It’s been about 50 years since the last time Dee Garn went to a drive-in movie theater, but he got the chance to relive the experience last weekend.
“I went to a few when I was still dating in high school,” said Garn, of Fielding, who came with his wife Mary Dell and other family members to see a screening of “The Emperor’s New Groove” at the Box Elder County Fairgrounds on Saturday night. Officials organized a drive-in movie night as a way to whet the appetites of locals who are craving any kind of social experience in the new era of social distancing.
Tom and Jodi Peterson of Brigham City are used to taking their children Tucker, Tessa and Jack to the movies, but haven’t been able to since theaters have been shuttered for the last two months.
“It’s been one of the things we’ve really missed,” Tom said.
So the Petersons jumped in the car and headed to the fairgrounds. They arrived early enough to secure a front-row seat and came prepared, bringing a portable gas fireplace to make S’mores and make the most of the experience.
Box Elder County Tourism Director Joan Hammer helped organize the movie night, which came about after word spread that some other counties in the state were putting on similar events. With the fairgrounds sitting mostly empty due to prohibitions on large gatherings, she said the ideal venue was open and available.
“We’ve got this great facility, so we thought we would give it a try,” Hammer said.
Instead of the traditional drive-up speaker stands, people tuned into a FM radio frequency to access the sound.
Word of the impromptu gathering spread quickly through social media, and by the time it was dark enough to see the screen, nearly 150 vehicles had congregated in the large parking area west of the main rodeo arena.
Fairgrounds manager Jan Rhodes was impressed with the turnout.
“I thought we might get 30 cars here,” Rhodes said. Given the unexpected size of the crowd, she said people were doing a relatively good job of staying safe by keeping their distance from other groups.
While the indoor theaters remain closed, one still found a way to get involved. Walker Cinemas in Perry helped create an authentic movie-going atmosphere by providing popcorn in the familiar red-and-white-striped containers, an amenity of which Arthur and Angelica Rosales of Tremonton happily took advantage. They and their children, along with Angelica’s sister Mercedes, were happily taking in the atmosphere, with folding chairs and the back of their SUV providing the stadium seating.
Unlike most people of theirs and their childrens’ generation, the Rosales are familiar with the drive-in movie experience, having been to one that is still operating in the Ogden area. There used to be one in Tremonton near the Bothwell exit on I-84, but it was closed decades ago along with most others.
It may have taken a global pandemic, but whatever the reason, the drive-in movie theater could be making a comeback. With the popularity of last week’s event, officials say there might be more in the making.
“It’s a way to connect without connecting,” Hammer said. “We can distance safely, but still be social.”