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Santee Drive-in

Don’t try to make out in the front or backseat of a ’78 Volvo, especially if you’re over 40.

Karol and John
Karol and John

“The drive-in still had light, but the light came from the projectors and the projectors didn’t seem to have any source of electricity. We were surrounded by a blackness so complete it was like being in a bag with a handful of penlights.” — from The Drive-In 2: (Not Just One of Them Sequels) by Joe R. Landsdale

How long do you figure we’ll be able to watch movies in a drive-in theater? Not long, is what I say. The Santee Drive-In off 67 at Woodside Avenue is looking like it’s seen better days. I don’t know, I’ve never been there before, but the place already has a kind of historical quality to it and you can smell the diesel of the bulldozers in the wings, riding on the summer-night air along with the smell of sage and popcorn.

I lost the coin toss at the gate and so we weren’t gonna see a good action picture with Tommy Lee Jones but some sorry kid’s movie called Gossip about, I guess, how you can start a rumor on purpose and ruin young lives by accident. I don’t know exactly because the radio was long since ripped out of my girlfriend’s car by vandals and you’re supposed to tune to a certain FM station for the movie’s sound. Otherwise you’re stuck with these little metal speaker boxes that always seemed to work okay when we were kids but that night sounded like we were listening to the goings on in the movie like we had our ears pressed against a wall with a water glass.

Let me tell you something right now: don’t try to make out in the front or backseat of a ’78 Volvo, especially if you’re over 40. It will just make you (as Joe Landsdale from Texas would say — and it wouldn’t be out of place right here in Santee) as “crazy as a cat in a dryer.” About as stiff, too, the next day. The way to go is like these kids out here do; get yourself a pickup truck, drive it in backwards, and stretch out on the bed with a couple of sleeping bags, a cooler of beer, and some pork rinds. No complaints there.

That’s another thing. I wasn’t having as good a time as I might have had, maybe, but I was looking forward to a Mountain Dew, a burger, and some M&Ms from the concession stand, and that didn’t seem like too much to ask, but oh no. You tell me what’s the point in going to a drive-in movie on a Friday night with no beer and Slim Jims, just rice cakes, dried apricots, and bottled water — because I don’t know.

I suppose I was responsible for the fight because I got some damned popcorn. Beth at the snack bar asked me if I wanted butter on it and I said sure. Turns out, I think it was butter flavoring, which is really some kind of petroleum product, and I got a headache, which did not put me in the mood for comments like “I hope you didn’t put salt on that. I think we’ve had enough problems in the blood pressure department, don’t you? Is that butter? Well, they’re your arteries…” And so on. I knew right then I wasn’t going to make it to the second feature, Ready to Rumble, which interested me more than this horseshit we were looking at.

After a while, I just kind of leaned back, closed my eyes, smelled the clean night air out here, and remembered how it was. Vincent Price movies were always the best, I thought, at least at the drive-in. The Abominable Doctor Phibes or Theater of Blood. Billy Jack was good, too, at the drive-in, and any movie with gladiators in it. I could smell the lipstick, perfume, beer, and cigarette smoke coming from the pickup trucks on either side and it was carrying me back to those sweaty fumblings with Barbara Ann Delveccio in 1967. Her brother would have pounded me if he caught us, but he never did, being dumb as a hubcap and hopped up on cough medicine half the time.

It occurred to me then that I’d never been to a drive-in sober before. Cheesy, I guess, but true. It wasn’t Pabst Blue Ribbon I missed so much, though, as the kind of giggling I heard coming from the back of that pickup behind us. Turns out their names are Karol and John. He’s 21 and she’s 18. They’ve only been going out a couple of weeks and it seems like Karol, even though she’s younger, is showing John the way of things, in a sweet way, maybe because she’s from Burbank and knows more. I ask them if they’ve been making out and they get all embarrassed, laughing and trying to crawl under the covers. “No,” says John.

In fact, I didn’t even see them making out, just cuddling. I can’t believe these two can vote and get driver’s licenses. Seem like babies to me.

It’s in between movies, but John’s radio is still cranked up and out comes “Positively Fourth Street,” which takes me back too and I think I’m misting up. I leave John and Karol to get back to it, but I’d like to thank them because my girlfriend and I made up and I think they had something to do with it…somehow.

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Karol and John
Karol and John

“The drive-in still had light, but the light came from the projectors and the projectors didn’t seem to have any source of electricity. We were surrounded by a blackness so complete it was like being in a bag with a handful of penlights.” — from The Drive-In 2: (Not Just One of Them Sequels) by Joe R. Landsdale

How long do you figure we’ll be able to watch movies in a drive-in theater? Not long, is what I say. The Santee Drive-In off 67 at Woodside Avenue is looking like it’s seen better days. I don’t know, I’ve never been there before, but the place already has a kind of historical quality to it and you can smell the diesel of the bulldozers in the wings, riding on the summer-night air along with the smell of sage and popcorn.

I lost the coin toss at the gate and so we weren’t gonna see a good action picture with Tommy Lee Jones but some sorry kid’s movie called Gossip about, I guess, how you can start a rumor on purpose and ruin young lives by accident. I don’t know exactly because the radio was long since ripped out of my girlfriend’s car by vandals and you’re supposed to tune to a certain FM station for the movie’s sound. Otherwise you’re stuck with these little metal speaker boxes that always seemed to work okay when we were kids but that night sounded like we were listening to the goings on in the movie like we had our ears pressed against a wall with a water glass.

Let me tell you something right now: don’t try to make out in the front or backseat of a ’78 Volvo, especially if you’re over 40. It will just make you (as Joe Landsdale from Texas would say — and it wouldn’t be out of place right here in Santee) as “crazy as a cat in a dryer.” About as stiff, too, the next day. The way to go is like these kids out here do; get yourself a pickup truck, drive it in backwards, and stretch out on the bed with a couple of sleeping bags, a cooler of beer, and some pork rinds. No complaints there.

That’s another thing. I wasn’t having as good a time as I might have had, maybe, but I was looking forward to a Mountain Dew, a burger, and some M&Ms from the concession stand, and that didn’t seem like too much to ask, but oh no. You tell me what’s the point in going to a drive-in movie on a Friday night with no beer and Slim Jims, just rice cakes, dried apricots, and bottled water — because I don’t know.

I suppose I was responsible for the fight because I got some damned popcorn. Beth at the snack bar asked me if I wanted butter on it and I said sure. Turns out, I think it was butter flavoring, which is really some kind of petroleum product, and I got a headache, which did not put me in the mood for comments like “I hope you didn’t put salt on that. I think we’ve had enough problems in the blood pressure department, don’t you? Is that butter? Well, they’re your arteries…” And so on. I knew right then I wasn’t going to make it to the second feature, Ready to Rumble, which interested me more than this horseshit we were looking at.

After a while, I just kind of leaned back, closed my eyes, smelled the clean night air out here, and remembered how it was. Vincent Price movies were always the best, I thought, at least at the drive-in. The Abominable Doctor Phibes or Theater of Blood. Billy Jack was good, too, at the drive-in, and any movie with gladiators in it. I could smell the lipstick, perfume, beer, and cigarette smoke coming from the pickup trucks on either side and it was carrying me back to those sweaty fumblings with Barbara Ann Delveccio in 1967. Her brother would have pounded me if he caught us, but he never did, being dumb as a hubcap and hopped up on cough medicine half the time.

It occurred to me then that I’d never been to a drive-in sober before. Cheesy, I guess, but true. It wasn’t Pabst Blue Ribbon I missed so much, though, as the kind of giggling I heard coming from the back of that pickup behind us. Turns out their names are Karol and John. He’s 21 and she’s 18. They’ve only been going out a couple of weeks and it seems like Karol, even though she’s younger, is showing John the way of things, in a sweet way, maybe because she’s from Burbank and knows more. I ask them if they’ve been making out and they get all embarrassed, laughing and trying to crawl under the covers. “No,” says John.

In fact, I didn’t even see them making out, just cuddling. I can’t believe these two can vote and get driver’s licenses. Seem like babies to me.

It’s in between movies, but John’s radio is still cranked up and out comes “Positively Fourth Street,” which takes me back too and I think I’m misting up. I leave John and Karol to get back to it, but I’d like to thank them because my girlfriend and I made up and I think they had something to do with it…somehow.

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