When older generations talk about the nostalgia from “the good ole days,” it’s almost guaranteed they’ll mention going to drive-in movie theaters when they were young. Being the ripe age of 26, I’d never experienced the enjoyment of the drive-in theater—until last weekend, that is. Mountainair opened its drive-in theater last weekend, and I went there to see if this experience was really worth the hype.
Mountainair Mayor Peter Nieto told me that the reason for building the drive-in was to help the mental health of people in town who have been stuck inside because of Covid. He said the drive-in wouldn’t have come to fruition if there was no pandemic.
The drive-in was built at the rodeo grounds, which means there’s ample room for cars to pack in to watch a movie.
When I went last Saturday to watch, for some reason I thought there would be more cars. I live in Albuquerque and the pop-up drive-in theaters there get packed; entire parking lots get filled. But I have to remember that Mountainair is a smaller town and the drive-in had only been open for a week before I went. I’m sure as time goes on the drive-in will fill up more.
Nieto said the total cost to build the theater was about $3,400, and of that, about $1,400 was for the projector. He also said attendance has been growing from opening night and he hopes the town can break even on costs within the next couple of weeks. The cost is a modest $5 per person or $20 for a carload.
“I was really nervous at first because the very first night we didn’t have a lot of people at all, he said. “The second night we probably had about double what we had the first night. I only expect it to grow.”
The drive-in had a small concession stand with the typical snacks: candy, chocolate bars, drinks, etc., and Nieto said he hopes concession sales will help offset the cost of licensing fees for the movies.
Now that all the housekeeping details are out of the way, let’s get down to the good part: What did I actually think about my drive-in experience? Well, I really enjoyed it! I’m not an avid movie-theater-goer under normal circumstances, but if there were more drive-ins around, that could definitely change.
My favorite part was that I didn’t have to leave my Jeep to watch the movie. Of course, some people brought lawn chairs to sit outside or tailgated with everyone in the bed of a truck, but being the lazybones that I am, it was awesome that I didn’t have to leave my driver’s seat.
I think another cool aspect was that the drive-in had an FM transmitter so if I turned my radio to a particular station, I could listen to the movie through my speakers. I’m not sure when that particular piece of technology was invented or if the old drive-ins had FM transmitters, but that one small feature made my night.
I’ve been told that a big component of old school drive-ins was the way people intermingled on their way to the concession stand, by tailgating with other people in the same truck, etc. Because of Covid, this social aspect was lost on moviegoers this time around, but I’m interested to see once restrictions are lifted, if drive-ins will turn into more of a community gathering rather than individuals or groups in their separate vehicles.
For the actual movie-watching experience, I had a great view. Nieto said they were putting smaller vehicles in the front rows and larger vehicles in the back, so I was able to see the screen perfectly with no hindrance. The sound coming from my stereo was great also, so everything went perfect.
Overall, I can definitely understand why older folks miss drive-in theaters. It’s a completely different experience from going to a traditional theater or watching a movie at home. I think there’s room for all three moviegoing experiences, and I hope more drive-ins start popping up around the state.