It’s pretty easy for me to see which category I’d fall into if I contracted this Covid-19.
First, I’m old. Second, I’ve undergone open heart surgery. Third, I’ve had a pacemaker/defibrillator implanted to keep my heart rhythm somewhat stable. Fourth, I’ve a heart valve replacement. Fifth … well, you get the idea.
I don’t dwell on the fact I’d have a pretty low survival rate if that Chinese-born virus should somehow enter my body. I don’t go overboard, but I do try to protect myself by sequestering my body from crowds of any size. For someone who’s always enjoyed the fresh air of spring, that’s not always easy.
My wife and I go on drives through rural Iowa once or twice a week, and I also find time to sit outside on our deck to soak up some springtime sunshine.
Lately, though, I’ve been thinking of popular places of my youth, places where you could take that “special” girl, snuggle quietly in the car, sip a cola and watch a movie without much thought of sneaky eyes watching your every move.
Well, admittedly, your female companion often drew more of your attention than did the movie.
I grew up in the era of muscle cars with big engines, no stated speed limits on Iowa roads (remember those years when Iowa’s speed was “reasonable and proper”?), boys with flat-top haircuts and girls with Poodle skirts … and, yes, drive-in theaters.
It was impossible to drive across Iowa’s two-lane highways in the 1950s and 1960s without passing one of those big signs noting a drive-in theater.
I wouldn’t suggest, of course, that every movie in every drive-in theater in Iowa showed films catering to young couples. On the contrary, many movies were geared to the whole family
Often, dads and moms would load up their two, three or four kids, take a big bag with homemade popcorn and head off to a drive-in theater. It was one of the least expensive ways to entertain the whole family by watching a family-oriented movie in the least expensive way.
Even with that, however, drive-in theaters were a fabulous spot to take that special girl or even go on a double date with either your best friend, or your girl’s best friend.
In those first two or three decades after World War II, drive-ins of all types were commonplace across the countryside. There were outdoor restaurants where you could pull in with the family, order burgers and fries over a two-way speaker device and have your meal delivered to your car on a tray that would be hooked to the driver’s side window. Often, girls on roller skates would deliver the meal.
Like drive-in theaters, drive-in restaurants are virtually a thing of the past. They’re not gone, but they’re much harder to find nowadays. One restaurant chain is still prevalent, however, but it’s not like it used to be.
I’m told this Covid-19 just might spur a re-birth of drive-in movie theaters in America, but it’ll never be the way it was. Property values have risen to the extent that outdoor movie venues would simply be not economically feasible.
I remember a drive-in theater located just west of Ames and another not far west of Boone. There were three drive-in movie theaters along 14th Street in Des Moines – Capitol on the northside, Pioneer in the middle, and Southeast 14th Street. Plantation Drive-In was a fourth Metro area drive-in, located in West Des Moines.
Yes, at least once and probably many times, I visited each of those five theaters.
There were many more, of course, in other parts of Iowa and in several neighboring states that I attended … Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska … and probably others, as well. More often than not, those theaters were a date destination.
Old-timers like me can still find a drive-in theater in Iowa, but it’ll never be the same as it was in the heyday of outdoor movies. You can still find those “tinny”-sounding speakers, though, and a visit to the concession stand will no doubt still get you some very salty popcorn that’ll probably make you desperately need a soft-drink to wash away the after-taste.
The half-decade since has certainly brought change to America. For someone who lived those days, simply driving around is enough to know that change has come.
You no longer see those very large white boards periodically across the state that let you know you were near an outdoor theater. You no longer see those swaying strips along the state’s backroads that let you know a “muscle” car had sped off leaving tracks, you seldom find (at least in more rural areas) one of those still-remaining drive-in restaurants, and you’ll see plainly posted “speed limit” signs along the state’s highways, a result of the nationwide 55 mph limit of the 1970s.
If you want to take the family to a drive-in theater, you can still do that, but you’ll have to take a little drive. The closest one is the Valley Drive-In at Newton, said to be the state’s oldest, having opened in 1948. Two theaters still exist in far eastern Iowa – the 61 Drive-In theater in Delmar (near Maquoketa) and the Blue Grass Drive-In Theater at Blue Grass, near Davenport. The Superior 71 Drive-In Theater is in Spirit Lake, the only drive-in remaining in western Iowa.
They’re still a great place to take that “special girl” now that the kids are grown and moved away.
Bill Haglund is a retired writer for the Boone News-Republican and Dallas County News and can be reached at email@example.com.