The Santa Barbara Drive-In Theater reopens tonight after a 19-year intermission and I can’t remember when I’ve been so excited.
I can, however, remember a lot of great times at the Drive-In.
We moved to Santa Barbara when I was in kindergarten and some of my earliest memories are of my sister Pam and I, bundled up in our footie pajamas, in the back of our parents’ old, Aqua Velva blue Ford Pinto. We’d get to the Drive-In early so we could play on the playground slides, seesaws and swings. My favorite ride was always the spinning Merry-Go-Round-an important rite of childhood, which today’s insurance carriers, and probably a few broken limbs and blows to the head, have all but exterminated. The only thing better than the world of indescribable dizziness the Big Spinner provided was the sugar buzz we got from the assortment of Pop Rocks, Razzles, Bottlecaps, Atomic Fireballs, Grapeheads and Twizzlers our parents let us use to wash down the popcorn.
After all that candy we inhaled, they probably shouldn’t have been surprised that I managed to stay awake well beyond the family-friendly first features like “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Bedknobs and Broomsticks,” into the racier, late night fare. Despite my mom’s command that I, “Go to sleep. It’s way past your bedtime,” I still remember seeing large, incredibly inappropriate chunks of “Carnal Knowledge,” “Dirty Harry” and “Deliverance” at a very tender age.
As I edged into my teen years the Drive-In was still a favorite place to hang out, but by then it had nothing to do with what movies were playing. It was all about seeing friends, being seen, and knowing who was steaming up their car windows in the back row and who was breaking up behind the snack bar. It was all about how many friends you could hide under the cargo hold in the way back part of mom’s station wagon, how many people you could pack in the trunk, or-if you could resist the urge to giggle, and have you ever seen a pack of teenagers who can actually do this-how many pals you could fit under a blanket in the back seat.
Sneaking people in was part of my teenage fun of the Drive-In. For some inexplicable reason, I even remember doing this on the nights when they were charging a flat fee per carload just to keep up with the tradition.
Traditions die hard in this town and the Drive-In theater has been sorely missed.
It’s actually thanks in large part to the efforts of a far more motivated teenager than I ever was, 17-year-old San Marcos High senior Dominique O’Neill, that the next generation of moviegoers will get to go to the Santa Barbara Drive-In.
Last month Dominique organized a fundraiser at the Drive-In to benefit Direct Relief International. It was so successful and so many people wanted to return and share the Drive-In movie experience with their friends that she started a Facebook page to show the current owners, West Wind Drive-Ins, how much public support there was. In just over a week approximately 6,500 people joined the Facebook group (including yours truly) to pledge their support.
“I expected people to want the Drive-In to reopen, but I was astonished by how many people joined so fast,” said Dominique, who wanted to recognize the people who helped her with the Direct Relief fundraiser and spurring interest in reopening the Drive-In. “None of it would have been possible without the help of West Winds Drive-Ins and Public Markets, especially Ken Krummes, Mitch Moore of M&M Painting, Bob Shoppe of Milpas Rental, Kirk Morely of Morely Construction, Clare Moore, Emily Knuutinen, Shelby Zylstra, Maren Walker, Danielle Gruenberg, Whitney Caldwell, and most importantly my mother, Mary O’Neill.”
Awww! What a sweet Mother’s Day present for Dominique’s mom, and a great thing for all of us to celebrate this weekend. I can’t wait!
The first movie to open at the Santa Barbara Drive-In (907 South Kellogg Ave. in Goleta) is “Iron Man 2,” which runs from May 7 through May 13 and shows at 8:00 p.m. and 10:25 p.m. nightly. After that all screenings will be double features. Tickets are $6.75 and children 5-11 are only $1, with special discounts on Tuesday nights. Visit www.westwinddi.com to sign up for weekly emails with the upcoming movie schedule.