By Josh Shepherd
Why must it fall to strangers to remind us that we have cool stuff at home?
As I mentioned in my column two weeks ago, my wife and I have hosted high school exchange students for the last five years. It has been a rewarding experience in many ways.
Aside from the obvious pleasure of extending my familial connections to people across the Atlantic, I suggest that there is an even greater reward that comes from hosting a different student every year: They keep my world from becoming mundane.
Case in point – The Drive-In Movie theater.
When I ask my hostdaughters what they miss most about their year in Kentucky, the three things mentioned most are free drink refills at restaurants, mud runs, and the drive-in. (They refer to the Bourbon Drive-In specifically because that’s the one we use most.)
“It is so American,” said Maria, my hostdaughter from Norway.
Until they started mentioning it, I never really thought that much about the drive-in experience. However, upon reflection, the act of watching a movie on a warm summer night in a giant parking lot where the grill is serving up hamburgers and french fries and kids are slurping up novelty ice cream treats – I swear that experience is more distinctively American than hot dogs at a baseball game.
There is nothing like it anywhere else in the world.
Those of us living in this area are a bit spoiled. Before I began writing this column, I made a mental count of how many drive-ins are within an hour or so from my home.
In addition to the Bourbon Drive-In, there is the Judy Drive-In near Mt. Sterling, the Sky-Vue Twin Drive-In in Winchester, and the Mountain View Drive-In in Stanton, right in the shadow of Red River Gorge.
To give some perspective, there are no drive-ins around Louisville anymore. At one point in Kentucky’s recent history, there were as many drive-in theaters as there were counties in Kentucky. Of course, tastes and traditions change. These small businesses filled a niche market in the 50s, 60s, and 70s that no longer exist.
The majority of drive-ins have gone dark in this country and chances are, with the advent of new technology in movie projection, there will be even fewer of these family-owned businesses.
That’s because the movie industry is making the transition to digital projection systems.
Digital projection is not new. In fact, most of the major Hollywood studios and the national chains that operate the big cineplexes, like Regal Cinemas and Cinemark, have already invested in the equipment. The technology is not too different from subscribing to streaming movies through Amazon or Netflix. It’s not bad or good, it is just the direction in which the industry is going.
Digital projection equipment, however, is expensive. And considering that most drive-in theaters are seasonal, family-owned businesses, they do not generate the kind of income that would enable them to invest the minimum of $80,000 for the new equipment.
I will refrain from the observation that once again, technology favors homogenized national chains over private or family-owned businesses — or perhaps I won’t.
However, there is an effort by Honda Motors to try and preserve some of our hometown drive-ins. And Bourbon Drive-In is one that could benefit from the effort.
At Projectdrivein.com, Honda has pledged to buy five digital projection systems and award them to the five family-owned drive-ins that get the most votes on their web page.
Fans can vote once a day for their favorite drive-in.
If fans want to participate, they have to hurry. The deadline to vote is within about two days from the time the Cynthiana Democrat hits the street.
Of course, it helps to have good reasons to support drive-ins. If you don’t find the preservation of an American experience compelling enough reason to offer support, allow me to suggest a few others:
Drive-ins have HUGE screens. There are a lot of good uses for a tablet or a smart phone, but neither AT&T nor Apple will ever convince me that a summer blockbuster with huge explosions looks great on a pathetic 3 inch screen. Please.
Drive-ins serve real food. The cineplex charges $8-9 per ticket, then asks us to accept as our only food choices waterlogged hot dogs, nachos, popcorn, and box candy. At the drive-in, I get a meal with hamburgers, tenderloin, and chicken, french fries, fried pickles, and any kind of ice cream novelty.
Drive-ins are a bargain. In addition to reasonably priced food, you get two movies for the price of admission and no one is asking you to leave when you text.
There’s really no contest in the comparison. The vote costs nothing but a click on the web and you have the option of supporting a small business that delivers a quality service.
Projectdrivein.com. Visit the site and offer your support.