I have very few truly good childhood memories with my father, unfortunately, my parents divorced when I was two, but I was reminded today of one of them.
When I was a boy, my father used to take us to the drive-in movies, frequently to something completely inappropriate for my age. He took us to see Gotcha, a movie about a Cold War era college student who gets wrapped up in a spy game while on vacation in France and trying to lose his virginity to an exotic woman. From this movie, I learned that cool guys wear parachute pants and play paintball in the real world. I also saw my first pair of boobies. I was nine.
He took us to a double feature of Dragnet and The Untouchables. I remember sitting and watching Dragnet, and there was a “morning after” scene when Tom Hanks’ character rolls away from the woman in his bed and picks up a box on the night stand only to realize it is empty and hearing my Dad say, “oops.” I didn’t understand why. It wasn’t until years later that I realized it was a condom box. The Untouchables is a violent movie about Mob gangs with a lot of guns and violence. I was twelve.
I also remember going to a double feature of Bright Lights, Big City and Colors. Bright Lights, Big City was a Michael J Fox movie so how bad could it be? All I remember is Alex P Keaton running around the screen looking for his next fix. Colors is a movie about a couple of cops working in East Los Angeles, dealing with gangs. The movies tag line was “70,000 gang members. One million guns. Two cops.” I learned from this movie that real men say “fuck” a lot and that they have sex with the bad guy’s sister, or girlfriend, or something. I also learned that when the real man has sex with the bad guy’s sister or girlfriend or something, he is supposed to be on top and the sheet is supposed to be just barely high enough to conceal ass crack. Also, more boobies. I was still twelve.
It might sound like these are bad memories when I clearly stated this was a good memory. They’re really not bad memories. I sit here now, more than twenty years removed from these events and can clearly see what poor judgment my father had, but I enjoyed the movies well enough and clearly they had an impact on me for me to remember them so vividly all these years later… Oh, wait…
But there is more to these memories. What I remember so fondly, is not the movies we saw. There were others as this was something we did on a regular basis, but it is everything else about the outings that has stuck with me.
Long before I was even born, my father bought a Dodge Ram pick-up truck. It was, as I remember it, a monster of a vehicle (though I was young and small and my recollection is probably relative).
The truck was two-tone blue with Navy Blue on top and Baby Blue on the sides. Very apropos to the 1970’s I’d say. For reasons I do not recall, and may not have ever been aware, the truck had a name and its name was “Jack”. I called it “Jack-Jack” long before The Incredibles was ever conceived of. Jack had an extended cab with inward facing fold down jump seats in the back, sliding window in the rear windshield and a full length bed.
One of our favorite “family” activities was to make homemade pizzas. We would buy crust mix and spaghetti sauce and big bags of Mozzarella cheese. We’d buy pepperonis and Canadian bacon and black olives, mushrooms and green peppers. We’d chop up the vegetables and mix the dough, spread it out onto rectangular pans. I’d pour the sauce (usually too much and Dad would have to scoop some back up) and spread it around on the dough. Dad would generously sprinkle the cheese on top of the sauce and Erin, always the meticulous one, would place the toppings, always with the edges of the pepperonis touching each other (she never wanted to have anything to do with the Canadian bacon.) We’d toss the vegetables on top (again, leaving the olives off some of the pizza because Erin doesn’t like “little rubber washers” and they’d bake. I remember these pizzas being one of my favorite things to do at my Dad’s house.
The great thing about movie night was we combined two of my favorite things. As a “family” we’d shop at the store for the pizza ingredients. As a “family” we’d build these masterpieces and bake them to perfection. Then Dad would haul a huge ice chest out of the garage and while my step-mother, Georgia, would fill it with ice and cans of cold soda, cut the pizza and cover it with foil and pack paper plates and napkins and what ever else in a paper grocery sack, Dad would gather the folding lawn chairs and toss them in the back of the truck while Erin and I gathered pillows and blankets.
We’d all climb into Jack. I remember hating riding in the back of Jack, even then I was claustrophobic. Dad would fold the vinyl covered seat forward and I’d climb up and over and into the jump seat with Erin on the other side, each of us holding a warm delicious smelling pizza in our lap unable to dive in. Dad and Georgia would climb into the front seat and we’d be on our way.
I remember in the early days, drive-in movies were still fairly popular and we’d have to head toward the back of the lot to park the monster pick-up. In later years, we often got to park near the front of the lot. I always enjoyed that; I was too young to recognize it for the demise of the industry that it was. Dad would park Jack, facing away from the huge wall the movies would be projected upon and we’d set up shop. Dad and Georgia sat together in lounge chairs while Erin and I sat in upright chairs on the tail gate. We’d settle into our seats, situate the blankets and dig into the pizza and sodas.
I remember sitting in those chairs chowing down on those pizzas and watching the movies with such excitement. I always knew I’d never make it to the end. We made these outings in the summer time when “dusk” doesn’t happen until around 9:00 at night. By the time the second movie started at or after 11:00, there was no way I was going to last till it was over, and I rarely did, but it was fun all the same.
There is a company that runs a couple drive-ins in the bay area, one in Concord and one in San Jose, and they’re having a special event tonight; free entrance to the lot, therefore, free movies. They’re even showing movies I haven’t seen before, “Up” and “Night at the Museum 2”. I’d love to go, I’d love to recreate a little of my childhood. I’d love to take Little along, but alas, I do not have time to make a pizza. I do not have access to a pick-up truck and a car or the back of my SUV just would not be the same. And, it’s a school night. Oh and Little has to go to school tomorrow, too.
That home-made pizza sure sounds good though… Hmmm.