
Living in Grays Harbor County, you could count on rain. Rain visors were available to try to keep the rain off the windshield. But Mom preferred to rely on another method: She would take a couple of her cigarettes and wipe them on the windshield. She insisted tobacco caused the rain to sheet down the windshield rather than spotting it. It worked, although only temporarily.
A trip to the snack bar was always a huge treat. In addition to the requisite candy, hot dogs, drinks and popcorn, the snack bar also had Hot Toddies in a can. They were served warm and were supposed to be like hot chocolate. I wanted to like them, but I didn’t. If there were no marshmallows, it was not hot chocolate to me.
When I was older, I went to the drive-in with friends. Gas was cheap back then, in the 25- to 30-cents-per-gallon range. Even so, everyone would contribute a few coins to whomever was driving their parent’s car.
Once, when I was driving my folks’ 1957 Plymouth, we decided we could cut down on the 50-cents-per-person price of the movie. My friends Bev, Janet and Karen were riding with me, and we discussed whether two or three of them should ride in the trunk. But I finally said there was no way I was going into the drive-in theater alone, so we chose two trunk riders according to height — or rather lack of it. Janet and Karen won — or lost. I was just glad I was the driver that night.
Karen and Janet had told me to park at the back of the theater, so they could get out of the trunk without being seen. But workers with flashlights pointed to where you were supposed to park. I couldn’t go to a different spot than where I was directed. Big mistake!
After we parked, Bev and I hollered for them to get out. They were holding the trunk shut with their hands. We waited, but they didn’t exit, so I casually walked to the back of the car and said to get out. Then, I went back to sit in the car. They finally raised the trunk, got out and got inside the car. And were they ever mad, because I had not parked in the back! There were now rows and rows of cars behind us, and everyone could see them getting out of the trunk! But we made peace and enjoyed our bargain movie.
The next day, Karen said her older sister, Joyce, read her the riot act. Joyce had been on a date at Harbor Drive-In Theater. She and her date were sitting nearby when the trunk of the car in front of them opened, and two girls got out. Joyce realized one was her younger sister, and she was mortified. She harassed Karen about that for a long time.
That was our one and only foray into the world of crime. We are still friends, and we still laugh about sneaking into Harbor Drive-In now and then — but I am quite certain none of our bodies would be happy scrunched inside a trunk these days.
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