They say you can't go back home again. That, and you can't go to the drive-in movies again. At least not with as much convenience.
They used to sprout all over the land---the drive-in movie theaters of America.
They died a slow death, the drive-ins did. Their big screens stood above the horizon like tombstones in a cemetery, unused and garish reminders of a day gone by. Then, even the tombstones got knocked down, leaving only weeds growing around the feet of the speaker stands.
There's a wonderful photo that first appeared in LIFE Magazine, taken in the 1950s when "The Ten Commandments" was a new release motion picture. The photo was shot with a wide-angle lens and showed a typical drive-in movie theater of the day.
Charlton Heston's Moses filled the huge screen, during the scene where he parts the Red Sea. In the foreground are all the cars---hundreds of them---parked, following the action.
The drive-in was THE place to be in the 1950s and '60s.
It was a place to hang out---to be seen as well as to see movies. Kids would sneak buddies in via the trunk---back when tickets were sold individually. Then the theaters wised up and just charged per car.
Young, awkward Romeos and Juliets snuggled in the front seat---this was when lots of cars had bench seats---and had their first hand-holding and cuddling (or more) experience.
And let's not forget the refreshment stands and their between-movie ads. For a fun-filled trip down memory lane, go to YouTube and type in the right search string and enjoy.
Our daughter's favorite is the dancing hot dog that jumps into its bun. Trust me, it exists.
As a kid, our drive-in (back when everyone had their own neighborhood drive-in) was the Algiers, at the northeast corner of Wayne Road and Warren Road, in Westland. There's a McDonald's there now---as if.
I'd get into my jammies and bring a pillow and I was ready to go---sure to be out like a light when we got home. I have vague memories of my dad carrying me from the car to the house, like a kidnap victim who's been chloroformed.
The photo that first appeared in LIFE Magazine (that's Charlton Heston as Moses in "The Ten Commandments")
But I'm proud to say that my wife and I (she grew up on drive-ins, too) passed down the tradition of watching movies from the car to our daughter. Most of the open-air theaters were long gone, of course, but there was always the Ford-Wyoming.
The F-W (it's still there) has nine screens, spread out over two corners of Ford Road and Wyoming in Dearborn. And that's where we'd head, when we wanted to scratch that itch.
Our little girl loved it. She'd be in jammies, too, and the movies were the usual Disney/animated stuff, or something like "The Incredible Hulk" or one of the "Batman" flicks.
In 2002, after having already made a verbal commitment to take the gang to the drive-in, I was caught in a dilemma.
It was the same night, turns out, as Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals---the Red Wings and Carolina Hurricanes.
No worries. Along came the earphones, the portable TV, and the AC/DC adapter. All with Mrs. Eno's approval, of course.
The movie? I couldn't tell you what it was. But the game went into triple overtime before Igor Larionov ended it. I must not have been alone, because when Igor scored, I could hear hoots and hollers from other vehicles. By this time, wife and daughter are out cold, so I had to do one of those "silent" cheers---when your mouth makes the requisite contortions of screaming, but no sound comes out.
It's one of my more memorable drive-in experiences.
Aside from the F-W, you're mostly out of luck if you're looking for a drive-in theater nowadays. The Silverdome teased us with some drive-in action in its parking lot after the Lions moved out, but that fizzled out quickly.
There was just something about watching a movie in your car. Not sure what it was. Something about the gravel lot and the tinny metal speakers and the too-far-away refreshment stand.
Maybe we'll pile back into the jalopy and set out for Ford and Wyoming again, one of these nights.
I could go for a kielbasa-sized dill pickle for three bucks.