We all have our interests. Our hobbies. Activities we like to do and places we cherish going. Places we can go hide and step aside from the hustle of everyday life, if but for a moment.
If you’ve read this column with any regularity, you know one of my foremost hobbies is going to the movies. If you offered me a choice between going to the movies and just about any other extracurricular activity, we’re going to be headed to the theater.
Part of it is, of course, the films themselves. I’m into all kinds of films, from horror flicks and gross-out comedies to romances and documentaries, and everything in between. I’m greatly intrigued by many of this year’s Academy Award contenders, and I think “La La Land” will probably take home Best Picture.
But it goes beyond just the films. I love the whole act of going out to the movies. I realize that’s not an opinion shared by everyone, especially these days. I get it. It can be expensive. People can’t stay off their cellphones. Someone inevitably brings a 3-year-old to see “Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 12.” And of course there’s the pull of Netflix and Amazon Prime and all of that good stuff. Movies waiting to be streamed, shows begging to be binged, right there on your flat screen in the comfort of your living room, with the fridge about 10 steps away.
But when it comes to movies, much like attending a baseball game as opposed to watching one on TV, there’s still nothing like actually being there. Waiting in line to get tickets. The smell of the popcorn. The chatter in the lobby. The anticipation of what you might get to see. The relative solitude of a weekday matinee. The raucous din of a Friday night opening weekend mob. Laughing along with everyone else until you can hardly breathe. Jumping in your seat with the rest of the crowd when the monster pops out of the closet unexpectedly. It’s a collective experience.
Of course, in this area, we have another way for people go to the movies, one that was once thought to be lost, but has been rekindled: the drive-in. That’s an experience that has its own set of charms.
Wheeling onto the main field, maneuvering between the poles, trying to find just the right place to park. Watching kids toss footballs or fling Frisbees around in the grass in front of the screen. Smelling the hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill. Posting up in a tailgating chair and listening to the movie on a radio. Running to the concession stand between shows to get an ice cream. Staying until the end of a double feature, even if you know you have to get up early the next day.
Last summer, I was dispatched by Columbia’s Free Times newspaper do a cover story on the state’s three drive-in theaters: The Highway 21 Drive-in in Beaufort, the Big Mo in Monetta and, of course, the “mighty” Auto Drive-in in Greenwood. The piece was a blast to do, and it was intriguing to see how each theater had its own personality.
The Highway 21 theater in Beaufort is a short distance from a military base, so the crowd there reflects the sort of multicultural nature of today’s armed forces. Lots of young families with kids braving the heat and those B-52-sized Lowcountry mosquitoes. The theater’s main field is absolutely massive.
Meanwhile, the Big Mo in Monetta offers perhaps the most carnival-like atmosphere of the state’s three drive-ins, with showtunes playing before the movie and a sno-cone truck parked on the main field on summer weekends. It also holds the distinction of being the most remote of the state’s outdoor theaters, nestled off a quiet country road in the middle of rural peach country.
And then there is my beloved Auto Drive-in here in Greenwood. I’ve never masked my affection for the theater on the south side of town. I’ve been taking my daughter there since she was old enough to walk. It’s a place we treasure. I even rented out the theater one night, invited all my friends and showed “Jaws.” It’s a night I’ll never forget.
That said, the theater doesn’t mean as much to me (or probably just about anyone) as it now does to Joseph and Kathleen O’Rourke. As you might have read in the Index-Journal last week, the O’Rourkes recently renewed their wedding vows on their 50th anniversary at the Auto Drive-in. The couple originally got married in front of a drive-in theater half a century ago, and wanted to sort of recreate that experience for their vow renewal.
I guess if that couple refers to going to the movies as a sacred experience, they really mean it. But for the rest of us, it’s still a pretty good show.
Chris Trainor is a contributing columnist for the Index-Journal. Contact him at ChrisTrainorSC@yahoo.com. You can follow him on Twitter@ChrisTrainorSC. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper’s opinion.