In my teen years, nightlife revolved around two places – and both of them were drive-ins. One was a restaurant and the other was a theater.
Russell’s BBQ had a dirt parking lot shaded by a huge oak tree and the best french fries I ever put in my mouth. There were stools at a counter inside the restaurant, but most people ate in their car. Once the sun went down on Friday and Saturday nights, however, it became a social mecca for kids – a place to see and be seen. If you didn’t have a date, you went to see who else was loose. If you did have a date, you had to convince him to at least drive through so you could show him off. There was the occasional altercation, but in such a small town the police were never far away and things were settled quickly.
The San Marco Drive-In theater was already a fixture in town, but when our only walk-in theater closed (just as I was entering high school) the San Marco quickly realized they had a captured audience and immediately reduced their movie rental budget. After all, who went to the drive-in to watch a movie? I cannot name a single movie I watched there. If there was a movie that we REALLY HAD TO SEE, we would drive to a theater in Jacksonville to watch it.
Traffic at Russell’s was constantly changing throughout the evening, but the San Marco was a destination. And, while you were likely to find a number of cars with windows fogged up, the majority of kids were there to socialize. It wasn’t unusual to find groups forming between cars and around the snack bar. In the days before youth centers and teen nightclubs, this and high school dances were our primary forms of entertainment.
At both drive-ins the car was an important accessory. It was the era of the muscle car and while I don’t remember the names of some of the boys I had crushes on back then, I do remember their cars. The Oldsmobile 442 was cute – and surprised that I could handle a 4-speed. Then there was the home town boy with a Plymouth Barracuda fastback I met at a drive-in theater in Rome, Georgia, of all places. The Mustang Boss 302 was tall, dark and adorable but he was still carrying a torch for another girl.
It’s not surprising that the man I married was also driving a muscle car when we first met – many years after those drive-in days. Some things just never change.