Tears and Laughter: Explaining the drive-in

McKenzie asked me in her anticipation to see the new Spongebob movie, “Mama, where did you go to the movies when you were a kid?”

She is sweet. When I was very young, I lived in Sandflat, which is just south of Thomasville off of Highway 43, and while Thomasville did have an off again on again theater, it wasn’t until I arrived in Clanton that I became a regular moviegoer.

Clanton did not have a theater. They had an old building downtown that once was a theater. They still called it “the theater,” but by the time I got there they only offered Saturday night Southern gospel music singings. People would dress in their Sunday best and sway back and forth to the music with their hands stuck in the air and their fingers outstretched.

But if you were a teenager in Chilton County in 1988, you also had cinema choices. Clanton is roughly the same distance from Hoover as it is Montgomery. So those were options, if you wanted that kind of movie going experience. Then there was the Pratt-Mont Drive-in Theater in Prattville.

It had a much more of a “come as you are” feel to it. It was often referred to as a place for country folks to go to the movies.

Cars and trucks would come from surrounding communities and park beside a speaker that may or may not work. Sometimes it would take two or three tries before finding one that was clear enough to tolerate, but a lot of people didn’t care because they weren’t listening to the movie anyway. A few never even looked up at the screen. But it didn’t matter. There were so many speakers the sound was in the air.

Most people would get out of their cars as long as the weather allowed. There was a playground near the screen. There were always little kids playing, their mothers sitting together nearby on quilts spread across the grass.

Some preferred to stand outside their trucks socializing. It was the same crowd most every weekend. Everybody knew one another.

Others in trucks would back into their spaces. They would set a couple of lawn chairs side by side in the back. Women would start taking Tupperware containers of fried chicken out of the cooler placed between them.

Being in the back of a pick-up truck gave them a boost, a view of the screen somewhat above the constant stream of patrons murmuring their way to the concession stand and staggering back by balancing Cokes in waxed paper cups, popcorn, and boiled peanuts.

It didn’t sound the same when I described it to McKenzie. It fell kind of flat when I said, “It was this field of speakers. It was on this slight hill behind a snack bar in front of this huge white wall the movie would be projected against.

She grinned at me that grin that means she accepts what I am saying, but she thinks I’m an antique.

I guess the drive-in has been a thing of the past for a long time now.

It was a good idea though. I wish somebody would have it again.

Amanda Walker is a columnist with The West Al. Watchman, Al.com, The Thomasville Times, and The Wilcox Progressive Era – https://www.facebook.com/AmandaWalker.Columnist.