Drive-in me crazy

Our movie critic has had some wild times at the drive-in

The entrance to the El Rancho Drive-In.

The entrance to the El Rancho Drive-In.

Photo/Allison Young

El Rancho Drive-In Theater is at 555 El Rancho Drive, Sparks, 358-6920.

After a lot of research—two minutes on the internet—I've learned that there are fewer than 360 drive-ins left in the United States of America.

I’ve been writing these movie review things for 19 years now, and I’ve never really touched upon the topic of the drive-in movie theater. Heck, I had only been to the El Rancho Drive-In once since 1994 (when I saw “Keaunu Reeves is Speed!”).

I did go last year to watch The Purge, and I don’t remember much about the experience other than the snack bar had a lot of waxy candies and the movie sucked ass.

So I decided to go back this summer and truly absorb the El Rancho experience.

Before I talk about that, I would like to reminisce a bit about drive-in movie viewing back in my home state of New York during the first half of my life. Some of those memories are nice and pleasant, and some … not so much.

Young Bobby Grimm goes to the drive-in

While I’m sure my parents took me when I was a baby, my first real memory of attending the drive-in was for a double feature of American Graffiti and The Sting when I was 8 years old. I loved it. It was crazy. I was watching a movie in a car.

Despite my excitement, I fell asleep after American Graffiti and missed The Sting. My little sister Kathy managed to stay up the whole time, and she held that over my head throughout my adolescence. She kept talking about the fake blood capsule that Robert Redford bit at the end. This really upset me.

The horror!

I lost my virginity at a drive-in under traumatic circumstances. It was 1986, and Police Academy 3: Back in Training was playing as my amateur sexual antics were on prominent display in the front seat of my ’73 Cadillac, parked right next to the damned snack bar.

Everything was viewable through my windshield, but it didn’t matter to the girlfriend. It was time to get the whole thing over with and commence sexual things, even if people were watching us.

There was finger pointing at my naked ass … there was laughter…and yet, because I was a teenaged hormonal monster, I finished the deed while looking over my shoulder in complete terror at the taunting passersby.

To this day, the mere sound of Bobcat Goldthwait’s screech causes a complete erection reversal. That has nothing to do with the losing my virginity thing. He’s just really annoying.

The job

In 1990, I did a stint working at a drive-in after graduating from college—hooray for college degrees!—somewhere near Plattsburgh, New York. My most vivid memory was cleaning the place up after the off-season and finding stuff like raccoons in the snack bar.

We played crap like Robocop 2 and Beaches. (Godammit … I hate that movie.) It was a relatively unpleasant experience for me in that I was broke, and the owner paid me by supplying a hotel room near the Canadian border. It was a flophouse occupied by Canadian refugees, prostitutes, bugs I never did quite identify, and a depressed me.

All of the drive-ins I frequented as a child through young adulthood are now closed.

El Rancho Drive-in

I chose to attend El Rancho on the Monday night after Hot August Nights. I had a friend (we shall call her the Drive-In Ninja) all set to go with me. She was going to show me how to smuggle in my dog and all sorts of alcohol, shop for snacks, start a campfire, shoot off fireworks, boil lobsters, and view from the truck bed at the drive-in. She had a master plan.

Then it rained, and she blew me off, so I went all by myself.

I bought my ticket for Guardians of the Galaxy as droplets continued to spot my windshield. The place was pretty damned empty, compounding my sense of loneliness. I parked my car and made my trek to the snack bar.

I got a churro, some yesterday’s popcorn, a yucky hot dog, a pretzel, some Red Vines and a bottle of Sierra Mist. The folks working concessions were really nice. The food didn’t look great, but I kind of want the food at a drive-in to be a little trashy for some reason. It just feels right.

As my lonely self was waiting on my shriveled up hot dog, some kid was getting himself a soda. Out of nowhere, this kid turned around, faced me, and with a big grin on his face exclaimed, “Best place … ever!”

With these words, I drifted back to the innocent days before high school when going to the drive-in brought about that very same sentiment. The little dude put me in a good mood, and I didn’t feel so alone anymore.

Then his mom came and got him, quickly directing her son away from the strange dude lurking all by himself in the corner of the snack bar.

I got my food and drifted back to my truck, splashing in puddles along the way. The movie hadn’t started yet, so I settled in and sampled a little bit of everything I got. It was all pretty bad, but, once again, for some reason, I found this soothing. The pretzel was the best, followed by the churro and the popcorn. We will not speak of the hot dog again.

The previews started, and I tuned in my radio to the right station. Yes, I used to go to the drive-in back when you had those clumsy speakers on poles that you hung on your windows, your dad cursing as he tried to make them work. The radio sound, while not IMAX quality, was quite crisp.

A few minutes into the previews, I noticed some mean-looking guy walking toward my car from a great distance. As he got closer, he looked more and more pissed off. He didn’t come from any car, so I figured he either worked there or just felt like killing a random person at the drive-in on this rainy night.

As he drew closer, I could make out more of his bearded face, and he looked really deranged. Then, I realized I could actually see his face because I left my headlights on. I switched them off, and he returned to wherever the hell he came from.

So, the movie started and it wasn’t Guardians of the Galaxy; it was that stupid Pixar rip-off Planes: Fire & Rescue. Guardians was playing on two screens, but my attendant directed me to the screen that played the Dane Cook flick first. Since I hadn’t seen the film, I stuck it out and watched.

Yes … I sat alone at the El Rancho Drive-In, in the rain, watching Dane Cook voice an airplane.

I had to work in the morning so I left before the Guardians late show. In truth, I didn’t get the full drive-in experience because you are supposed to stick it out for both features. Only pussies leave early.

I’ll go back to the El Rancho on a nicer night this summer, perhaps with the Drive-In Ninja. Maybe she’ll show me how to build a blanket fort while viewing movies in the out-of-doors.

Yes, rain and that rat bastard, Dane Cook, tainted my El Rancho experience. Still, it sure did beat the time my deflowering was observed by popcorn chomping Long Island monsters.

I will never forget their laughter viciously mocking me as Steve Guttenberg mugged aplenty on that gigantic, soon-to-be-extinct screen under a star-filled sky.