Heavy Metal - Sammy Hagar (mp3)
Thrift Store Chair - Everclear (mp3)
When I played baseball in 7th grade, and we’d play some public school team from the boonies, their outfield area tended to look a lot like this. But I played in a simpler time before scouts and AAU coaches were scoping out prepubescent talent, before middle schools played on artificial turf, back when players wore "stirrups." Grounders were always tricky in this stuff, so crappy outfields gave us an acceptable out if we screwed up.
The five of us climbed into our family tank and headed 30 minutes down the road to Trenton, Georgia. We might as well have been Marshall, Will and Holly sitting in that old canoe, destined to fall into an entirely different time, a different era.
Our destination wasn’t a Sleestak cave, but rather the Wilderness Outdoor Theater, a wacky surreal "If you build it" Field of Dreams for movie enthusiasts.
According to a 2003 "Ask Yahoo!" page, there were fewer than 500 drive-ins remaining in the entire country. Several sites estimate a total number of regular movie theaters at 5,000.
True cinephiles would find the experience wholly unpalatable. Darker scenes can be difficult to make out on the screen. The sound comes via speakers in the back of the lot or a channel on your car's FM dial, which is to say in luxurious Dolby Digital 2.0. Most everyone has crammed their SUVs, minivans or trucks full of little urchins who have no respect for the quiet necessary to enjoy a good flick. People are constantly walking back and forth in front of you on their way to the concession stand or bathroom.
True cinephiles sometimes miss the wilderness for the trees.
The Wilderness Outdoor Theater is easily one of the most unique and sublime family activities within driving distance of Chattanooga. Tickets are slightly cheaper than usual, due either to the sacrifices in visual and audio quality or because drive-ins are so rare that they're granted some kind of discount.
For $7 per person, you can arrive as early as 7:30 p.m. for a movie that will not start until after dusk, which is after 9:30 for most of the summer. Up to two hours of family time removed from the home computer, from separate bedrooms, from 150+ channels of TV, from almost all of the general distractions of home circa 2012. Sure, you can still use your cell phone, and tablets or portable gaming systems linger, but where can anyone go anymore without those things tethered to our souls?
For an hour, my family played in a field. Great and unforgettable ear candy from my younger days blared out over us. Sammy Hagar and Billy Squier, Foreigner and Saga and even Rush! They even piped in an occasional country song. Never once did "Call Me Maybe" drift over us.
That hour, for me, was alone worth the price of admission. "It's worth $28 to stand in a field and play with your family when you can go down to any park and do that for free?" you ask. Hell yes it's worth it. Especially if you get to sit down with them after dark and watch the latest Pixar movie on the largest movie screen they'll likely ever see.
For the nite owls with teens instead of little'uns, you can stay and watch a second feature that usually starts around 11-11:30 p.m. at no extra cost. One day, if and when my teenage daughters are asked on dates, this might be the one exception I would make for dates ending before midnight. Although it might require that they know I'm parked somewhere in that lot and capable of knocking on their car window at any moment. Drive-ins are great for hitting doubles and relatively safe from triples and home runs. I mean, as safe as any place can be when teens are teens and swimming in a hormonal tempest.
Here's to patchy green fields and funnel cakes, to gravel parking lots and backed-up pick-up trucks, to picnic tables and trunks popped open, to sitting on your fender or snuggling on a lawn chair. Here's to simpler times.