Lakeland, Florida: Outdoor Movies Still Popular at Silver Moon Drive-In

Outdoor Movies at the Silvermoon Drive-In in Lakeland, FloridaLAKELAND, Florida (AP) -- The view from Row 2 of the Silver Moon drive-in has changed hardly a whit in 60 years. Outdoor movies apparently still have a place in America's heart. Take a gander, and you'll see: To your left, a yellow wooden post supporting a cast-aluminum box with a single volume knob and a tongue that hooks to an open car window -- a monaural speaker, from the days of President Truman. To your right, in the rear of a Ford pickup lined with quilts, sleeping bags and goose-feather pillows, three jammie-clad youngsters devouring popcorn the way squirrels do acorns while Papa snoozes and Mama sips lemonade. And dead ahead, the gods of Hollywood filling a gargantuan silvery screen beneath the grandest of all templates: the coal-black heavens, cluttered with thousands of points that flicker like diamond chips. Not a place to miss if you happen to be in the neighborhood -- or even if not. Ask Donovan Padgett, 44, who rolls his Ford F150 into the lot of the Silver Moon, on average, three times a week, making a 50-minute trek from his north Tampa, Florida, home, just to see an outdoor movie. He shrugs off the inconvenience. "There ain't many things left in this country you can call 100 percent, true-blue Americana," he says. "But this place, right here, is one of 'em. It's got a feeling to it. Homey." The drive-in theater, that uniquely American institution which turned 75 this summer, is experiencing an unexpected renaissance. After decades of closures, about 100 drive-ins have opened or reopened since the mid-'90s. In these digital days, you can see a movie on a laptop computer, an "in-car" entertainment system, even on a cell phone. What would compel anyone to sit through a double feature in a dusty parking lot, trying to make out dialogue over the occasional coughing motor, and breathing air that smells, at times, as though you poured oily popcorn butter and diesel into a humidifier? The answer can be found only by venturing to a drive-in, bug-repellent wipes at the ready. Among about 400 choices nationwide: Bengies in Baltimore, Maryland; Red's Crescent in Crescent City, California; the Pink Cadillac in Centerville, Tennessee; and the big daddy of them all, the Thunderbird in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, which doubles as the world's largest daily flea market. Or you could come to the Silver Moon, located in semi-rural, central Florida -- where the Outback steakhouses and stucco subdivisions that are closing in have not completely erased the scent of hay and manure, the mom-and-pop berry stands, the archways of Spanish moss. The Silver Moon is a 500-car, two-screen theater with a clapboard ticket booth, luminescent pink-and-yellow marquee, and dual projectors that run reel-to-reel, 35-millimeter celluloid film much the way was done when Gene Kelly was tap-dancing in puddles and singin' in the rain. If you spend enough time within the Silver Moon's 13 acres, two things become apparent. First: The drive-in experience is not, at its core, about the movie, or a cheap date, or even tradition. It's about people choosing to commune during their off hours -- an act of defiance, if you will, against the modern world's tide of isolation. Second: Time can, at least for an evening, stand comfortingly still.

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