Flashing Strangers at the Drive-In

It was just a little jaunt to the movies. A Saturday night, with the back seats of my car thrown down, the whole area stuffed with sleeping bags and pillows and blankets. We fed our three dogs half a Benadryl each to turn them into the ultimate cuddle puppies, and set out for the 50-minute drive.

Along the way, we hit up the Peruvian chicken joint for a to-go box loaded with rotisserie-style, plantains, and rice and beans. We rolled down the windows and panted with the dogs into the hot sunset. At the intersection of small-town America and tobacco-field oblivion, we turned left at a faded sign.

For just $8 each, we were admitted to a double feature: Cowboys and Aliens followed by Transformers 17. (I think that’s right…) As we scouted for the ideal parking spot – our little patch of the nostalgic American dream – we turned into a row of cars, drove down a bit, and settled between a rusty white pick-up holding an elderly couple and a blue Cadillac full of teenage boys. We turned on the radio, tuned into the movie soundtrack station, and that’s when we realized…

The headlights wouldn’t turn off.

In order for the radio (and therefore soundtrack) to be on, the key had to be turned halfway. At that halfway point, the lights blinked on. We jiggled the key; we played with the headlight lever; we consulted the auto manual and it was then we were met with the awful truth: in an effort to keep me safe, my ever-watchful nanny car (who also beeps if I’m not wearing a seat belt) was not able to turn her headlights off. Not at night, not in the rain – fine – but neither in the daytime, and certainly not for the frivolous purpose of watching a movie. There was simply no button to push or flip to switch.

Around this time, the first movie queued up, and the people behind us started to complain. “Hey! We can’t see through your glare!” Since we’d been planning to watch the show through the open hatchback window of our snuggle-den, we had parked in reverse. Our stubborn headlights were now blinding the rows of people behind us. As Cowboys and Aliens began, I could almost hear Daniel Craig muttering:

Somebody turn off them dang lights!

“Turn off them dang lights!”

In shame, with our chicken growing cold and our three dogs lolling blissfully in a sedated haze, we reversed with shouts of, “So sorry!” and hightailed it to the very back row of the field. Our hope was that we could aim our headlights into the neighboring forest, unsettling the local wildlife but easing the rage of our fellow movie-goers. No sooner did we settle in, though, than I realized I just could not make out the screen. This was back before I got Lasik surgery, and my eyesight was terrible – contacts can only do so much when your vision is comparable to Mr. Magoo‘s.

Luckily for me, my husband is never one to give up. (He has this in common with my headlights). Gritting his teeth, J pulled the chicken and sides out of the restaurant box, piled them in my hands, and ordered, “Don’t let the dogs get that!” as he barrel-rolled into the night. Next thing I knew, he’d procured duct tape from the car’s emergency tool bag, torn the to-go box into halves, and strapped the cardboard over the headlights so they were completely blacked out. He hauled himself back into the driver’s seat, shuttled us to our original parking spot, and we finally settled in for dinner,ย cuddling, and the realization that Cowboys and Aliens was entirely unworthy of so much effort.

…but still, as we napped, lulled by the gentle roar of spaceships and hoof beats, I think we were both already planning on coming back.


24 responses to “Flashing Strangers at the Drive-In

  1. As I was reading this delightful story, I thought of two things: “Boy that chicken dinner sounds delicious.. who cares if those movies are bad?” And “All they need is some cardboard to cover up those headlights!”

  2. My parents took my sister and I to the drive in a few times when we were kids (and I went there on a date a few times as an adult), and I loved it every single time. There is just something special about watching a movie in one’s car in the summer air…. And, I *adore* J’s “MacGuyver-esque” innovation! You’ve married a good one, my dear. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • All my best stories are with him! Someday I’ll tell the one about the time he got a severe case of the flu during our honeymoon, backpacking through Italy… it’s the best kind of tragicomedy.

    • Oh, man! You should try Googling it… we had no idea there was one in our state until we randomly looked it up on a whim. It’s is a 50-miute slog, but it’s so worth it. I bet your girls would love it!

    • Don’t wait too long. They are fast disappearing in most places, especially in fringe areas of the suburbs. Most of them are just holding the real estate now until the better offer comes in and BAM, industrial park or shopping complex. We now have none where I live.We used to have about 7 in the metro area.

  3. Great story ๐Ÿ™‚ The thing about drive – ins is it doesn’t matter what film is playing. Growing up in a small town, the drive-in was what we did on Saturday night.Reading your story made me feel incredibly old with fuzzy nostalgic edges.

  4. That is the exact feeling i get every year in our car when we drive through one of those giant Christmas light displays. It took me 2-3 years of being honked at and glared upon before I finally bit the bullet and called the car dealer to find out how to turn my lights off. And I finally figured it out with the help of Ryan at the Dodge Dealer (he had to do research as well). Apparently I was supposed to know that if I held the brake halfway down while turning the lights off (or something like that) it would just leave the driving lights on.

    Thank you Dodge dealers for making me look like an idiot.

    • This made me grin really big. I am SO glad I’m not the only one who is frequently turned into a dunce by modern technology. And hey – I know you’re in VA – when I was little, we used to visit family in Virginia Beach and drive through a giant Christmas light display along the water… ever been to that one?

  5. Funny story Jennie. Your husband is a man after my own heart. And obviously he knows an important rule of life. “Nothing’s ever broke, it just lacks duct tape.” ~ James

  6. Pingback: A Love Letter to the Mendon Drive-In | screensnacks·

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