At the drive-in

In my teen years, nightlife revolved around two places – and both of them were drive-ins. One was a restaurant and the other was a theater.

Russell’s BBQ had a dirt parking shaded by a huge oak tree and some of the best french fries I ever put in my mouth. There were stools at a counter inside the restaurant, but most people ate in their car. Once the sun went down on Friday and Saturday nights, however, it became a social mecca for kids – a place to see and be seen. If you didn’t have a date, you went to see who else was loose. If you did have a date, you had to convince him to at least drive through so you could show him off. There was the occasional altercation, but in such a small town the police were never far away and things were settled quickly.

Flamingo RisingThis is a clip from the movie “Flamingo Rising” which was filmed in St. Augustine. The drive-in set was built on Marineland property south of town.

The San Marco Drive-In theater was already a fixture in town, but when our only walk-in theater closed (just as I was entering high school) the San Marco quickly realized they had a captured audience and immediately reduced their movie rental budget. After all, who went to the drive-in to watch a movie? I cannot name a single movie I watched there. If there was a movie that we REALLY HAD TO SEE, we would drive to a theater in Jacksonville to watch it.

Traffic at Russell’s was constantly changing throughout the evening, but the San Marco was a destination. And, while you were likely to find a number of cars with windows fogged up, the majority of kids were there to socialize. It wasn’t unusual to find groups forming between cars and around the snack bar. In the days before youth centers and teen nightclubs, this and high school dances were our primary forms of entertainment.

At both drive-ins the car was an important accessory. It was the era of the muscle car and while I don’t remember the names of some of the boys I had crushes on back then, I do remember their cars. The Oldsmobile 442 was cute – and surprised that I could handle a 4-speed. Then there was the home town boy with a Plymouth Barracuda fastback I met at a drive-in theater in Rome, Georgia, of all places. The Mustang Boss 302 was tall, dark and adorable but he was still carrying a torch for another girl.

CamaroThis is the car I married.

It’s not surprising that the man I married was also driving a muscle car when we first met – many years after those drive-in days. Some things just never change.

  • Jasia

    Great memories, Denise! In spite of the fact that I have always lived in the vicinity of the Motor City, I never dated a guy who owned a true muscle car. Is that sad, or what? Most all the guys I dated were the nerds/geeks who put academics and saving for college before a cool ride. Very sad. There was one guy I dated who was and still is a car guy. He didn’t have enough money when we were dating to have a really cool car but he did drive his parent’s Grand Torino and it had a big engine. He’s got a very cool restored Firebird now but I never get to ride in it. :-( My ex-husband bought a Porshe right after he finished med school but I never got a ride in that either. We were divorced by then. When I met my current husband he had a great motorcycle, a Triumph. Sweet! Thanks for sharing and participating in the COG!

    • Denise Barrett Olson

      Jasia, you forget I live down here is NASCAR country. Long before NASCAR was the thing, stock car racing at Daytona was a major event. I never did understand the fascination with left turns – I learned how to do that very early on. Then there’s all that time I’ve spent hanging around with those G.I. Joes. They love their hot cars too – just the latest model. The parking lot where I work is a sea of horsepower. Occasionally a beautifully restored car from my teen years appears, but most of them are today’s model.

      Speaking of Porsches – I’ve got a story about Dad and his Porsche but no pictures. Maybe another CoG . . .