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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Now Playing at the Drive-In: Nostalgia

By Doug Dorda

The sun sinks below the clouds, a myriad of pinks and purples adorn the horizon. The air is filled with the gentle murmur of nearby folk, and the soothing whir of idling engines. Anticipation runs high, as all eyes turn toward a screen seemingly hovering above the ground. Lights dim and an illuminating omnipresent glow stretches across the screen—a woman's voice can be heard from car stereos and ancient speakers mounted on cables. She says, “Welcome to the drive-in!”

Welcome to the Getty Theater
I will never forget my first experience at a drive-in movie theater. My brother and I lay in the back of my parents van with the doors swung wide open. My parents sat dutifully in lawn chairs to the sides of the vehicle. From our view, it seemed as though the entire landscape teemed with the magic of cinema and the remnants of a dying art. Imagine my dismay years later when I learned of that theater's closing; it was with heavy heart that I reminisced about the wonderful times I had enjoyed with my friends and family. “Lost to the isle of memory,” I told myself.

As each summer passed in kind, there lingered the memory of a magic I wouldn't be able to feel again. I longed for the ability to stock a cooler with beverages, snacks, and all other provisions that one could hope for whilst in the hearty companionship of friends and family. It seemed as though I was doomed to seeing films in theaters with pricey concessions, long ticket lines, and wailing children for the rest of my movie-going life.

Then, a week or so ago, a dear friend approached me about seeing a double-feature at a nearby theater. Wonderful, I thought, at least I can still see two films for the price of one (for those unfamiliar with a drive-in, most commonly you will see two films instead of one). “But,” I asked, “Where in town shows a double-feature these days?”

“At the drive in, dude!” he yelled as though I were a moron for not having made the connection.

With a grin on my face, I hugged my friend as hard as I've ever hugged anyone that has delivered me good news. A bit bewildered, I began to ask the inevitable questions of where the theater was, and how much a ticket cost. Though there is no drive-in within Grand Rapids' city limits, just a short drive to Muskegon there awaits the Getty Theater, a great mecca of nostalgia, beckoning to passersby with a vintage sign that simply invites you to become a child again, if only for one night.

My friends and I made the journey, cooler and chairs in tow. We stuck our claim (set up camp if you prefer) and tucked in for what was to prove a wonderful way to spend an evening. As I surveyed the crowds at each separate screen, I allowed my eyes to go out of focus. In the fading twilight it was easy to imagine every car as a Cadillac, and every patron as either a greaser or “soc." It was simply magnificent to have found that magic again.

However wonderful I may have felt, it was also easy to hear the chatter of some of the folks near us.

“It's a shame, honey,” said a woman near me. “This may be the last year for the drive-in, so let's try to enjoy this!”

A little boy and his mother were headed to the children's movie a few screens over. I allowed a frown to unfold on my face for just a moment before I realized that I was that child at one time. My mother had said those words to me the very first time I had gone to the drive-in near my home town. I was graced with seven additional years enjoyment from that theater, and those memories alone had gotten me to go and find a new one with friends. Perhaps we can help save this passtime after all, I thought. Are not homebrewers, purveyors of craft, and DIY-ers steeped within the culture of the way things used to be? Are we not the type of people who diligently seek tradition, and long for things to be, in one way or another, as they once were. Do drive in theaters fit the bill of something we should strive to keep alive? It is the opinion of this writer, that they are. Sure, it may be out of the way, and it may seem a little ridiculous a thing to fret over. Yet I put it to you, when was the last time you witnessed the stars and a near full moon over a movie theater screen? For me, it was two short weeks ago.

The Getty theater is located just a short distance from 96 in Muskegon. For tickets and showtimes go here.

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