Being a child of the 90’s in good ole’ Milford MA, theater options were scant. Nonexistent, really. I’d heard fairytales of the Twin theaters that inhabited our once lively downtown, but when I came into the picture, they were kaput. Shame too, seeing as both were 10 minutes from my home.
Alas, times are a-changin’. In the mid ’90’s, the Bellingham theater put the twins out of business. For most, the highway-side location reads “convenience.” For Milfordians, though, it was a hard loss. We went from having two theaters in our backyard to a noisy major cinema a few exits away. It was one of many steps that resulted in a much quieter, far less social town center. Any evidence of the before times was effectively eradicated when they tore down the State Theatre. Its replacement? A bank. Mary Poppins never would have stood for this!
It was a bleak future, indeed. But not hopeless. Every summertime, local cinephiles have something to look forward to:
The Mendon Drive-In.
I distinctly remember seeing Jurassic Park in the summer of ’93. A wee lad of 7. It rained as the T-rex annhiliated his cage and sniffed out his kid victims. My heart raced. Will that film screen shield me from the beast? Tucked behind my iron blanket I repeated the mantra: It’s. Not. Real.
Later experiences were far less taxing on my psyche. I remember childhood favorites Beethoven’s 2nd, Rookie of the Year, Monkey Trouble, Toy Story, and Independence Day. Front row. In later years, it was
Saving Private Ryan, War of the Worlds, and Ratatouille. The list goes on.
Our visits became a summer routine. We’d load up the car with blankets, pillows, chairs, and bug-spray. The essentials. Then we’d just go. I remember the smell of the tin carrying a triad of popcorn flavors (cheese, caramel, and buttered). If we pleaded long enough, our parents would buy us french fries or mozzie sticks from the snackbar.
As I got older I’d bring friends. And most recently, I had the chance to add my loving partner to the list.
I came to realize how special the place is. AJ had never been to one. Close friend and internet personality Max Pacheco was also a drive-in newbie. Seeing their glee-filled visits reminded me how rare this sort of thing is today.
In 1957, there were 4,000 drive-in theaters in the US. Now it’s barely 400. And to my knowledge, only three remain in Massachusetts.
It’s no accident that the few standing continue to thrive. With digital projectors going mainstream, movie studios are sending a clear message to the locally owned mom-and-pop theaters: Adapt or die.
Mendon defiantly chose the former; They made the switch to digital. In 1998, they added a second screen. The website got an upgrade, and their food and service improved. Just last year, they were even recognized as one of Phantom Gourmet‘s Hidden Jewels.
The world today isn’t the one I knew in 1993. I now find that there are monsters far scarier than huge prehistoric lizards. And that’s not just because they actually had chicken feathers.
No, what scares me more is how quickly I forget these things. How quickly the public forgets. And how unfriendly the plummeting numbers can be.
My interests have shifted since I was a kid. While I’m certain that I want to add to the world, I wasn’t always sure how. Adulthood assures me that writing is it. I ultimately want to pen a successful screenplay. In my life, nothing matches the experience of a movie that really connects.
That moment where there is no distinction between yourself and the world onscreen. When the T-rex gets close and blows the hat clear off your head. When all you can do is just sit and stare. That’s the good stuff.
My drive-in endures and improves. It keeps up the pace in an industry declining. And above all, it makes experiences like the one above a reality. It gives us a venue to explore a realm of fantasy while promoting the social experience of “going to the movies.” And it’s doing everything in its power to stick around for awhile.
For more info, visit their official website
Read more about other nation-wide Drive-Ins below: