Drive-Ins: They Ought To Be There

Some things ought to “be there,” whether I use them or not.

Drive-in movie theaters fit that description.

I haven’t been to a drive-in in perhaps 30 years, maybe longer. But when I was a kid, in the same era that Bill Dickey and, later, Yogi Berra, provided the thrills for this nascent Yankee fan, trips to the drive-in were regular occurrences, first in our family car and, after Dad’s death in 1956 left us car-less for six years, in the cars of family or friends.

We watched movies.

We also poked each other, laughed, annoyed our parents and, later, sneaked around to different cars, ogled girls, hoped to be ogled by girls, ate enormous amounts of mostly junk food. Then, in college years, we even drank a few illicit beers in the anonymity of the flickering shadows and the long-gone clip-to-windshield scratchy speakers.

It might be fun to go again.

I haven’t ridden a horse very far in nearly 50 years, either, but I’m glad that horseback riding is available nearby. I might want to do that again. If there are no riding stables, with extremely gentle mounts suitable for septuagenarians, I might not get to do that.

Sure, I might not do that even though riding stables exist nearby. Each spring, I remind my wife that “We ought to do that this summer.” Each spring, she answers with “Sure.” But we haven’t. Not yet. Summer, however chilly, is still with us, so we might.

Ditto for drive-in theaters – if they are still with us.

The 35 or so remaining in Pennsylvania must come up with $100,000-plus, each, to switch from film projectors to digital projectors, because moviemakers will no longer supply motion pictures caught on film. Everything will be digital, we are told.

I love what the drive-in theaters are doing. Instead of beseeching Harrisburg or Washington for taxpayer money to aid their private businesses, they are asking customers to “vote” with a few dollars. One major automaker, Honda, is pledging to provide money for five drive-in theaters throughout the nation (and getting some understandable publicity for itself in the process) by having people “vote” via an Internet website,

In theory, I see no good reason why I should donate my money to a private business. Let ’em rise or fall with the tides of the economy, I say – in theory.

I found out at first hand – and to my sorrow – that “in theory” sometimes does not work out in practice.

Back in those 1940s and 1950s when I was growing up, the legal drinking age in Pennsylvania was 21. It was 18 in neighboring New York state, and I took liberal advantage of that.

During the Vietnam War, when we were drafting, and burying, 18-year-olds, we reduced the voting age to 18. Fine. But we also succumbed to the siren song, “If he’s old enough to die for his country, he’s old enough to be able to legally buy a beer.”

Sounded great.

Until more of my friends began to be killed, maimed or imprisoned for killing or maiming others.

We found out to our sorrow that while the reflexes of 18-year-olds are keen enough to make them outstanding combat soldiers, the sense of responsibility and restraint enabling them to limit themselves to “a” beer was underdeveloped.

We changed the drinking age back to 21, simply to keep more of those young soldier-age people alive and in one piece, and to reduce the danger for the rest of us.

Any logical proposition, I later discovered, is in danger of becoming ridiculous if carried to extremes.

So it goes with my love of capitalism and private enterprise: There are limits, and exceptions.

Capitalistic banks, e.g., Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, etc., became “too big to fail” monsters when we abandoned, in the Clinton era, the Glass-Steagal restraints that we had found to our sorrow were necessary in the rubble of the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Teddy Roosevelt was correct. Though capitalism is wonderful, left to itself, it produces “malefactors of great wealth.” We must limit the ability of the private sector to monopolize whole sectors of the economy. (Are you listening, Obama administration and Congress? Probably not; the campaign contributions go “ka-ching.”)

Similarly, when some unforeseen technical innovation imposes impossible financial burdens on revered, warm-spot-in-heart institutions like drive-in movie theaters limited by our weather to seasons that are just one-fourth of a year in length … well, I’m “voting” with Honda, and contributing a mite or two.

I might go see a movie at a drive-in theater and relive the enchantment of my youth. I might not.

But I want to have the choice.

Some things just ought to “be there.”

Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: