Oh, those summer nights at the drive-in!

 

It's the kind of summer night when a warm breeze rubs up against you like your date in that strapless dress on prom night so long ago. Not only that, but our kids are restless and we need something to do. It's the perfect night, in other words, to see a movie at the drive-in.

It's a half-hour drive for us to the pink neon sign of the Tru-Vu down in Delta, in western Colorado. But we consider ourselves lucky. For most people, especially in places where land is more valuable as a place for condominiums than as an empty lot with a big screen sticking up from it, a drive-in is not within reach.

By the time we squeeze our foreign hatchback between two circa-1980s American cars, darkness is almost complete. But the bright sign of the auto parts store across the street casts enough light for me to see the guy in the little Chrysler next to us glare -- or it could be leer -- at my wife as she sets up a lawn chair. On the other side, a bunch of kids, at least six of them under the age of nine, swarm around a lone woman like bees. She kindly offers advice on how to keep our hatchback from blocking the view of the testosterone-addled teenagers in pickup trucks behind us. With her easy smile and long blonde hair, I can easily imagine her as a drive-in princess not so long ago, sauntering like royalty among the line of pickup trucks. But now, she mostly looks tired.

I have a confession: During my adolescence in Durango, Colo., I never once went to the drive-in. It's not that I didn't have the chance; the Rocket sat right on the edge of town, showing two movies a night all summer long. But my crowd did other things with our nights, things that seemed more high-minded at the time, like blowing things up. Besides, my car was a baby-blue Fiat, the horn honked every time I turned left, and smoke seeped from the dash after just 15 minutes of driving. Not exactly a chick magnet.

It wasn't until I was in college, during summer visits home, that I discovered the joys of the Rocket. I remember one night in particular when a couple of us squeezed into the cupboards in the back of Ed's camper van so as to skip out on the $2.50 admission. We set up our lawn chairs and figured out how to surreptitiously sip the Windex-tinted vodka concoction someone had mixed up. We felt out of place, but also detached in a way that allowed us to sit back and observe.

There was the dust, of course, dancing in the early evening light with the heavy smell of popcorn and grease from the best burgers in town frying back in the concession booth. Exhaust and hormones lingered in the breeze. A couple of guys with buzz cuts and baseball caps in a pickup truck jacked three feet off the ground eyed us suspiciously. Two girls walked up to the truck, one in tight jeans and a loose T-shirt with honey blonde hair gathered up on her head, the other in a short skirt. She stood on tiptoe for a moment to flirt with the buzz-cut boys, and revealed thighs tanned from a day down at Navajo Lake. The boy responded by gunning the engine so loud our chests shook.

It was a scene played out over and over, on the edges of rural towns all over the West, as much a part of summer as freshly cut grass, sno-cones and warm nights. But not so much anymore.

Not in Durango, at least. Condos will replace the screen and field of speakers. The developers promise to build responsibly and somehow evoke the Rocket's old neon sign. That's all fine and good, but what about the dust and the smell of grease? What about the boys in their big trucks and the girls on their tiptoes and the sense that if you could just hang onto this one night, summer would last forever?

Back here in Delta, we reluctantly decide to leave after the first feature. One of our daughters is crying, and the guy next to us is definitely ogling my wife, and all the kids on the other side seem on the verge of insulin shock from all the candy they ate during the second movie. But as we pull out into the night, I vow to return as many times as possible. Who knows how long this drive-in will hold out against the modern world?

Jonathan Thompson is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado (hcn.org). He is the paper's associate editor.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

High Country News Classifieds
  • WATER POLICY ANALYST WITH WRA (BOULDER)
    Position Summary: Western Resource Advocates seeks a passionate Water Policy Analyst with knowledge of western water issues to join our Healthy Rivers Team to strengthen...
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST
    9+ acre inholding. Passive solar strawbale off the grid and next to the Continental Divide Trail in ponderosa pine/doug fir forest at 7400.
  • HIRING BEARS EARS EDUCATION CENTER DIRECTOR
    Conservation nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa in Bluff, Utah is hiring an Education Center Director to oversee the operation of the Bears Ears Education Center....
  • PROGRAM MANAGER, SUSTAINING FLOWS
    Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • PROGRAM ASSOCIATE - VERDE RIVER EXCHANGE
    Verde River Exchange - Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • CODE COMPLIANCE OFFICER
    Teton County Planning & Building is hiring! Our ideal candidate is a team-player, a problem-solver, pays attention to detail, and can clearly communicate technical material...
  • ARCHITECTURE DRAFTSPERSON/PROJECT MANAGER
    Studio Architects is seeking a full time Architectural drafts-person/project manager with1-3 years of experience to join our firm. At Studio Architects our mission is to...
  • ASSISTANT MANAGER/TRAINEE, COLORADO RANCH
    needed for 16,000+ acre conservation property in south central Colorado. Qualified candidate would have experience working on a ranch or wilderness property, general forestry/fire management...
  • FARM HAND &/OR NANNY IN ESCALANTE
    Nanny for 18-mnth-old. Yearly salary, vacation, health insurance. Spanish/other foreign-language native spkr prefrrd.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Washington Association of Land Trusts seeks an ED to build on WALTs significant success & to lead the association to new levels of achievement. See...
  • BEAUTIFUL CUSTOM STRAWBALE HOME IN WESTERN COLORADO!
    Secluded, energy efficient Southwestern home on 40 wooded acres. Broker - Rand Porter - United Country Real Colorado Properties. 970-261-1248, $425K
  • FORMER RETREAT CENTER/CONSERVATION PROPERTY FOR SALE
    57 acres in Skull Valley, AZ, 17 miles from Prescott, year-round creek, swimming holes, secluded canyon, hiking/meditation trails, oaks, pines, garden, greenhouse. House, office building,...
  • ARIZONA PUBLIC LANDS ORGANIZER
    Title: Public Lands Organizer About the Arizona Wildlife Federation (AWF) The AWF is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating, inspiring, and assisting individuals and organizations...
  • HISTORIC RANCH HOME W/ 20 ACRES
    Historic 1893 Ranch Headquarters. 4 Bdrm, 3.5 Ba, 4000 ft2. Remodeled 2002. Includes 2 studio apts, stables, arena, workshop, 5 RV hookups. Chirachua & Peloncillo...
  • VICE PRESIDENT OF RETAIL OPERATIONS
    The Vice President of Retail Operations will provide overall leadership and accountability for purchasing, product development, merchandising planning, visual merchandising, retail operational excellence, oversight and...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners seeks an experienced fundraiser with excellent communication and organizational skills.
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    position in Phoenix with the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy.
  • ROADS END CABIN NEAR YELLOWSTONE
    Vaulted ceilings, two fireplaces, two bedrooms, loft, jetted tub, wifi. Forest, mountain views. Wildlife. [email protected]
  • ACCOUNTING CLERK
    Our director is seeking to employ the services of an Accounting Clerk to assist with various accounting and administrative tasks. This is a great opportunity...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, COMMUNITY RADIO PROJECT
    Community Radio Project, Cortez, CO (KSJD & the Sunflower Theatre). Visit ksjd.org and click on the Executive Director search link. CRP is an EOE.