I went to my first drive in movie in 1988. It was single screen, double feature of Beetlejuice and The Funny Farm. I was six years old. From a child's perspective this place was nothing short of magic. Staying up late, eating junk food while in the back of a pickup, truly, the Sunset Drive-In was created by gods.
I viewed only one other film there before they closed the Sunset for good. It stood there summer after summer, becoming more of an eyesore. A forgotten titan made of wood, canvas and peeling paint. Its parking lot becoming overgrown with weeds. And the concession stand, now abandoned, used for storage.
With technology moving at an ever increasing rate and with the monetization of everything from "real housewives" to "italian stereotypes", it's not hard to see why the drive-in has become, at best, a novelty and at worst, a dinosaur. Drive-ins can only be open during a certain time of year and for only so long. They can only screen movies at night, making multiple screenings limited. The open air facility needs constant upkeep and people often bring their own food, making concessions profit a mercurial creature.
Curators of a bygone era, the owners of these places are carrying the torch for the rest of us. Carrying on the drive-ins without thanks from the same people who once made them so popular. I'm sure they still have memories of full parking lots, the smell of hotdogs and the shadows playing on their screens. Memories of people in their cars, families, lovers entranced by film. All of them, separate and together, under the same blanket of stars.
If you want, you can still see the Sunset Drive-In. It's just off of highway 40 as you pull into Craig, Colorado from the East. The lot is a gravel pit now, but the last I checked, the screen was still there. The structure stands tall, ravaged by the sands of time. Simultaneously broken and defiant, with memories of celluloid ghosts still burned into its canvas.
NOTE: In November of 2011, shortly after writing the above piece, on a whim I sent the link to the patron saint of ozoners, Joe Bob Briggs. In December of 2011, he was kind enough to email me this message:
Man alive, that drive-in screen in Craig, Colorado, looks so lonely
and weatherbeaten that . . . I MUST GO THERE! Thanks for sharing your
memoir, I'll spread the word among the faithful.
Hang in there,
Though the email is short, it was cool that he took the time to reply. If we ever cross paths Mr. Briggs, let me buy you a beer.