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A Day Away: Those Drive-In Theaters

By Mike Steely

I don’t know about you, but when I was a teen and had the use of the family car I often went to a drive-in theater, either with a bunch of other teens or with a date. Taking a date was my preference but it was seldom that a date would opt for a drive-in on the first date, for obvious reasons.

Most of the open-air theaters are long gone now. The twin screen on Clinton Highway is now the Walmart shopping complex. The River Breeze on Asheville Highway turned into a flea market and is now empty and for sale.

Back in the day, after you cruised the A&W or other places, you ended up at the drive-in. If you were with a bunch of other teens a couple of them probably hid in the trunk so they didn’t have to pay. It wasn’t unusual at all to see a car arrive, park, and the driver walk behind and let kids out of the trunk.

If you drove a pickup truck you might have backed into the parking space and watched the movies from the bed of the truck. Yes, I said “movies” because there was almost always a double feature and sometimes there were three or four movies, so you could actually stay until the fog filled the road and get home after 3 a.m.

Remember “Wake Up Little Suzie” by the Everly Brothers? Not so far from the truth because many of us have fallen asleep at a drive-in. Often, when the film broke, the sounds of car horns would wake you up and the horns continued until someone fixed the film.

Nostalgic movies like “Grease” portray the more humorous side of drive-in theaters back in the 50s and 60s and make some of us remember those days fondly. Yes, it was pretty much like that except when you went with your parents.

The movies were mostly “B” movies featuring aliens, vampires, beach teens, etc. But it was an inexpensive night out.

I believe the Parkway Drive-In of Maryville and the Midtown Drive-In near Harriman are still operating and, if so, should be opening soon for the season. I know there’s a flea market at the Parkway on weekends during the day.

I remember going once to the Twin-Aire on Clinton Highway with my family and now and then I think of that old “passion pit” when I’m out that way.

Drive-In movies were part of the culture back then, in a time of hot-rods, pegged pants, ducktail hair, poodle skirts, and bobby socks. I’m not sure where teens go today to socialize other than school or school functions. My grandson is 17 now and is either at school or on his computer.

Back then when we were social and we were meeting people at places. Today if you’re a teen and socializing it’s probably online. Things change.

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