Last Saturday night around 2 AM a stream of cars roared past my house. It was a line of cars in the dozens. I was baffled, at first, but then it occurred to me the movie must have just finished.
I live on the same stretch of highway as one of the few remaining drive-in movie theatres on the planet. Now, I say "few". I don't know how many there are in North America. Ten? Fifty? A hundred? But oh, back in the day ...
Back then, the drive-in was an intrinsic part of summer life. They were the perfect date - inexpensive, yet fraught with opportunities for love and romance (and humiliating rejection, of course, but nobody went to a drive-in expecting that).
I'm working from memory here, but I think the starting time on a summer's evening would be around 9 or ten o'clock. Any earlier than that and not only could nobody tell what was playing on the screen, you couldn't engage discreetly in what you had actually come to the drive in for.
Hundreds of cars would line up on the highway by mid-evening and file in by twos past the admission gate, waved slowly forward by the ushers in white uniforms with orange-tipped flashlights.
The ushers would randomly pick cars full of teenaged boys and smack on the trunks: "OK, you can come out now, we're in!"
From inside: "Thank God, open this thing up!"
"Hey, boys, your girlfriends want to get out of the trunk and pay for their tickets."
Once in, there was the jockeying back and forth on those little hills to get the perfect viewing angle, then unhooking the little drive-in speaker and hanging it in the car window. Today it's all done through car radios, and I suppose the sound is better and all ... but there was something about those little metal speakers: the broken volume knob; the tinny sound reproduction; and as important as anything else, the fact that you had to hang the speaker right by your date's ear ear, which was a perfect excuse to invite her to skootch across the bench seat.
Or even - dare you hope? - into the back seat.
Which, of course, was the choice location in the car, especially if you had bucket seats and a console. With bucket seats, you watched the movie. Once you made the shift into the back seat, all pretenses were dropped. It was time for hot drive-in love.
But, especially with a new girlfriend, the invitation to join you in the back seat had to be handled with delicacy and finesse. You couldn't just pull into a space and dive into the back seat, expecting her to follow.
(Unless, of course, you were lucky enough to get a date with Linda "Back Seat" Larose. Which I never did. By the way, there was no Linda "Back Seat" Larose. I totally made that name up. Her real name was Bonnie. She was very popular. Except with the girls. And me.)
But with every other girl, there was this elaborate dance: "Gosh, that speaker is so close to your ear ... maybe we should crowd over onto my side ... or wait, I have an idea! It's just so crazy that just might work. I think this car has ... yes! Another seat! How about that? We could, you know, go back there ..."
I stopped going to drive-ins after the time I took Denise Wallinsky to see John Wayne in "True Grit". She went to get popcorn at intermission and never came back.
I was worried and went looking for her. Turns out my concern was misplaced. A friend told me she had hooked up with Jimmy Burton and if I wanted to find her, I should look for his Camaro. It was one row over from mine, and the windows were all fogged up. I didn't knock. You gotta cling to that one last molecule of dignity, you know?
I went back to my car, slammed it into reverse, and stepped on the gas. And, of course, tore the speaker off the column. So much for dignity.
I still can't watch any film with John Wayne in it.
As the cars roared by last weekend, I couldn't help remembering those day, and couldn't help but wonder if a few of the car windows had gotten a bit steamy. Or whether some poor sap was driving home alone at the end of a date that seemed like such a sure-fire romantic time.
Serves him right. Never go to the drive-in with a girl whose nickname is "Back Seat". Or if you do, be prepared for the possibility that at the end of the night, your nickname will be "Loser".
Nils Ling's book "Truths and Half Truths" is a collection of some of hismostmemorable and hilarious columns. To order your copy, send a cheque or money order for $25.00 (taxes, postage and handling included) to RR #9, 747 Brackley Point Road, Charlottetown, PE, C1E 1Z3.