Just Another Night at the Drive-In


William Cavanaugh, Contributing Writer

Bill Cavanaugh, William Cavanaugh

Back in the early 70’s, the Drive-In was the mecca for summertime entertainment. Where else could one find the  comfort of imitation-leather car seats, privacy with your sweetheart, a tinny metal speaker, and the aroma of deep-fried onion rings hanging in the air. The Drive-In was inhabited with date-night couples, family night-out, young alcoholics in training, and the not yet licensed kids just looking to “hang out.” It was a carnival community, with the combined purpose this one night, to see a Disney classic film offering with Fred MacMurray.

Jimmy Allen backed into a rear right side parking spot, with his girlfriend Cindy. The ground immediately behind his VW van was a 50 ft., almost vertical embankment. Jimmy liked the privacy this spot provided.

At the same time, 10th graders Greg Montgomery and Stan Stevens, were climbing the steep hillside from the back end of the drive-in, somewhat hidden as it was dusk.  They were hauling an old car tire up the hill. At the hilltop, they caught their breath and admired the view below. Jimmy Allen returned to the van on Cindy’s side, and opened her door. He had a carry-out tray holding popcorn, hot dogs, onion rings, French fries, and two Cokes.

The Drive-In was still lit up bright, and the minute countdown was playing on the big screen. The echo from the couple hundred metal speaker’s low roar continued to advertise concession foods. Four minutes until showtime. Moms started to yell to their kids to come from the playground and get in the car.

Jimmy fired up his second joint of the night, and after a long drag, handed it over to Cindy. Three minutes to showtime. Friday night had finally arrived. Allen was  pumped to watch the “Absent-Minded Professor,” stoned.

Greg and Stan stood high on the hilltop overlooking the drive-in. The echoing sound from the valley below mirrored the movie screen image. “One minute….one minute to go.”

Stan reconfirmed. “Five minutes into the movie, you got it?” Greg nodded in the darkness.

With the roar of a lion, the lights dropped, and the movie began. The younger car-less teenagers socializing near the concession stand, had moved to a parking space,  claimed it, and sat on the ground to watch the film. In the opening scene, Professor Ned Barnard was in a high school laboratory. He was mixing chemicals in a beaker, and adding other liquids to it. He moved slowly and with great care. The danger of his work was apparent.

Stan said to Greg, “Ready? One, two, theerreeeee.” As the tire rolled straight down the steep hill, it picked up speed.

“Run!” said Stan, however Greg was already out of sight.

Professor Barnard carefully mixed the last liquid into a beaker, and there was a large explosion. White light overpowered the black and white film image on screen. Jimmy and Cindy, ensconced in stoner heaven, were shoveling down their food. At the exact moment of the on-screen laboratory explosion, Allen’s car violently shook with a loud rear impact. After both being bounced, Jimmy and Cindy slowly turned their heads and looked at each other.

Jimmy finally spoke. “Whoa…Did you feel that?” Cindy nodded in affirmation. “That was so freaky. Is this one of them “sensor-round” movies?” Cindy just stared, and then ate an onion ring she saw on the floor mat.

Jimmy found the vehicle damage the next day in the in the Montgomery Wards parking lot. He told the police officer that a “hit and run” driver must have done it while he was inside the store.