There is no drive-in movie theater in Colorado Springs. There hasn’t been since 1994.
Despite that, I found myself pulling my car into an abandoned lot in the middle of a Colorado Springs neighborhood, turning my radio to a local station and texting my dad, “Should I keep my engine running during this?”
As drive-in movies have played a small to nonexistent role in my life, I didn’t know the rules. I knew enough to buy a bag of gummy bears on my way there.
This is probably why Fort Collins’ Holiday Twin Drive-In has posted a “How to drive-in” note on its website. Not everyone has done this before.
After the lot filled up with cars, the screen resting on a former newspaper building lit up with the documentary “Meet the Patels."
Across town on the next night, hundreds of people watched “Indiana Jones” in the parking lot of a craft brewery. Both events were sold out.
It doesn’t matter that proper outdoor theaters no longer exist here, because, you know, most drive-in theaters faded into history over the years.
The recent drive-in craze, revved up by the coronavirus pandemic, has found its path.
In the months since COVID-19 halted everyday life, drive-in movies emerged as a saving grace of sorts. Concerts and sporting events and indoor movie theaters were shut down, but drive-in movies rolled firmly on.
Restaurants such as Good Company, event centers such as The Broadmoor World Arena and the UCHealth Park have hosted pop-up movies. Based on ticket sales, people were eager for something to do.
Established drive-in theaters around the state turned into venues for churches, weddings and graduation ceremonies that couldn’t go on safely as usual. Country stars Garth Brooks and Blake Shelton recorded concerts to be watched from cars around the country. Walmart, sniffing out an opportunity, announced a tour of drive-in movies in the parking lots of their stores. A floating cinema, like with boats, is coming to Denver, too.
It seems a particularly good time to be in the business of drive-ins. Josh Cisar, who runs the Holiday Twin Drive-In with his family, said he wishes he had four more theaters right now.
“We knew it would be like this when the lockdown started,” Cisar said. “We knew we were going to be a place for everyone to go this summer, one if not the only place for things like this to happen.”
Recently, the drive-in has hosted local musicians and has a concert featuring King and Country on the books. Cisar says he and his family members sometimes temporarily forget they’re living through a pandemic, as their business hasn’t been hit like others in Fort Collins.
“It’s interesting for us,” he said. “We live in this bubble of busy that no one else has right now.”
It’s easy to be reminded of the reality when they’re wearing face masks and cleaning their restrooms every 15 minutes.
Also, because of social distancing, the drive-in can only accommodate 350 cars rather than the usual 700.
But of those visitors, Cisar guesses 50% are coming to the Holiday Twin for the first time.
“People are overwhelmingly like, ‘Wow, we can do this right now,’” he said. “It’s one glimmer of good out of a lot of bad.”
And, yes, there’s a lot of bad during this pandemic. It’s the kind of bad that requires clinging to any light we find. Even the smallest and simplest glimmer can feel like a break from the darkness. Like making sourdough bread from scratch. Or going for a walk. Or spending hours FaceTiming family.
We used to turn to things such as this to fill an evening with nothing else to do. Now we have nothing else to do all the time.
That’s what this summer has been like for Lauren Ferarra, of Colorado Springs. She said it reminds her of her childhood summers, when she had to get creative to pass the time.
“It’s the summer of simpler things,” Ferarra said.
That’s part of what led her to a drive-in movie recently for the first time in 10 years. She brought a friend and popcorn and chocolate. They loved the movie and that they could talk as much as they wanted during the movie.
“It’s different than what we would usually do,” she said. “You get that experience of not sitting on the couch.”
Cisar, who is 26, says he’s part of the generation that watches Netflix and uses Snapchat. So he understands the allure of watching a movie on the couch.
“Sometimes I look around and I’m like, ‘Why do people come to the drive-in?’” he said. “It really is a getaway from all those things. It’s a place where time slows down. You get to relax.”
At the drive-in, people say they feel transported back in time. They say they forget about all their problems. They want to make a memory.
It’s possible that the current drive-in craze will fizzle out in future months. But some drive-in theaters will stick around, like they have over the past several decades.
And when we look back on memories of the summer of 2020, going to the drive-in will be a happy one.