The Northfield Drive-in: Crossing Lines

The Northfield Drive-in: Crossing Lines

An invisible line runs through the Northfield Drive-in, a boundary where one set of rules ceases to be relevant and another takes its place. The division was intentional. The theater’s ticket booth and concession stand do business in New Hampshire, a state with no income tax, while most of the parking lot lies in Massachusetts territory. This state straddling is smart business and adds to the theater’s quirky charm, but today, the drive-in is facing a new line, a generational one.

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Becky's: My Search for a Woman-Owned Drive-in

Becky's: My Search for a Woman-Owned Drive-in

In my quest to document stories of America’s surviving drive-in movie theaters, I quickly realized that the niche industry is dominated by men. And by “dominated,” I mean except for a few husband and wife teams, I could not find a single drive-in theater controlled by a woman. Women are not absent from drive-ins; I’ve met women who’ve worked the ticket booth of their theater for decades and women who bear the responsibility of knowing the secret recipe to the perfect French fries. But a woman alone at the top of the drive-in food chain remained difficult to find. The longer I searched for a woman-owned drive-in and couldn’t find one, the more important finding one became. I wanted to know how a woman in charge changed the dynamic of a theater, or if it did at all, if they talked to me differently. From the name, Becky’s Drive-in Theater in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley sounded like my chance to find out.

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The Bengie’s and D: An Echo

The Bengie’s and D: An Echo

D Vogel—just the letter D, no e’s or ea’s—positions himself ten feet in front of The Bengie’s Drive-in concession stand at exactly the building’s mid-point. He gazes across an open field of empty parking spaces at the largest drive-in screen left standing, a behemoth constructed before shopping centers encroached on its territory and low flying helicopters raided its sound space. No equation could calculate the number of times this man and this screen have faced each other like this or the number of times they’ve performed this trick.

D balances his coffee on the “No Smoking” sign and claps.

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"It’s a Family Thing:" The Family Drive-in Theatre

"It’s a Family Thing:" The Family Drive-in Theatre

This initial rush into the lot is the most hectic moment at a drive-in theater. Experienced viewers dart to their favorite spots in the middle of the middle rows or to the easy-to-exit last rows, while newbies lose their way between the signs for Screen One and Screen Two and park yards away from the speaker—all while a growing number of children flee their parents cars for the playground or the concession stand. At the Family Drive-in in Stephens City, Virginia, this disorganized herd is managed by a team of teenaged car wranglers.

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At the Drive-in: A Must-See Drive-in Documentary

At the Drive-in: A Must-See Drive-in Documentary

When Hollywood distributors announced that they’d be converting entirely from film to digital movies, they essentially issued an ultimatum to America’s remaining drive-in movie theaters—convert your projection booths for the hefty fee of 50,000 dollars or die. For many locally owned theaters, this demand came as a final blow to an already struggling business model; they played their last shows and sold their lots to real-estate developers. Those that did make the switch did so by crowdfunding, forming community non-profit groups, grants, and dogged determination. The Mahoning Drive-in Theater, near Allentown, Pennsylvania, decided to stay alive and stay on film.

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Building Community, 250 Cars At A Time: Dave Meyers’ Drive-In Dream

Building Community, 250 Cars At A Time: Dave Meyers’ Drive-In Dream

Arizona’s boundless black dessert sky makes for an ideal drive-in movie setting—a business dependent on open spaces and dark nights. In the past, when Americans were moving west in station wagons, the state was home to more than fifty theaters with names like “The Cactus” and “The Golden Valley Drive-in.” Today, only the West Wind Glendale 9 remains in operation, but Dave Meyers has a plan to begin reviving the drive-in tradition in Arizona.

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Under the Stars in Bangalore: One of India's Only Drive-in Theaters

Under the Stars in Bangalore: One of India's Only Drive-in Theaters

After attending an open-air movie screening, Abhijit Shah came up with a crazy idea—open a drive-in movie theater in his hometown, Bangalore, India. He shared his idea with a few friends and soon, “Under the Stars Cinema” (UTS) was born.

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Thinking Outside the Screen: John Watzke and the Ocala Drive-in

Thinking Outside the Screen: John Watzke and the Ocala Drive-in

Daylight was already sinking down the main screen when I arrived at the Ocala Drive-in. Owner John Watzke had agreed to meet for an interview but was running late, leaving me time to explore. Walking around a drive-in during the day feels like being backstage at a theater; you have to be “in” to get invited.

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The Silver Moon Drive-In: A Side Hustle

The Silver Moon Drive-In: A Side Hustle

Like many twenty-six-year-olds, Chip Sawyer, a financial advisor for Publix Supermarkets with a master’s degree in Business Administration, has a side hustle—he owns two of Florida’s seven remaining drive-in movie theatres. The soft-spoken, curly-haired Sawyer inherited the Silver Moon and Joy-Lan Drive-ins after his grandfather’s death in 2017.  I met him in his office behind the Silver Moon’s original, 1948 screen.

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