My First & Last Night at a New Jersey Drive-in

Sandy and Danny in “Grease,” 1978. What was playing on the screen often mattered less than the company in the car. Image from this LINK.

Drive-in movies, screened out in the fresh air, are enjoying a comeback in the time of COVID-19. I’ve even noticed an impromptu screen hitched up in a town lot by the side of the Garden State Parkway. It makes me happy to think of kids in their PJs, in their cars, with their families. Here’s what I wrote about the last drive-in standing in New Jersey.

Metropolitan Diary, Wednesday, September 18, 1991

DEAR Diary:

Dan and I and his friend Mark drove down to Hazlet the other night to see the last movie at the last drive-in in New Jersey. But we arrived after 8 and the police turned us away. Sold out.

We parked nearby and tried walking in with our root beers. “No walk-ins,” they said. We stood by our Honda and got the soundtrack on our radio and made friends with other crushed people. Two guys shared their microwave popcorn with us. Finally, someone heard about a path along a long sandy ridge, so we took it and sneaked in from the back. As we came around the bend, the 50’s version of “The Fly” loomed before us.

We hurried to the crowded concession stand. I had a steamy cheeseburger wrapped in a little foil bag, dry yellow popcorn and Movie Bites ice cream. (We had the last ice cream served at the last drive-in; they ran out right after we got ours). Then we sat on the ground, surrounded by people in lawn chairs and on car hoods.

When I went to the women’s room, a big place with squares (not rolls) of toilet tissue and no mirrors, I imagined the young women who used to come here. The glamour of drive-in dates. The ponytails and the lipstick drawn on in a hurry with a peek into a mirrored compact.

But we were in the 90’s and there were lots of video cameras and someone stole the concession sign. (The police got it back.) On the way home, Dan and Mark remembered going to drive-ins with their families in the 60’s and changing into their pajamas before the movies ended. I felt sad. After 30 years, my first and last trip to a New Jersey drive-in was over in just one night.

— ALICE GARBARINI HURLEY

From The New York Times Archives. Weekly “Metropolitan Diary” was edited by Ron Alexander. He picked up the phone and called if he was using your piece, which you had mailed to the newpaper’s office on West 43rd Street. Back then, writers were rewarded with a bottle of Champagne. I reported to a designated liquor store on Eighth Avenue to claim my bubbly.

P.S. True drive-in fans know Wellfleet Cinemas on Cape Cod, showing movies and animated refreshment commercials under the stars since July 1957. I also remember the Whitestone Drive-in in the Bronx. When my Dad drove us home from visiting Uncle Anthony and Aunt Claire, we passed the big screen on Bruckner Boulevard and caught a glimpse of the films.

Magazine maven, craft coffee lover, legal guardian. Passionate about fashion and lipstick — though it may not look that way when I dash to the supermarket.

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