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Field of Screens: Texas Drive-ins

Texas drive-ins still serving up movie magic

Load up on snacks at Lubbock's Stars & Stripes Drive-In, which also offers dinner specialties. (Photo by J. Griffis Smith)

By Mary O. Parker

Anticipation fills the air as movie-goers at Midland’s Big Sky Drive-In Theatre wait for the sun to go down and the screen to light up. Two teenagers sit on a couch in the bed of a red pickup truck, texting and talking. Nearby, a group of four plays cards on the tailgate of another truck and munches on crunchy jalapeño poppers. In the back of a minivan next to them, a little boy in Spiderman pajamas snuggles in between his parents, asking his mother, for the hundredth time, “When’s it going to start?” That little boy’s question lingers on everyone’s mind. She looks west toward the fading silhouette of a pump jack and answers, “Soon.”

'Families make up our biggest clientele, because not only is going to the drive-in economical entertainment, but parents get to enjoy something just as much as the kids.'

The projectors at the Sky-Vue Drive In Theatre in Lamesa have been spinning away for more than a half century. (Photo by J. Griffis Smith)altIn less than a decade, Texas has gained five family-friendly drive-ins, and now offers 16, testament to a trend toward a retro-nostalgic, community-inspired, movie-going experience that the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association says began in the 1990s. It’s a far cry from the all-time high of 388 in 1954, but there’s no denying that the drive-in is making a comeback in Texas. The question is: Why, in this era of Blu-Ray and home-theater systems, would anyone want to watch a movie outdoors, on a lawn chair or through a windshield?

At the Showboat Drive In Theater in Hockley, just west of Tomball, Chris Rumfolo (co-owner along with her husband, Johnny) can answer that. “For the older generations, it’s a flashback. But families make up our biggest clientele, because not only is going to the drive-in economical entertainment, but parents get to enjoy something just as much as the kids.” She chuckles and adds, “Then, there are the teenagers who think this is something brand new.”

Big Sky’s general manager Lamont Furlow sums it up, saying simply, “It’s about being together.”

And, speaking of togetherness, Gene Palmer, owner of Gatesville’s Last Drive In Picture Show, says that drive-ins are still great places for romance. “One of our regulars asked if it would be okay to propose to his girlfriend on the screen, so we made him a film clip that said, ‘Jennifer, will you marry me?’ Everybody in the theater got into it and people kept coming up to the snack bar all night asking, ‘Well, did she say yes?’ It really made the night special, especially since she did say yes.”

Now it’s your turn to say, “Yes”—to a drive-in movie, that is! Grab some pop-corn, unfold a lawn chair, put on your PJ’s, and get ready to enjoy the show.


From the May 2010 issue.

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