Down In Front: Sunday Night at the Drive-In

photo 1There are a few things that still exist today that are a direct link to our past; both the past we exist in and the one that existed before us. Cultural significance can be debated all you want(there are plenty of folks who love that s**t.) For me, in order for something to have cultural significance it has to pull up all those gooey emotions that make us pine for those things we so loved but can no longer see, touch, and experience again. That 10th birthday with all your friends at the pizza shop, followed by cake and ice cream at home. Then a GI Joe toy battle followed by the late night horror show. Getting your driver’s license and driving your car home, alone, for the first time. Graduation. Your first roller coaster ride. These are things we all more or less experience, though in different ways with different feelings of longing.

One item of cultural significance for me was the drive-in movie theater. Growing up in the Midwest we had two drive-ins in the town I grew up in. We had the Warsaw Drive-In and the Lincolndale. The Warsaw Drive-In was the oldest drive-in with one screen, while the Lincolndale had two screens, each showing two flicks. My parents took me to both several times growing up. I can remember seeing Superman, Food of the Gods, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Warlock, Down and Out In Beverly Hills, and countless other 80s gems at the Warsaw Drive-In. At the Lincolndale I remember one Friday night in-particular where my parents and I saw a double feature of House and Return of the Living Dead. It was pretty great. The last movie I ever saw at the drive-in before they closed here in town was the The Island of Dr. Moreau remake, so that would mean the last season for the Warsaw Drive-In was 1996. The Lincolndale closed long before that. There was another drive-in near my house back in the 70s and 80s called the WaWa Drive-In. I never went to the Wawa as it was an adult drive-in theater, showing all the latest and greatest double and triple X films of the day. I’m still floored thinking that there was a dirty movie drive-in twenty minutes from my house growing up. Oh, the 70s.

So on Sunday night the wife and I took the kids to a town about 25 miles west of us called Plymouth, Indiana. We hit the Tri Way Drive-In movie theater and saw Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Transformers: Age of Extinction. The Tri Way is one of two drive-ins that are still in decent driving distance of us. The Tri Way also has four screens so each screen has different genres. Ours was the action but not too violent films. There was one with some comedies, one for kids, and one with more suspense. This was the first time for the kids to go to a drive-in, and the first time I’d been to one since 1996. I was excited.

I have to say, I wasn’t disappointed. Neither was the wife and kids. The concession stand has improved greatly from popcorn and candy. Breaded tenderloin sandwiches, cheeseburgers, nachos, fries, bosco sticks, and of course popcorn. Also soft pretzels, candy, and ice cream. Not gonna lie, that stuff wasn’t cheap. Hell, a bottle of water was $2.50 out of the vending machine. Really? I had to tell myself you can’t put a price on the kids’ happiness. Well, actually you can. That price was $42 for the first round of food and $26 for the next round, not to mention the $39 it cost to get in. But still, what’s $107 when your kids are having so much fun, right? And I only counted 30 welts from mosquito bites, not to mention the massive muscle spasm from sitting in a folding chair for 6 hours. Then attempting to sleep in the front seat of the van while my wife and son attempt to finish that three-hour behemoth of a toy commercial called Transformers: Age of Extinction. Jesus Michael Bay, ever heard of someone called and EDITOR????….

But I’m getting off point here. It’s about nostalgia, and the kids having fun, and the wife and I reliving those fun times at the drive-in when we first started dating. But back then we didnt’ have to worry about helping the Tri Way finance the purchase of four new digital projectors priced at $75,000 a piece. Yep, $300,000 they have to spend in order to update their theater or else they close. So now I gotta feel guilty when I’m cringing at a $2.50 bottle of water, or a $5 funnel cake, or a $7 bucket of popcorn. Yeah, I’m a bastard for not wanting to spend $4 on a Pepsi. Sorry about technology and all. I didn’t invent digital media. Blame Sony…or George Lucas. Not me!

But hey, we had fun still. I’m sure we’ll go back, and I’ll bring an extra $100 in case the kids want an extra popcorn or funnel cake.

Nostalgia is an interesting thing. Until you step out of the warm, reminiscent glow of it everything “back then” seems better. Hitting a drive-in with my family was both a subtle reminder of childhood and all those warm fuzzies I had sitting in the back of my dad’s pick-up watching Beverly Hills Cop or some cheap B-horror movie as we snacked on Chicken In A Biskits, Doo-Dads(thank you Nabisco for your saturated fats-filled party kibble), and maybe an occasional bucket of oily popcorn from the concession stand. It was also a reminder of my mortality. Sitting in a lawn chair at 1:30 am on a hill watching “roid rage” versions of my favorite childhood toys violently disemboweling each other as Marky Mark YELLS LOUDLY and pretends to be a hillbilly engineer from Texas with a “Bah’stun” accent, made me realize that sometimes family fun can be had and enjoyed well before the witching hour and heads can still hit pillows at a decent hour. What can I say, I’m a curmudgeon. Hats off to my parents for taking me on several occasions to the outdoor theater. Granted, this was also before Daylight Savings Time and it was usually just me with them. By then my older brother was working, going out with his friends, and more than likely getting high. So my mom and dad had it a little easier than me. Yeah, take that nostalgia!

Kids had fun, that’s all that matters in the end. Maybe the wife and I will head back there someday. When something good is playing. Or for the triumphant return of the Wawa Drive-In. You know, to picket it or something.

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6 thoughts on “Down In Front: Sunday Night at the Drive-In

  1. Whoa! That’s all so American! I love the idea of drive-ins.

    I just can’t process the concept of a mucky-movie drive-in. It’s bizarre – oh look there’s my neighbour, the guy from the bank, Sam from work … mom and dad!!!! Noooooo!


  2. Hang on to your hat – I have only been to the drive-in once. There were a few drive-ins in my town, but I never went – always wanted to. That day didn’t arrive until 1998 when I went with my then boyfriend (the husband) and saw Major League: Back to the Minors and U.S. Marshals (double bill, yo). Dude, those movies were bad. ass. The drive-in was on the fringe of farmland and near a creek so the mosquitoes were terrible. We came prepared with a mosquito coil, which I dropped while it was burning on my lap and almost set fire to myself – let alone getting high off its toxic fumes. I never went back to a drive-in. The charm never really caught on with me.


    1. With a first time like that I can see why the charm of it all never caught on for you. Nothing worse than Mosquitos and setting yourself on fire. Not even Corbin Bernsen and Tommy Lee Jones can save that night.


  3. As a Warsaw resident and frequent movie-goer to the 3 theaters that you have named, I enjoyed your article. I do need to add that the Warsaw drive in didn’t close until at least 2000. I watched a double feature of “10 things I hate about you” and “American pie” there in 1999. And that was the last season of new run movies. They tried to do a classic movie weekends the next season without much luck, but that was also the year that North Pointe was up and running, and the market for the land the drive in sat on was too valuable to keep. Finally, might I suggest that you make the trip to the 13-24 drive in near Wabash. The trade off is that they don’t have quite the amenities versus Tri-way, but it will be a lot easier on your wallet. Thursday nights are retro-reel nights where a carload is only $5 to get in the gate, and concessions are a little more reasonable as well.


    1. Hey Keith. I did a little research and it seems Warsaw Drive-In closed in 1999 and was torn down in 2000. So you are most definitely correct on the time frame there. As far as the 13-24 Drive In, I’ve been by there many times but have never stopped in to check out a movie. Sounds like that might be right up my alley. Maybe we’ll give it a go.

      Thanks for stopping by!


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