With winter around the corner, the drive in movie theater my wife wife works the concessions for, The Foggy Window, will be shutting down soon for the season. It made me a little nostalgic with regard to my first experience at a drive in theater.
In 1977, I was four years of age when Star Wars hit the big screen. Apparently, I was too small for the big screen, so I was left at home while my older brothers and sisters went to the movie during the holiday season. I vaguely remember being upset, but my mother made up for it by donating an extra gallon of egg nog to its most worthy organ……my stomach. Three years later, some of my older siblings returned from working in Alaska for an annual visit. That was always terrific because they had a load of spending money, and they would be very generous to the youngest siblings still living at home. Maggie, 8 years my elder, Greg, 6 years ahead of me and Tom only four above. Two of my sisters returning from Alaska, and I don’t remember which two, would show us some high old times in the city of brotherly tolerance, Spokane, Washington. There was pizza, Chinese food, skating at the downtown Pavilion, and of course carnivals. My older sisters were always pleased to pay for everything even though our old man would kick in a few bucks each to pay for some of the festivities. He wanted them to save their hard earned money, and they wanted to blow it. Maggie, Greg, Tom and I didn’t give a rat’s constitution. They were the limo drivers and we were riding first class.
One of my sisters, it could have been Anne, Theresa, or Dorothy, read in the Spokesman Review an advertisement for a drive in movie viewing of Star Wars being shown that night. She thought it may be fun if we went, even though everyone had already seen it but me. They all wanted to see it for a second time, and were thrilled to know I’d never seen it. I was elated. I can go? I’m only seven. My sisters said, “It’s PG, who gives a crap. You’re going, Ben.” Hell, the movie could have been X rated for all they cared. Even if the movie was titled, Ben Does Baltimore, they wouldn’t have given a crap. They weren’t going to watch the movie anyway. The drive in movie theater is a terrific place to baby sit and drink beer. So, we loaded up the station wagon (limo) with people, beer and a few sodas from our own refrigerator, and headed to the local theater.
I’d heard tall tales about drive ins such as people hiding in the trunks of cars getting in for free. I wasn’t in for that. It seemed like we would be crossing a border, and that was terrifying to me thinking I may never see my mother and father again. Plus, it was a sin. However, it would have given me ammunition for confession since I wasn’t much of a sinner in those days. I still wanted to play for the Team of Jesus, rather than the Satan Slaves I’d heard so much about in church. We went straight. No laws had been broken, yet.
Greg, Tom and I hit the concessions like it was an Ali/Frazier rumble. Popcorn, (extra butter flavoring) licorice, gum, soda, (we had already pounded the ones from home on the way to the movie) milk duds, M & Ms and anything else to keep us awake. We were ready to head to a different galaxy loaded with Jedi Knights, some guy in a bigfoot costume making weird noises, a band of goofy aliens playing disco music, and a dude named Vader. I’d just hoped it was better than Star Trek, the movie, because that sucked.
Before the speakers were set up properly, all you could hear was laughter the medieval hand full crunches of popcorn and the opening of beer cans. I didn’t know if that was legal or not, but I didn’t care. Let the drivers get loaded. I wasn’t doing anything wrong.
With the speakers set up, I noticed the sound was similar to the crunching of popcorn. You could basically hear every third or fourth word of what was being spoken on the screen. With the lot packed we had no choice but to listen, or not listen to the movie that way. Looking back with the sounds of my beer drinking sisters’ laughter mixed in with the sheer volume of their normal conversation voices which couldn’t even be measured in decibels, would have drowned out whatever was being said through the speaker. No chance in even a civilized Hell could I dream of shushing my sisters. They seemed to be having fun and our bellies were more than satisfied. That’s when I decided to utilize a talent I had developed during dinner time at the short table during the holidays. I could read lips.
Always disappointed not being able to sit at the tall table with the adults, I was the oldest and angriest at the short table with my booger eating nephews and nieces. What a crock. Trying to ignore the youth at our table, I could always hear belly laughter at the big boy and girl table with several of my brothers telling stories which were apparently hilarious. After grace was delivered, there was no pious nature at that table, and I wanted desperately to hear what they were saying. I love to laugh more than I love a terrific stuffing laced with mounds of sensational gravy. So, I would figure out who was providing the laughter and watch his or her lips to decipher what they were saying. My nephews and nieces must have thought I was crazy, because I would join in on the laughter. “What the hell is he laughing at?” they would utter during my fits of heavy chuckling. It became a gift I would use at the drive in that night.
Unfortunately, I was not able to catch every word, but I could follow the plot, which was dandy for me. However, my gift would soon turn to the dark side. Darth Vader, a pretty significant character in the movie, wore a mask. How the hell do I read lips when someone doesn’t even have lips? I could only hear muffled breathing through the chunks of speaker remaining after Greg became impatient and gave it a few whacks with an old shalalie he found in the back of the station wagon commonly used as a threat when we’d get unruly in the car.
When the movie ended, I asked a few questions about what I may have missed, but I knew I’d eventually see it again, with sound. Just being with my siblings, both young and old made me happy. Camping in a sugar, butter, and booze smelling tavern on wheels was enough for me. I think Greg drove us home. He was only 13, but he was sober, and even drove us off road in a local field pretending he was captain of the Millennium Falcon dodging asteroids while my sisters screamed with laughter, begging him to go faster and faster. Without seatbelts, we were flying around the station wagon like stove top Jiffy Popcorn. It was fantastic.
We made it home safely, and tried to clean the car as best as we could. My sisters made sure the 24 cans of beer consumed remained at the theater grounds. Dad wouldn’t have enjoyed seeing them the next morning in the trash. It was a hell of a night for the Gannons. No arguing, no bullying, no fighting, no atomic wedgies, no religion, no politics, and no sound other than laughter. I’ll take that any day or night.
When I told my wife this story, it convinced her to apply for the tech support job opening at Foggy Window Drive In next Spring. She’s pretty good with that sort of stuff. I wonder if Amazon.com needs people like her. I hear they pay pretty well. We sure could use the extra scratch.