As the first stars push through the evening sky, the projector fires up at the Skyway Drive-in Theater. From that moment, one would be hard-pressed to recall what year it is, a feeling starting with the Rocky & Bullwinkle-esque cartoon shorts about the mystical concession stand and the deadly power of “Pic” mosquito repellent candles. Even the hilarious and brilliant Peninsula Pulse short feels timeless and classic.
If opting to sit outside under the stars, the comfort of a surround-sound car stereo is traded for those old remote speakers that once clipped to the open car window, like the way food trays hung at old drive-in restaurants. The tinny speakers sound like they’re broadcasting from another time, lost but comfortable in the past. Self-proclaimed “serious movie-goers” might pass up the drive-in because a few words are lost into the night during quiet scenes of the double feature, but distractions at the drive-in are few and easily avoided. People are usually entranced and respectful, and the front of the “house” is where kids are designated to be kids (clearly marked by the playground).
The atmosphere of a drive-in is another animal from that of a climate-controlled theater. The heat, the wind, and the weather make each show a different encounter every night. Sometimes far-off lightning on the horizon transforms a forgettable movie into an experience more immersive than any 3-D feature. Rain might force a hasty retreat into the car. The Big Dipper and Cassiopeia hang over the screen. Moths look like fireflies as they cross in and out of the projector light.
Like life, not every word is caught, but the unchanging nostalgia permeates the field of the Skyway and makes a night at the movies like no other.