Ruston and Minden Drivers

Written By Galen White

The first one I ever attended was just west of Ruston, Louisiana, on Highway 80. My brother, Buddy, and his wife, Annie Jean, took me there when I was only 8 or so years old. Once I was old enough to own and drive my own vehicle, Ruston became a favorite destination on weekends. Of course, the one in Minden was visited regularly, too: went to one on Friday night, the other on Saturday night….that is, If I had enough money.

Obviously, I am referring to the drive in picture show. Talk about convenience, you don’t have to dress up, the seats were comfortable, and although the speakers could be scratchy and muffled, it was still an enjoyable place to go.

You do know what I’m talkin’ about, don’t you? Okay, there may be some of you young whippersnappers out there that ain’t got a clue. A drive in picture show, or drive in theater, was a huge outdoor screen where folks could sit in their cars and watch a movie. They became so popular in the 1940’s that almost every town had one.

Most had a concession stand that sold the usual popcorn, nehi belly washers – uh, soda pops for those of you who don’t know – Milk Duds, chocolate covered raisins, Nestle’s Crunch, and other assorted candies. Drive-in movies became so popular that they eventually sold hamburgers and hot dogs; what could be better – dinner and a movie right there in the comfortable confines of your car.

Think about it. During the winter months you could crank your car and turn on the heater if it got too cool. You controlled the temperature without someone two rows back saying they were too hot. Of course, your spouse might complain, but that’s another story. It wouldn’t matter if you were in your car or the Waldorf Astoria; if they wanted to complain, they are gonna complain!

There was a certain group of people who complained about drive in movies being a “passion pit”, and a place of iniquity. Sure, some folks sat in their car and drank alcoholic beverages until they were drunker’n Cooter Brown. And I’m sure there were some who never knew what the movie was about due to the wooin’ and cooin’ between boyfriend and girlfriend. Windshields and door glasses would become so fogged up that I’d have to wipe….., uh, windshields and door glasses would become so fogged up that SOME FOLKS would have to wipe them dry before they could see how to drive out the exit.

Okay, back to the movie. The remaining months, for the most part, were comfortable. You have to remember that back in those days, an air conditioned car was unheard of. So was an air conditioned house for that matter. We were acclimated to the summer temperatures and knew complainin’ wouldn’t change anything. Just roll all the windows down and enjoy the night air.

I guess weather and/or the place being thought of as a den of iniquity could be the reason drive in theaters closed. I, on the other hand, believe they closed due to something much more sinister. Here’s what I mean.

Imagine sittin’ there watchin’ Roy Rogers and the bad guys…., whatsat? Who is Roy Rogers? Okay, okay. You’re sittin’ there watchin’ Russell Crowe or Ben Afflack. Hey! Use your imagination!

Anyway, you are sittin’ there, maybe all snuggled up with your honey, when you suddenly become aware of a high pitched whine…, and it ain’t comin’ from the old, worn out speaker. No, sir. This is the high pitched scream of a blood thirsty skeeter tellin’ you it is hungry and you are the main course on the lunch menu!

Now, you know as well as I do, a buzzin’ skeeter can interrupt even the best movie! The folks at the concession stand knew, too, and sold a doodad called the mosquito coil. This was a device that, when lit, gave off a small stream of smoke which drove the skeeters out of your car. Worked fairly well, too. Of course, if it fell over and you weren’t aware, it could burn a hole in your car seat. I know.

Regardless, drive in movies would never work today because no one wants to sit there for two hours with the motor runnin’ so we can keep cool. Besides, today you can see on TV anything you can see at the movies, and not have to leave an arm and leg as payment for popcorn and nehi belly washer.

Galen White has written articles for several papers in North Louisiana and is now retired.


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