Opinion

The warm nostalgia of the drive-in theater is exactly what we need this summer

There are memories to be made during what I consider a dark time in our history.

When I was growing up, my family would cram into our Dodge Caravan and travel six hours to my grandmother’s house in Lubbock every summer. We popped fireworks for Independence Day, roasted turkey legs on the grill and piled into the minivan after the sun went down to head to our local drive-in theater.

I became convinced I was in a movie of my own when I would see the dirt parking lot, expansive white screen and rusted swing set that looked like they were plucked straight from the classic scene in Grease. I had seen the iconic musical and other timeless films like The Outsiders. I was familiar with the drive-in and what it meant to America.

The drive-in theater represents a moment in time — a moment when Americans could sit back under the Texas stars, grab their popcorn or snacks they snuck in from the gas station down the street, and enjoy a double feature on a warm summer night.

We need this now more than ever, and luckily, the drive-in theater is experiencing a revival, due in part to the coronavirus pandemic. Though local attractions such as Coyote Drive-In in Fort Worth have been around for years, other venues are now beginning to invest in the newest vintage trend.

People watch the previews before the show while they visit the Coyote Drive-In in Fort Worth, TX on May 3, 2013. Background is downtown Fort Worth skyline. (Kye R. Lee/The Dallas Morning News) 05102013xBRIEFING 08152014xBRIEFING 01142015xARTSLIFE
People watch the previews before the show while they visit the Coyote Drive-In in Fort Worth, TX on May 3, 2013. Background is downtown Fort Worth skyline. (Kye R. Lee/The Dallas Morning News) 05102013xBRIEFING 08152014xBRIEFING 01142015xARTSLIFE(Kye R. Lee / Staff Photographer)

Drive-in theaters began to lose their appeal with the rise of the shopping mall and the appeal of air conditioning and high-quality sound at indoor theaters. Though drive-ins faded from North Texas, the outdoor theaters in rural areas across the state remained hidden treasures for city folk looking for an escape.

Now Frisco, Irving, Arlington and other North Texas cities are cashing in on the socially distant activity. Even AT&T Stadium and Walmart are setting up outdoor showings.

With few major film releases planned, familiar titles like Jurassic Park and the Harry Potter series are making their return to the big outdoor screen, along with recent crowd-pleasers like My Spy, which was released this year.

In a time when the U.S. faces historic challenges, it is reassuring to see that there are still opportunities for Americans to gather with their immediate families or housemates and enjoy a nice evening, safe and sound from a national crisis.

I’ve yet to eat at a local restaurant or attend a happy hour at my favorite bar on Cedar Springs. We are still in the midst of a global pandemic and to gather with the ones we love comes at a risk. The best thing we can do is stay home.

Yet we humans need an out of some sort. Before the spread of COVID-19, movie theaters were a staple of nights out with friends and family, a time to set down your phone, ignore the harsh realities of the world and allow your mind to wander. But cushioned reclining chairs and dim recessed lighting are largely out of reach as many theaters remain closed and most people avoid crowds.

Sure, Netflix and other streaming services are proving to be fun alternatives to the traditional moviegoing experience. But a warm breeze and muffled audio through the FM radio is the kind of nostalgic American experience older and younger generations alike can enjoy together. A favorite film and star-saturated sky can be calming and intimate.

For my large multigenerational family, there was something unifying about experiencing these moments together. My brothers wouldn’t make it past the first feature of the double showing before falling asleep. My grandma, cousins, parents and I would stay up, finish the rest of the snacks and provide our own commentary.

There are memories to be made during what I consider a dark time in our history. Luckily, there’s a glimmer of light shining from a projector above. The movies are our getaway, our chance to laugh and cry and empathize with one another.

We have a collective responsibility to remain cautious and distant during this pandemic. By enjoying the comforting traditions of a time gone by, we could very well ensure for ourselves a richer future along the way.

Jacob Reyes is a writer in Arlington. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.

Jacob Reyes

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