Buice column: The big screen: Drive-in movies making a comeback

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 11, 2020

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Remember the days of the drive-in theaters? You have to be certain age to recall when watching a movie outdoors on the big screen became all the rage.

And thanks in large part to the coronavirus pandemic, an old favorite from the past is starting to make a comeback.

Marketplace Cinemas, which had to shut down its indoor movie theater — and its six screens — on Peters Creek Parkway in Winston-Salem in March because of the restrictions related to the novel coronavirus, announced recently that it would reopen soon in the old-time format in the Marketplace Mall parking lot.

Plans call for a 45-foot wide by 30-foot tall high screen on the side of the Marketplace Cinemas building opposite from the road with more than 400 parking spaces. Movie-goers will be able to listen through a transmitter on the FM dial on their radio.

There will be advance ticket sales and reserved parking available along with outdoor concessions including fresh popcorn — you’ve got to have that.

Even the Village of Clemmons is getting into the act, partnering with the Jerry Long Family YMCA on Peace Haven Road, with its first drive-in movie night Friday.

The parking lot will open at 7:30 p.m. with the featured film, “The Sandlot” being shown when it gets dark. Due to the a limited number of spaces, registration in advance is required. As of Monday night, there were 20 spots still available.

All the health and safety guidelines will be in place — including those attending being required to remain in their vehicles at all times.

Concessions will not be available, so those planning to come will need to bring their own popcorn and drinks. A restroom will be available for “emergencies.”

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Drive-in movie theaters have long been an icon of American pop culture, growing in popularity in the 1950s and ’60s.

There were lots of reasons.

Families could go to a drive-in in their large cars with small children and not disturb other viewers as might be the case in an indoor theater. It was a night for family fun in a casual atmosphere under the stars, and the price was right with kids often getting in for free.

For teenagers, it was a cheap date night with no social distancing requirements.

But times change, and eventually drive-in theaters started to fade from the local landscape.

I remember going to the Thunderbird Drive-In on the south side of Winston-Salem in my younger days.

And many got a quick view — for free — of the screen at the Flamingo, which was on a hill beside Business 40 as vehicles drove into Winston-Salem from the east. It was known for showing X-rated films in its later years before shutting down.

The last local drive-in theater in the area was the Bel-Air in Walkertown, which survived much longer than the others until closing in 2000.

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The days of the coronavirus haven’t been kind to me as an aging athlete.

It started with the loss of playing racquetball when my gym closed in March, followed by filling that gap by playing more tennis and then trying disc golf — where I got “tennis elbow” of all things.

I started walking more and then playing through the elbow pain with a return to tennis where I felt like my knee exploded a couple of weeks ago as I sprinted to the net to retrieve a drop shot.

The next day, my orthopedic doctor told me there was no structural damage after looking at the X-ray, but that it’s probably a meniscus tear (which can only be diagnosed through an MRI).

So he gave me a cortisone shot, hoping that might help. It did. Some. But not enough for me to get back to even walking, much less tennis.

So I rest. And wait — while getting some sage advice from my father-in-law.

“Have you looked at your birth certificate?” he asked.