A love letter to NJ’s lost drive-in movie theaters
Lost loves are both bitter and special. Consider this a love letter.
I saw a list of things you must do here in the Garden State in NJ Monthly and most of them were things most people wouldn’t care about doing at all.
Like go to the Pine Barrens to listen to local blue grass bands. Or seeing the world’s largest glass bottle in the Museum of American Glass in Millville.
That’s a hard pass for most people.
But number 9 on the list https://njmonthly.com/articles/jersey-living/52-things-you-must-do-in-new-jersey/ was like hearing an old song that makes you melt for your lost love. The one that got away.
The drive-in movie theater.
They mostly talked about the Delsea Drive-in in Vineland. The only others around in NJ are pop-ups, seasonal at best, makeshift drive-ins that came in response to the pandemic.
But the Delsea is the real deal and was around since 1949, closing for awhile and reopening in 2004. A real, full-time drive-in theater and the only one of that kind left in the state.
At one time drive-in movies were as popular in the Garden State as diners. We all had our go-to. Mine was the Amboys Drive-in in South Amboy. I went to others but this is the one I went to most.
Say what you will about the cheap, tinny speakers you’d hang on your window not being the best sound quality. (At least they’d later be replaced with an FM frequency to dial up on you car’s radio.)
Disparage all you want the watching of a movie through windshield wipers on nights a shower would come through.
There was something magical about seeing a movie in your car. It was the quirkiness of the whole thing. The same goofy feeling you got when when making a fort out of a blanket and mom’s dining room chairs.
You felt oddly like this shouldn’t be happening yet was. You felt like you were getting away with something.
And the snack bars! There was nothing great about the hamburgers and hot dogs at these places. It was second-rate fare for sure. But it was somehow perfect.
Remember the ones that had playgrounds for the kids? The hysterical thing of them was how old school and unsafe they were.
Many literally had a cement poured construction pipe on the ground kids could crawl through and shatter teeth on if they weren’t careful. Blissfully, parents didn’t care. It would have been OUR fault.
Also, you got your money’s worth. Remember there were always double features? And in between the movies there was an intermission where the dumbest ever short would play encouraging you to visit the snack bar.
How awful is THAT?!
Now all my memories from Jersey’s drive-in movies are from when I was a kid. The Amboys closed in 1979, years before I would be a licensed driver. So I never had that teenager-making-out-at-the-drive-in experience. Although I wanted to.
Vineland’s Delsea would be my last chance as an adult. And I wanted that to happen with a certain someone. But that’s a lost love of another kind.
Opinions expressed in the post above are those of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Jeff Deminski only.
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