A ride on the Rocket

“You know you’re getting older when you go to the drive-in and actually watch the movie,” my friend chuckled at me. “So what did you guys see anyway?”
Ouch. She’d called me out, caught me empty-handed so to speak. I not only actually watched the movie, I’d been totally riveted by two of them. Yep, I had enjoyed nearly five hours of entertainment without a single steamed window. In my defense, I weakly explained that the new car has a funky, plastic island that is great for holding drinks and CDs but is a little hard on the “getting close” quotient. She chuckled again, and I finally gave up. Yes, we’d gone to the drive-in to see the show, not the movies but the show, and what a show it was.

I think the time warp hit somewhere around the neon “Rocket Drive-In” sign. After a loose head count and a charge of five bucks apiece, our car crept forward. A giant silver screen blotted out the view to the left and arriving a little later than 7:30 p.m. made finding a good parking space difficult. An SUV full of teen-agers grabbed the spot next door as an older couple in a sedan gingerly drove onto the berm, angling the car into a good viewing position.

The older couple dialed their radio to 88.5 while the teen-agers went the purist route and grabbed the dated, little sound console still attached to the wire and set it on the window. Outside our windows, the scene in the lot had the feel of Dead-show-meets-tailgate-party. Kids were having the times of their lives. Dogs were cruising aimlessly. Frisbees were flying. River furniture was out and about. Laughter filled the air.

We joined a line funneling into a classic single-story of cinderblock in the center of the lot. The wall was covered with Cold War-era designs, and our senses were overwhelmed by the smell of good, old-fashioned junk food. Dozens of hamburger patties sizzled on the grill. Hot dogs took a spin on the rollers. And a fresh batch of popcorn cascades into the glass box. It’s difficult to resist, and armed with burgers, ice cream and soda, we return to our car. The buzz is really going now, and the Rocket was packed with people from all walks of Durango life. Nearly all of them have giant smiles covering their faces. Even though, we’re here for second run films, it feels like the magic of the early cinema is still alive. A hush falls over the crowd as the screen flickers to life.

Much earlier than last weekend, I was catching up with a friend. When asked what he’s been up to, he replied, ““We’ve been doing the drive-in thing a bunch this summer. We just don’t know how much longer it’s going to be around.”

Last Saturday, that comment seemed to be on everyone’s minds. Poking out from behind the left edge of the screen was a new feature - a giant concrete monolith that will come to be known as Home Depot. With this in mind, one fan told us that he’d heard that the Rocket had sold to Target and that the next people driving on the lot would be in bulldozers. Another solemnly nodded his head. We heard about how one person’s first trip to the Rocket had been in 1964. Another was cruising around with a camera, burning through film trying to memorialize this slice of Durango life. Days later, people were still talking about how the drive-in was about to go up in smoke.

However, this wasn’t the first time Melanie Scales, who manages the Rocket for its owners, has heard that the drive-in is closing. “We’ve heard that rumor for years,” she said.

And while it’s still a rumor, the drive-in has unfortunately been on the market for some time now. Drive-in movie theaters have been a dying breed since the ’80s. The lure of big real-estate dollars has been hard to resist. And the dozers have gone out, brought down screens, turned over the speaker posts and transformed all that relatively raw land into super stores and sprawling suburban complexes.

But Scales and her crew still crank up the projector every season. “We just keep going,” she said. And for that, we can all be grateful. The Rocket provides a simple pleasure in a time when simple pleasures are hard to come by. We can only hope it will just keep going, and that we can all pull up next year in front of the big screen.

- Will Sands





News Index Second Index Opinion Index Classifieds Index Contact Index