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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sometimes the drive-in had unintended consequences: swearing and marriage

Cars gather to watch a movie at a drive-in theater. (Don Jamison / Cowles Publishing)
Cars gather to watch a movie at a drive-in theater. (Don Jamison / Cowles Publishing)

Dreams don’t always come true.

But hope lives on. That’s why I cobbled together this Frequently Asked Questions summary on the nostalgic topic of drive-in movie theaters. Though perhaps it really ought to be labeled Seldom Asked Questions.

You see, some of us of a certain baby boomerish age entertain a fantasy every year as summer approaches. We imagine being tentatively approached by a shy, blinking youth who wants to know all about drive-ins. What was myth and legend? What was reality?

“Oh, gray-haired sage of the easy chair, please tell me. What were drive-ins like back in your day? I want to know. Were they magical places of miracle and wonder?”

“Step forward, my child. Ask me your questions.”

Q: When a family was packing everyone into the station wagon, why did some young children wear pajamas to the drive-in?

A: Those kids would invariably fall asleep before the second half of the double-feature. Having them already in their jammies made it easier for parents to put them to bed when the family got home.

Q: Why would the car windows sometimes fog up?

A: Ann Landers referred to this as heavy petting.

Q: People would bring their dogs and cats to the outdoor movies?

A: Uh, yeah. Right. That’s just what I mean.

Q: Did moviegoers sometimes forget to remove the speaker attached to a steel-sheathed cable before driving off?

A: Yes. That’s how some children learned to swear, by listening to their fathers comment on the newly mangled car door.

Q: How were those sitting in the car’s back seat able to see the movie?

A: It was a simple matter of changing positions and craning your neck 4,361 times in the course of one movie.

Q: What else went on in the back seat at drive-ins?

A: A lot of concession-stand snacks got lost in the car’s upholstery.

Q: What does it mean when my grandfather says he had to get married because of something that happened at a drive-in?

A: He must have seen a picture portraying a devoted family man.

Q: Why did drive-ins all but disappear?

A: Several factors – real estate values, entertainment alternatives, urban sprawl. Though some say it was a giant meteor that doomed 99 percent of them.

Q: What can you tell when a relative starts a Spokane drive-in story with “There I was?”

A: Before the story is over, someone is going to be outside the car wearing a minimum of clothes.

Q: What happened when you combined a new car with 6-year-olds drinking milkshakes at the drive-in?

A: You wound up with a car that wasn’t so new anymore.

Q: Do you remember when sometimes drive-ins charged by the carload and you would pack as many people in the vehicle as possible?

A: Remember? Heck, I can still feel Jane Griffith’s knee poking me in my ribs.

Readers’ write back

Lisa Meiners said her phone has shown signs of having a mind of its own on a number of occasions. This latest incident happened while she was riding her bike.

“It started taking a video, which happened to be when a big old Cadillac passed me, quite closely, as I was going up a hill. The driver laid on the horn even though I was well over on the shoulder and there wasn’t another car in sight. My phone must have known I might need a witness.”

Joe Kramarz noted that Bloomsday shirts are not the only reminders of home Spokane area residents cannot escape when traveling.

Joe and his wife had stepped off a train in central Romania. They were visiting the hometown of a historical figure said to have inspired the Count Dracula character.

“We were not greeted by a Bloomie shirt.”

But their cab driver, who spoke no English, was wearing a WSU sweatshirt.

In the matter of what you learned from your first paycheck-producing job as a teen, Dennis DeMattia recalled becoming acquainted with a little thing called withholding.

When he got his first paycheck, he thought his employer had calculated it wrong. “They had to ’splain it to me.”

Dana Freeborn’s first “real job” payday was in 1967, when she was making $1.65 an hour. “I learned that I needed to have a Social Security number.”

Contact the writer:

(509) 459-5470

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