Going Home: The Drive In

Day 10: How bucket seats prevent pregnancy...

According to my mom, after my family was dadless and destitute, she would take us kids to the drive-in movies.

Seems like the big attraction was dollar movie night; a buck a car even if you managed to squeeze three-fourths of the Green Bay Packers starting lineup into the backseat. Mom would make popcorn and Kool-Aid, throw everybody in our Ford Victoria and we’d have a night on the town for a buck.

My most vivid memory of those nights is being allowed to go to sleep up behind the back seat and under the rear window as we drove home. Clearly, this was before seat belts and way before we started strapping kids into car seats like they were going on a fighter jet test flight.

Of course, if my mom had managed to hit something solid I would have become a pajama-clad SCUD missile, rocketing over the front seat and through the windshield, but that the hell – she had too many mouths to feed as it was so maybe she figured it was an acceptable risk.

Fortunately for me, that never happened and I’m still around to explain how bucket seats prevented pregnancy.

Bucket seats and the Sexual Revolution

Skip forward a decade or so and the point of going to a drive-in movie was no longer seeing a movie.

They could have been showing industrial films on Russian wheat production and we still would have lined up to get in. None of us had our own apartments, so the point of going to drive in movie was having a semi-private place to make out.

And we did our best.

Bucket seats and four-on-the-floor gearshifts were what the cool kids drove, but did more to prevent teenage pregnancy than the Trojan condom company and all the Sex-Ed classes ever given. 

You had to be a goddamn contortionist to get beyond second base and if you invited a girl to get in the back seat, she might tell you she didn’t want you thinking she was “that kind of girl.”

But thinking she was “that kind of girl” is what got her invited to the drive-in movies in the first place.

Bench seats and an automatic shift on the steering column might have been something your uncool dad drove, but it turned out our uncool dads knew what they were doing. Those bench seats are probably responsible for a solid ten percent of the Baby Boomers living today.

The Se Rancho Drive-In

If you went to Ponderosa or El Dorado High there was an excellent chance you’d wind up at the Se Rancho Drive-In sooner or later and you might be hiding a buddy in the trunk when you arrived.

Rancho Cordova’s Thunderbird Drive-In was a classier venue, but if your girlfriend lived “up the mountain” it was a longer drive and I preferred the Se Rancho anyway; it had features the Thunderbird lacked, like cows in the next-door pasture.

And one night one of those cows got out and wandered next door to see what movie was showing. A high school buddy was making out with his girlfriend du jour when that cow stuck its head in the window and mooed, scaring the crap out of both of them.

You don’t get that kind of entertainment in Rancho Cordova.

Sam’s Stagecoach Inn and The Grissom Gang

A bunch of us were working at Sam’s Stagecoach Inn while a film crew was working nearby and occasionally coming into the restaurant. The movie was The Grissom Gang and some of the restaurant crew got hired as extras.

I missed out because they hadn’t come up with cell phones yet and nobody could find me to say, hey, come be in this movie, so I think it’s fair to say Motorola and Martin Cooper – the guy who invented the cell phone – fucked up my film career by taking too long to do their jobs, so I’m pretty sure I’m on firm legal ground for some kind of lawsuit.

I’d call them on their invention to let them know, but I recently jumped in a swimming pool and screwed up my cell phone, so maybe if I had one back then it really wouldn’t have made a difference.

Sounds like a case for the Supreme Court.


A friend of mine got hired as an extra and if I recall correctly got to wear a moustache and carry a tommy gun in a fight scene.

When the movie came out he wanted to impress a date with his few seconds of fame, but unfortunately that date lived in Pollock Pines and the movie was showing in Rancho Cordova at the Thunderbird Drive-In.

He lived in El Dorado Hills, so; 32.6 miles from EDH to Pollock Pines, 32.6 back and another 18.1 miles from El Dorado Hills to the Thunderbird.

83.3 miles in a convertible Triumph sports car whose suspension made you feel like you had your ass kicked by a gang of pissed-off munchkins anytime you took a drive longer than 20 minutes.

I don’t know if it was a double feature (I like to think it was because that would make the story even better), but just as my friend’s big scene came up, his date turned around, looked behind them and said: “Hey, the snack bar’s closing” and missed it.

So another 83.3 mile trip to get her back to Pollock Pines and him home for the night in a Triumph that had bucket seats and four on the floor.

I guess being a movie star is just as hard as they say.

The “Movies I Didn’t Actually Watch” Film Festival

OK, so you had the metal speaker hanging off the window and were in the 46th minute of a 90-minute lip lock and once in a while it would sound like something interesting was happening on the screen and you’d come up for air long enough to check out the movie.

But that was rarely enough to get a comprehensive idea of what the movie was actually about.

This was brought home to me when I recently wandered through a library’s film collection and spotted McCabe and Mrs. Miller and thought: “I saw that movie at the drive-in – I wonder what it was about.”

So I’m now on a quest to watch the movies I paid for, but didn’t actually watch at the drive-in and here’s a partial list:

The Wild Bunch

The Eiger Sanction

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Easy Rider

Bonnie and Clyde

Planet of the Apes

In the Heat of the Night



The French Connection

That’s a pretty good film festival right there, so when I get back to Kansas City I’m going to start watching those movies and for old-time’s sake, I think I’ll invite a cow.