To some, the essence of summer is the sight of a line drive ricocheting off the Green Monster, or the sound of foamy, turquoise waters slapping the sides of the ferry to Martha's Vineyard. For me, nothing says summer more than sitting under the stars and watching a cheap outdoor movie, even one playing at a weedy, buckling sea of asphalt along a highway lined with car dealerships.
OK, I admit it. I've driven by the twinkling yellow lights of the Rustic Tri-View Drive-in marquee on Route 146 a million times in the two decades I've lived in Providence, about 10 miles away. Never once have I stopped to see an outdoor movie at the last surviving drive-in in Rhode Island, one of 20 left in New England. Who goes to the drive-in anymore in an age of minivan DVD players and video iPods?
But then my wife, Nancy, and I had two kids, both movie lovers, and the notion of watching a film in the moonlight from the cocoon of our station wagon stirred vague memories of the outdoor cinemas of my childhood. My father, who worked 43 years for Columbia Pictures in New York, and my mother took me and my brother when we were kids in the 1960s.
I can't be sure of what we saw, although I have a hazy recollection of "Yours, Mine, and Ours," starring Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball, hardly the memorable movie for such a formative experience. I'll bet anything that I fell asleep on the ride home.
And so it was that Nancy and I raised the hatch of our car at the Rustic on Wednesday night and spread out pillows and a blanket for 9-year-old Juliette, 4-year-old Noah, and their 8-year-old cousin, Billiam. We tuned the radio to 90.1 FM, passed out two bags of popcorn, and watched "Voyage to the Center of the Earth" on Screen 1, the original outdoor movie screen of the 57-year-old drive-in.
"I hate this movie," Noah blurted, as Brendan Fraser's character begins journeying to the Earth's center in a sometimes scary, mostly cheesy adventure that featured dinosaurs, flying fish, geysers, volcanoes and a blonde scientist in a wet form-fitting shirt.
I actually found myself enjoying this Grade B yarn and the tongue-in-cheek performance of Fraser, who, as Juliette noted with an outstretched finger, was also starring on Screen 2, in "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor."
Dr. Thomas Liner, a 43-year-old Coventry optometrist who was watching "Voyage" from a nearby Honda minivan with his wife and two pajama-clad daughters, told me that what's playing at the drive-in is almost irrelevant.
"It's not the movies that are memorable," he said. "It's the drive-in that's memorable."
As a little boy growing up in Burlington, Vt., Liner recalled, he, too, wore his pajamas to the drive-in. His wife, Judi, said that when she was pregnant with Jessica, now 10, she and Tom went to the Rustic repeatedly because she only felt comfortable watching movies lying down.
The folks who run the Rustic, across the highway from an ice skating rink, are keenly aware of the nostalgia it evokes, particularly in Baby Boomers.
"I think parents want to give their kids the same experience they had growing up," said Jen Chenail, 25, who began working at the drive-in seven years ago at the snack bar and became general manager after Boston Culinary Group of Cambridge bought it in April. "On Fridays and Saturdays, I get in at 5 o'clock, and there are already four or five cars waiting to come in."
It's not only idyllic childhood memories that explain why the Rustic draws more than 500 cars to its outdoor movies on a busy summer night.
The admission charge is $20 a car, a pretty good deal when, say, a family of five goes to the movies. The Rustic lets children play catch on the edges of the parking lot before the show starts at nightfall. The snack bars sells $3 mosquito coils to repel insects.
And did I mention that the theater provides a 12-volt "jump box" several times a night to revive car batteries that died because of radio use?
The employees seem to love the place, too.
"I've always wanted to be in the movie industry, and I guess this is as close as I'll come to it," said Bob Gosselin, 36, who has run the projector in a shack for five years.
My family enjoyed the outdoor cinema, too, even Noah. He and Billiam laughed about scenes afterward, like the one when a dinosaur chased Fraser.
It was about 10 p.m. when we left the Rustic, and Juliette started dozing off on the ride home.
"I think I'm asleep already," she said.
Source: "Catching flicks in the outdoors" by Jonathan Saltzman- The Boston Globe. Read full article at: http://www.boston.com/news/local/rhode_island/articles/2008/08/16/catching_flicks_in_the_outdoors/