02 September 2009

Denver's Last Drive-In

One recent Monday night, Jon, Donna, and I went to Denver's last remaining drive-in movie theater.

Since the unstoppable juggernaut of soulless urban real estate deals rolled across the northwest corner of Hampden and Santa Fe and razed our beautiful, always-packed Cinderella Twin Drive-In after the 2007 season, Denver has been left with only one drive-in.

It took a year of mourning before Jon, Donna, and I could bring ourselves to make the pilgrimage to this other, last, unknown location. The only game in town.

Let me report that the 88 Drive-In is alive and sprockets clicking, its projector beam a literal beacon to the faithful in the urban dark of Commerce City, northeast of Denver.

Indeed, the darkness of the location is one of the big pluses of the 88 Drive-In. Unlike the old Cinderella Twin, this drive-in is situated in a little-traveled, dark corner of the metro area. Though 88th Avenue does lie right behind the screen, the lights of cars and trucks on the street do nothing to mar the drive-in experience. The 88's screen is mounted relatively high, and the car lights don't interfere at all. In fact, since the screen is surrounded with a pleasant blackness, the brightly-projected film image looks vibrant and clear, not bathed in murky grey, as was the case at the light-saturated Cinderella's Englewood location.

We found this drive-in relatively well-attended for a Monday night. I mean, who goes to the drive-in on a Monday night? Apparently enough people know about this one to give it that nice, communal drive-in feel.

I bet it is packed on weekends!

Setting foot in the no-frills snackbar part of the building that houses the projector was a kind of delightful nostalgia kick for me. It was just the perfect mixture of painted cinderblock walls, flourescent tube lighting, waist-high barrier walls topped with painted-pipe handrails, and gleaming chrome cafeteria-style serving fixtures. A kind of heaven.

The service at both the snack bar and the ticket booth was cheery and efficient. The projection of the film was crisp, clear, and bright, and even included the obligatory sentimental annoying announcement of the snack bar's closing cutting in over the second feature's soundtrack!

If you go, make sure your vehicle has a good, working FM radio to receive the movie sound. Jon and Donna's car had a radio problem at first and my heart sank, thinking they were going to miss the drive-in experience! But they moved to a different location and all was well. Loud and clear!

For some reason, I never went to the drive-in when I was a kid. My eldest brother, Bill, definitely remembers going, but maybe by the time I came along the thrill (for my parents!) was gone. I don't know. But I always feel this as a painful gap in my childhood experience. Other people talk about being bundled up as kids with blankets and food and heading for the drive-in. I just have to say, hunh, must have been fun.

So, people. I'm telling you. Bundle up those kids and head out there to Commerce City for a wonderful drive-in experience! Or go yourselves! Find some chintzy movie double-feature that might be painful to see in the theater, but which will be perfect to see in the drive-in, and go!

Go! Just go!!

1 comment:

  1. I don't remember the last time I went to the drive in, but it would have been sometime in the mid '70's. I think we saw one of the pink Panther movies. And it was the Cinderella twin. I distinctly remember being irritated at the movie starting when it was still a bit light, so the picture was faded. and this was before the FM transmission of the sound track, so we had the old clunky tinny sounding thing you put in your window. - Bruce