It had been too long. But, for me, it was a heck of a first night back.
As I detailed in this column space several weeks ago, one of the activities I’ve missed the most amid the novel coronavirus in the past several months is going to the movies. If you’ve followed along with me here for any length of time, you’re likely aware of my penchant for cinema, and all of the little rituals and traditions that go along with it. Sure, you can watch movies at home — and Lord knows I do — but that pales in comparison to the communal experience of going out to a show. With the popcorn popping and the soda fizzing and everyone hoping to get swept away for couple hours, together. There’s nothing like it.
But for the most part, that experience has been stripped away during COVID-19, and, for obvious reasons. Indoor theaters, which dot the map in every town of any size across this nation, have been dark the past several months as the virus has spread and the Hollywood studios have steadily pushed back their biggest releases to the fall or later. Some of the major chains — Regal, AMC — are making plans to come back next month, with a number of protocols in place, but it remains to be seen exactly how that’s going to look in practice. We’ll see.
Throughout it all, though, many drive-in theaters across the country — including Greenwood’s own Auto Drive In — have continued to try to chug along. Obviously, the situation there is a little different when it comes to considerations of COVID-19. You can sit in your own car and have your own space. Or you can sit in an open-air truck bed, or in a lawn chair where you can carve out your own social distance. You’re not packed into an auditorium, shoulder-to-shoulder with other folks. At the drive-in, you can spread out.
Ahead of last weekend, I happened to check the Auto Drive In’s website, just to see what they might have playing, and, when I did, I almost fell out of my chair: Screen 1, double feature, “Jurassic Park” and “Jaws.”
The word “classic” gets thrown around a little too liberally when it comes to movies, but 1975’s “Jaws” and 1993’s “Jurassic Park” — both directed by Steven Spielberg — are two stone cold, unimpeachable pop cinema classics. “Jaws” essentially invented the framework for what we now know as summer blockbusters, and “Jurassic Park,” with its special effects that still hold up 26 years later, remains perhaps the closest thing to a perfect adventure film.
So, of course, we had to pack up the Jeep and head out to the Auto Drive In last weekend.
I’ve long had an affection for Greenwood’s “Mighty” Auto, though I don’t get out there as often as I’d like, as we live in the Columbia area. But, to be certain, from the moment you arrive at the old drive-in until the last reel of the evening plays, it’s a slice of homespun Americana that’s impossible to resist. Even if you haven’t been in a while, the minute you park your car between the posts, you feel at home, as if you never left.
It was the first time I’d been at a theater, of any type, since March, and things worked out nicely. We were able to set up our lawn chairs outside with plenty of space to spare. My daughter and nephew watched from the open tailgate of the Jeep. (It was my nephew’s first trip to the drive-in. And it was “Jurassic Park” and “Jaws.” That’ll be a story to tell). I wore my mask when visiting the concession stand, and they had a system set up to get people in and out of the stand with social distancing.
And it was a night where there was simply a feeling of magic in the air. As “Jurassic Park” began to unspool, my Dad asked me, “What year did this come out again?”
“1993,” I replied. “That was a good summer.”
Dad paused a beat, looked at me, and replied, “It was a good summer.”
And for a few hours, out there under the stars down in South Greenwood, we relived a piece of that summer one more time.