Theaters continue to offer family fun & nostalgia
By Liz Young
You can now, thanks to technology, watch a full-length movie on your phone.
But would you want to?
The answer for many seems to be no, with evidence pointing to packed drive-in movie theaters each weekend once the weather clears. We gather with cars and kids in pajamas and Frisbees in the grass and trips to the concession stand. We smile and nod at each other while our little ones play and then snuggle close to family as dusk rolls in and the screens come to bright life.
It’s an Experience. Yes, with a capital “E,” it’s an Experience that can’t be found on a phone. Breathe in the night air and look up at the stars from your blankets and lawn chairs positioned just past the bumpers. Tune into the show on your car radio and settle in. Stretch and put your arm around your husband, wife, child or date for the evening. Have the Experience together.
Phones don’t create togetherness. We know that. Maybe that’s why we crave Experiences like the drive-in.
“There’s really nothing quite like watching a movie under the stars,” says Jim Boyd, owner of the Van-Del Drive In, located on Lincoln Highway in Middle Point. “It’s a family experience — a communal experience.”
It’s very human, isn’t it, this craving for the communal? Humans have always congregated. Early humans assembled under the stars, telling stories together for warmth, safety, community. Fast forward a few millennia to the dawn of the drive-in. The earliest ones started cropping up in the 1930s and drive-ins really started to hit a cultural stride by the 1950s, with Van-Del being built in the late 1940s. Drive-ins are communal — under the stars, with stories, together.
“I remember going to the drive-in from when I was little,” says Leigh Taylor, of Lima. She grew up in the 1980s and the drive-in was a regular event for her family.
“We got to sit in the back of the station wagon, or sit on top of our van with blankets and pajamas,” she says. “Now I take my daughter, but I don’t let her sit on my roof.”
She likes getting out of the house and “away from the electronics,” adding that their phones are either off or at home while at the drive-in. The Taylors trek to Van-Del throughout the summer months. Her daughter Paige, now 14, saw her first drive-in movie strapped in a car seat and she still enjoys them.
“It’s good family time,” Taylor says.
Hi-Road Drive In, on state Route 68 in Kenton, also sees its share of families and multi-generational drive-in fans, says owner Rodney Miller. Hi-Road was built in 1950 and Miller has owned it for the past 17 years.
“Not only are there parents who came as kids now bringing their kids, we’ve got grandparents coming in with grandchildren,” Miller says. “I’ve seen cars where the parents are zonked out and the kids are still awake and watching the movie. It’s good for families with little kids. They can be a little noisy or fussy without really bothering anyone.”
Drive-ins, however, are not — nor were they ever — solely delegated to families. Sue Savinsky, of Lima, went to area drive-ins as a teenager in the 1970s. The drive-in was the place to be.
“It was the freedom as a teen, of being out at night. You were out past dark, but you were at the movies so you were ‘some place,’ which made it OK,” she says. “It was something you did with your friends.”
And from the 1970s to a little closer to present day, Rhodes State College student Eliza Laing, of Lafayette, also calls the drive-in “something to do” as a teen.
“I thought it was cool that we sat in the back of a truck with an air mattress and blankets,” Laing says. “It’s something different to do.”
Crystal Boroff lives in Ohio City and grew up going to Van Wert’s Ridgeway Drive-In as both a child and a teenager in the 1990s. Ridgeway, which was also owned by Boyd, was destroyed by a tornado in 2002.
“We would go at least twice a month,” she says. “I remember being able to swing during the movies, and I thought that was the greatest. I liked the big screens and being outside in the fresh air.”
Like Taylor and her daughter, Boroff now brings her kids to the drive-in. They’re regulars at Van-Del.
“The kids like it. They like sitting outside, and we’re all together,” she says. Her 8-year-old daughter, Cylee Boroff, is now the one enjoying the swings and being outside.
And that, says Boyd, is the future of the drive-in.
“The kids enjoy it, and then bring their own kids one day,” he says. “Parents want them to have the same experience as they did.”
No, wait. Make that Experience with a capital “E.”
There are quite a few drive-ins to choose from in the area. Most open about an hour before dark and operate throughout the summer months depending on weather. Call or look online for details on specific hours and days of operation for individual drive-ins.
Van-Del Drive-In: 19986 Lincoln Highway, Middle Point. 419-968-2178; van-del.com
Hi-Road Drive In: 8059 St. Route 68, Kenton. 419-675-0922; hiroaddrivein.com
South Drive-In Theatre: 3050 S. High St., Columbus. 614-491-6771; drive-inmovies.com
Starlight Drive-In: 1889 U.S. Route 127, Maria Stein. 419-925-4944
Sidney Auto Vue Drive-In: 1409 Fourth Ave., Sidney. 937-492-5909; sidneyautovue.com
Tiffin Field of Dreams Drive-In: 4041 North Route 53, Tiffin. 877-343-5334; fieldofdreamsdrivein.com
Dixie Twin Drive-In: 6201 North Dixie Dr., Vandalia. 937-890-5513; dixietwin.com
For more information on drive-ins across Ohio, visit driveinmovie.com/OH.