Raleigh Road Outdoor Theatre, Henderson, NC - "Drive-in Movies" Review
Do you remember the old days when you'd take your sweetheart to the drive-in theater for a few hours of hugging and kissing? Or perhaps your memory of the drive-in is more likely to contain scenes of your children swinging on the swing set under the big screen.
Maybe your history contains a bit of both.
Anyway, today the drive-in theater has pretty much gone the way of the
Well, if you live in the Triangle region of
Welcome back to the Drive-in!
As soon as we drove up to the entrance we were thrown back to the days of hot, sticky summer nights when we saw that marquee on street level inviting us in to see no less than two movies for a price that's about what some pay for a single ticket at the megaplexes at your local shopping mall.
In the drive-in theater's heyday, you would pull up to the dual speaker pole and hook one of those heavy, grey, crackly, monophonic speakers onto one of your windows. Not any more. The
They had signs for separate parking for cars versus taller vehicles such as SUVs and trucks. This helps to prevent today's popular taller vehicles from blocking the view of ordinary sedans and coupes; a point I found myself needing to emphasize to a family in an SUV who pulled into Row #1 in front of us, and who later left after our brief dialog. Of course you also had your usual cars pulling in backwards with lawn chairs set up to face the screen.
No drive-in theater would be complete without a playground underneath that great big screen and the
The only thing I missed was that "twirl table," for lack of a better description, I remember from my youth. But other than that, this play area was amazingly reminiscent of the days of going to the drive-in, both as a kid and as a young adult.
One thing this theater had that I do not remember from other drive-ins is a bazaar. After parking our vehicle we got out and walked towards the concession stand. Before we got there, two boys approached us selling punchballs, soccer balls and wristbands in support of cancer research. They also had tables with a bunch of people selling raffle tickets, shirts, and other items in further support of that worthy cause.
The Concession Stand - Visit One
Our first visit to the concession stand really emphasized that we were going to have a memory of a lifetime of the
Before the movie started
While we waited for the latest Indy flick to begin, I decided to take up the theater's website invitation to tour the projection room. There one of the staff members courteously showed me the "works" of the movie presentation system. When I saw the size of the horizontal platters on which the movie reels resided, (about three feet in diameter,) and the yards of film stretching across to and from the projector, I mused about how everything seemed so quaint, specially in these days of full featured films on a single compact disc. I can't imagine running this equipment in such a noisy, hot, and cramped environment.
Outside the projection room some kids had set up lawn chairs to watch the features. Only now, in an updated version of days remembered, this generation of youth listens to the movie through earbuds connected to portable FM radios tuned to the theater's movie station.
A staff member talked to us through a wireless mike to give announcements, such as the one to let us know this Saturday show, (over the Memorial Day weekend,) was the first sellout crowd in the three years they have been managing this theater. All 250 or so vehicle spots were taken.
The Concession Stand - Visit Two
While Kathy continued to enjoy the movie, I found myself making the requisite second visit to the concession stand for our mid-movie snack. It was at this time I noticed there was a second, mobile concession stand present. (Was that there all along, or did they wheel it in to handle the crowds!) Speaking of crowds, there was quite a line at both concession stands, and at both bathrooms.
Once inside the stand, which was still bustling as before, there were barefooted kids waiting to purchase their goodies. Where else but at an old-time drive-in can you let your twelve year old kid safely stand outside at at night unattended with no shoes on? I got a drink and some Raisinets for Kathy and for myself an ice cream cone. (For me, no drive-in theater experience would be complete without a Nutty Buddy.) When I departed the stand, I heard a roar of laughter simultaneously emerging from the open windows of dozens of nearby cars over one of Indiana's antics, which brought back another wave of distant memories I thought had long past.
After the first feature ended, the theater showed intermission clips from the old days of drive-in. Think of the vintage scene in Grease of a gyrating hotdog in the background while Danny bemoaned in song his loss of
Intermission is also the time when the whole atmosphere changes at the drive-in. After two hours or so of sitting in your car pretty much undisturbed, now you have splashing across the screen headlights, shadows of walkers in front of the projector, and the perennial no-no laser pen, along with dozens of people walking past your car to get to the stands.
One other event the
The next feature - almost
Kathy and I intended to leave without watching the second feature, but out of curiosity we stayed just to experience the transition. However, that transition got off to a few false starts, as there were some glitches in getting the next film up and running. As I generally enjoy "behind the scenes" moments when I can find them, I sauntered over to the projector room, expecting the door to be closed while they fixed the film. The door was open, and as this theater seems to have an "open door" policy with regards to their projection room, I imagined I'd hang outside and watch, at least till they chased me away. (They never did.) What started off with one guy madly working to refeed the footage turned into five guys, including the manager, all desperately trying to get the machine to cooperate. In the meantime, 16 year old birthday boy and his pals fretted over whether the second feature would be shown. After some reassurance from management, they resumed their 16 year old playful antics.
When it became evident that this was turning into a fiasco, I left to return to the car to prepare for our departure. As I walked to my car, I was reminded of yet another memory from our old days at the theater - cars honking their horns in dismay when there was no picture on the screen. However, I was most amused when I saw two kids sitting in chairs near the projector room. Wanting to be a part of the festivities, they shouted "Beep Beep," while the projection team worked fervently into the night. They giggled when they realized I had heard them.
Kathy and my experiences at Raleigh Road Outdoor Theater really made our Memorial Day Weekend something to remember. The drive-in is located at
Visit their website at raleighroaddrivein.com to learn more. And be sure to call their Movieline at
If you want to experience once again the charm and pageantry of the drive-in theater, (or want to introduce the thrill to family members unfamiliar with the drive-in,) come to wonderful