It Hardly Seemed Worth It

A Geezer’s Notebook, By Jim Foster

I was driving by the old Orillia Drive-In Theatre and realized it has been closed for God knows how many years. In fact there is a whole generation of Orillia folks who probably don’t know it ever existed, but it did, right where West Street crosses Division Road. There is a church there now which is kind of ironic since they probably preach against the very stuff that went on there.

The drive-in was a wonderful place to kindle a romance unless the young lady’s mother insisted her sister tag along as some sort of unwitting chaperone. Then the fire went out fairly quickly.

It was there under the stars and plaid car blankets the skills and techniques learned and dreamed of in years of sexual seminars in high school locker rooms could be practiced without worrying about prying eyes.

The drive-in was a world of its own with snack bars, washrooms and both East and West Nile mosquitoes. It was also a great place for teenage boys to experience the wonders of alcohol.

A friend of mine had a 1927 Chev with the racy styling of a block of wood. But, and this is important, the ’27 had a well under the back seat that could hold a dozen beers and a bag of ice. It always amazed me the engineers at GM could have foreseen the need for such a reservoir twenty years before the invention of the drive-in theater.

The Chev also had a trunk, but not the spacious and carpeted cavern we know today; the trunk on the ’27 was a metal box about 2’ deep sitting over the rear bumper. One evening the O.P.P. were checking cars at the gate looking for beer (grass and drugs were but figments of some San Francisco crackhead’s imagination in the 50s). An officer asked if he could look in the trunk. The driver said “Certainly, sir!” and off the two of them went to sort through the assorted wrenches, empty pop bottles and oily rags that called the box, ‘home’.

He then proceeded to thank the officer for the force’s diligence in protecting the young people of the area from harm. As an aside, he expressed his personal disappointment that underage chaps would drink alcohol thereby besmirching the reputations of the law-abiding young gentlemen peeking out the back window.

In a world of bull droppings, it must rank up there with anything Trump tweets on a daily basis.

The officer thanked us for our co-operation and we passed through. I’ll bet he knew we had booze hidden somewhere, but he probably thought anyone who would feed a cop a line of crap like that deserved a beer.

Every now and then a restricted movie would come to the drive-in. Remember we this was the ’50s when all married couples in films had to have twin beds. There was a rumour going around a young couple was refused admittance because they had a six-month old baby in the car and the sign said ‘No admittance under eighteen’. As dumb as it sounds, I believe it.

They started to ease off on the censorship in the mid-60s. One night my wife and I took the kids to the drive-in hoping they would drift off during the first picture and sleep while we watched the kinkier stuff. Sure enough they fell asleep right on cue and didn’t wake up until the middle of the feature film as the star was helping a starlet remove her undershirt. I left it up to my wife to explain what was going on. I thought she did a fine job of satisfying their innocent curiosities until neighbours started complaining about some young boys peeking in their bedroom windows.

Trying to enforce censorship at a drive-in movie is like a woman wearing a plunging neckline to a dance at the Tanbottom Nudist Resort.

There were major drawbacks to watching a movie at the drive-in. None of the Big Three auto manufacturers cared enough for their fellow man to put any research into the most aggravating problem of watching films in the great outdoors — foggy windows. You could always judge how far along a couple were along the path to bliss by the amount of steam creeping up the windows. It usually cost $2.50 a carload to get in and $35.00 for gas to keep the windows clear. It would have been impossible to show The Ten Commandments at a drive-in. The Israelites would have thought the Promised Land was St. John’s, Newfoundland with a pea-soup fog coming in off the Atlantic.

As I think back, drive-ins were a disaster. When we weren’t trying to clear the windshield, we were whacking mosquitoes. When we weren’t whacking mosquitoes, we were blowing the horn at some jerk who turned his lights on washing out the picture. When we weren’t blowing the horn, we were starting the car to get some heat. It was non-stop frustration.

If I ever get the chance to re-live my youth; I think I’ll skip the drive-ins and take a chance on her couch. Then all I’ll have to worry about is her father coming down the stairs.

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