THE NEWARK DRIVE-IN

January 6, 2010 at 11:02 pm Leave a comment

MEMOIR

THE NEWARK DRIVE IN

On the far eastern edge of Newark, tucked between the Jersey City and New York City bound bridges, stood the Newark Drive In. The drive in was directly under the flight path of nearby Newark Airport, which tended to make listening to the movie something of a challenge. When approaching the drive in, you were greeted by the swampy, musty smell of Newark Bay. A resident of ‘The Dumps’ (what the locals called the area surrounding the theater) added to the odors of its refineries and sewage treatment plants to the ambiance of the area.
The drive in was surrounded by a tall wooden fence marking its boundaries with a total lack of landscaping of any kind, being true to the Newark life style – bare essentials is all that you get.
On warm summer nights my family would pack into the old Chevy with food and pillows and head to the drive in. The smaller kids would already be in their pajamas in anticipation of not making it to the second movie of the double feature. Being the oldest, I was given the opportunity to sit up front and in those days of front seats being bench seats, providing plenty of room.
Arriving at the drive in just before dusk, my dad paid and was given the PIC and off we would go. PIC was an insect repellent product. It was a flat spiral affair. You lit the end and it would give off a pungent aroma daring mosquitoes to venture near. I really don’t know if it worked because we would also douse ourselves with insect repellent to ward off the visitors from the nearby swamps.
During this period, mosquito-borne encephalitis (sleeping sickness) was a constant threat. On summer nights in Newark, trucks would go through the city streets emitting clouds of insect repellent.
On these same summer nights in our flat, ineffective screens would keep all but the largest and dumbest insects out of our house. When all were in bed, my mother would walk the length of our flat spraying insect repellent while telling all of us to close our eyes. As we lay in bed, you could feel the particles of spray falling on your body.
Once in the theater, we’d find our spot and park the car at just the right angle on the mound that ran the length of the theater to get a perfect view of the screen for everyone. The smaller kids, in their pajamas, would head for the playground and run around till they couldn’t see what they were doing which also indicated that it was time for the movie to begin.
One movie I recall seeing was entitled Macabre. The movie was supposed to be so scary that you were issued a life insurance policy when you entered the drive in. It was good for the length of the movie and if you should be unlucky enough to die of a fright-induced heart attack during the movie you collected, or you next of kin anyway. The movie was a real bomb; the cartoon was scarier. I wondered though what would have happened if someone would have dropped dead of your usual run-of-the-mill heart attacks.
There was always an intermission between movies, time to advertise the goodies available at the snack bar. The screen would be full of dancing hot dogs and talking cups of soda all counting down the fifteen minutes till the next show. The audience was your typical Newark crowd, the women in their smocks and the dads in their handlebar tee shirts. They thrived on meat and potatoes, with hot dogs and sodas would be your typical snack. But one snack that was advertised every time I went to the drive in was Flavo Shrimp Rolls. The only place you could buy a Flavo Shrimp Roll was at the drive in, they did not exist outside their gates. I’m sure you could get other shrimp rolls someplace else in Newark, maybe in the small China Town on Mulberry Street, but I don’t think your typical Newark crowd ate many shrimp rolls. But up there on the screen, after the hot dogs had danced off you could see the cartoon characters lining up for their Flavo Shrimp Rolls. I think we actually bought one once, only once. It was a deep-fried affair running in grease. I would wonder who looked at the crowd coming into the drive in and said to himself, “These people will buy up Flavo Shrimp Rolls like there’s no tomorrow.”
The Newark Drive In is gone now, long gone. Last I heard, a movie theater stands where the drive in once existed. And I’m sure with the demise of the drive in went the opportunity for anyone to buy a Flavo Shrimp Roll.

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