People have been trying to write the obituary on drive-in movie theaters for decades.
The decidedly American bastions of family fun, high school hijinks, classic car culture and late-night double features have waned greatly in popularity over the past 50 years.
The number of theaters operating in the U.S., according to statistics kept at driveinmovie.com, has plummeted more than 90%, reportedly going from 4,100-plus during the drive-in theater’s late-1950s heyday to around 330 now.
Yet, something unexpected is happening in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic:
The drive-in theater is making a comeback across the U.S.
I’ve missed going to the movies. Heck, I’ve missed doing pretty much everything that requires walking outside the front door of my house. And now I finally have the chance to take in some entertainment that doesn’t involve me pointing a remote at the TV or staring at my phone.
Drive-ins are — by their very nature — uniquely suited for a proper moviegoing experience in this time of COVID-19. You want social distancing? That’s what you’ll get as you watch the movie from the safety and comfort of your own vehicle.
But that doesn’t mean all of Colorado’s drive-in theaters are open. Of the state’s nine drive-ins, the three closest to Colorado Springs are not yet rolling for the season.
The owners of Pueblo’s Mesa Drive In are still figuring out ways to operate safely, they said on Facebook. The Denver Mart Drive In also is working hard to open. The 88 Drive-In Theatre in Commerce City is prohibited from opening, according to orders from the Tri-County Health Department.
While Holiday Twin Drive-In in Fort Collins faced “an uphill battle” to show movies by May 1, it did so “because we want to serve our community,” according to a Facebook post.
And if you’re just missing movie theater popcorn, Holiday Twin Drive-In has answered that call. Patrons can skip the movie and grab jumbo bags of popcorn on Saturdays and Sundays.
The Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-In in Minturn, which is about three hours from Colorado Springs, has old-school showings of “Grease,” “The Goonies” and “Back to the Future” on the schedule.
Some might quibble about the selection of movies being shown at the drive-ins, given that most of these films have been out, in some form, for several weeks. But the limited choices — due to so many studios deciding not to release new movies during the pandemic — doesn’t bother me. I am happy to have choices at all.
On a recent visit, I soaked up the scene as much as I watched the movie. It was a warm night, with a beautiful full moon glowing in the sky, and the breeze coming through our open sunroof felt great.
The pizza from a local restaurant was delicious, the M&M’s were bountiful and my Crocs were as comfy as can be.
The whole experience felt new and familiar at the same time, as I tried to take everything in and nothing for granted. It was so good to be out again. It was almost like it couldn’t get any better.
And then it did just that, as my daughter rested her head on my shoulder and cuddled into my right arm.
I love the drive-ins.
The Gazette’s Amanda Hancock contributed to this story.