During a recent flight I pulled out the inflight magazine like I normally do. I assumed I’d follow the same routine: scan the contents for anything remotely interesting, pause briefly to see who was deemed The Top Doctor in America, get mildly annoyed to find some nitwit completed half the crossword puzzle in ink, and learn that I only had a 7-inch flight between Oakland and Norfolk. I expected to take a deep sigh and return the August 2015 issue of Southwest: The Magazine to its resting place next to the puke bag. I’d then cuddle up to the big dude sitting next to me and drift off in uncomfortable slumber.
Alas, things didn’t quite work out the way I thought they would. Instead of trying to figure out how to wake up the lady snoring in the aisle seat because I had to pee (really bad), I read the cover story: The Death and Life of the Great American Drive-In. It was an article that brought back some truly wonderful memories.
During the late 70s and early 80s, the concept of home entertainment was in its infancy. Many of the technologies we take for granted today were either too expensive or not yet on the market. We had record players, 8-track tape players, and rabbit ears on the television. When home video finally did make it to our house, it was in the form of videodisk. If you are old enough to remember videodisk, you’ll recall how cumbersome they were. They were like extremely large DVDs packaged in a large flat rectangular plastic box. You’d slide them into the front of your videodisk player where it would be released to play Moonraker or some other cool movie. Videodisk didn’t last long because the VHS market was cheaper and smaller.
Anyway, with limited home entertainment options our family often spent Friday or Saturday nights going to the drive-in. There were a number of them scattered around the Buffalo, New York area. The Angola Grandview was the one we frequented the most. It was conveniently located near the Super Duper supermarket and an ice cream stand.
Mom, Dad, Karen, and I would typically arrive just before dusk. Dad would roll down his window and bring in the large metal speaker. The speaker rested on the glass in the car. It was connected to a post with a rather short cable. These were rather dangerous and were eventually replaced with localized AM/FM radio signals. Until that happened, folks would forget they were attached and drive off. Even worse, you’d often see people – usually teenagers – running from the concession stand between the posts and the cars. I remember this happening once. Ping! The kid snapped the cable in two and scared the heck out of Dad.
Before the first of two features started, Karen and I would spend a little time playing below the large movie screen. We’d swing on the swings or try our hand at not puking after spinning on that big metal spinning thingy that once nearly knocked me out. During intermission, when the giant Soft Drink and Hot Dog danced and sang, we’d head to the concession stand along with hundreds of other hungry patrons. We typically didn’t buy much since Mom and Dad would undoubtedly bring snacks. Still, there was something fun about walking the sticky floors and smelling the popcorn and hot dogs.
When we were lucky, Mom and Dad would take us to a dusk-till-dawn movie marathon. Both Karen and I would try to stay awake all night. I remember watching Montag the Magician dismember young woman in the Wizard of Gore (1970), seeing other young women get terrorized by Michael Berryman in The Hills Have Eyes (1977), and watch a young Kevin Bacon get an arrow through the throat in the original Friday the 13th (1980).
It was awesome! Or rather, it usually it was. Karen once grabbed my leg when Jason Voorhees popped out of Crystal Lake. I think I screamed.
The drive-in remained a staple of my existence well into my teen years. Instead of riding in the back of the car with my parents, I’d try to sneak in with my friends. Sometimes I’d hide under a blanket and other times I’d hide in the trunk. One time we configured the back of a pick-up truck with two cinder blocks, a wooden plank, and a blanket. The space below the plank was just the right size for someone of my size so I slide under and stayed hidden. To this day I can proudly say I was never caught sneaking in through the front entrance of the Grand View. Not so much for the bad entry approach, however. I remember my best friend and I trying to sneak in through the wooded area in the back. Someone pointed us out and we ran like scared rabbits.
You’d probably think that movies were my life back then. To some extent they were but as I grew older, my fascination with the drive-in theater was less Dirty Harry and more girls. Let’s be honest: as a teenager, girls are cool. They smelled good, looked good, and were cute, sexy, and pretty. Since I never had a steady girlfriend during my teen years, I used every opportunity to try and find one. Although it never quite worked out to my favor, once in a while I’d find myself with a girl that I really liked.
Did she like me?
I don’t know!
Should I try and hold her hand?
I don’t know!
It was tough to be a self-conscious teenager with no social skills. Looking back on it I have to laugh. When I finally did find the courage to make my move, I was usually successful. I still remember the feeling of making that connection and holding that special someone’s hand.
Oh, and a piece of trivia for you: It was at the Grandview drive-in where I first touched a girl’s booby. Yes, I know her name. No, I’ll never tell.
I’m a gentleman.
My friends and I had a ritual. Once the movies ran their course, we’d head to Taco Cantina on Old Lake Shore Road in Angola. It was located right next to the Du Drop Inn and across the street from the houses that lined Lake Erie. Taco Cantina would always provide us hungry moviegoers with the best tasting tacos anywhere in Western New York. Without fail, I would order the extra-hot tacos with extra hot sauce and jalapenos. Sure, they’d burn my taste buds and turn my guts to ash but boy, were they good. After that we’d usually head back home where I’d dream about girls.
The Angola Grandview drive-in was demolished in 2008 after a long and illustrious history of serving teenagers across Western New York. While gone, it’s not forgotten. The Grandview, along with all the other drive-ins that vanished, was an important part of many people’s histories – including my own. I was happy to read that some are making a comeback.