Off Brand: Let’s all go to the drive-in

The movie theater is an endangered species, the prey of armchair entertainment. While overall ticket sales may be dwindling due to the ease of streaming video, at-home convenience is no match to the visceral experience of going to the movies, let alone watching one on a colossal projection screen from inside a sedan.

The drive-in is as Americana as anything Don McLean ever sang about. In post-war America, teen culture was dominated by burger joints, make-out points and drive-in movies; at least that’s what 1950s archetypal flicks like “Diner” tell me.

But even at the height of their popularity in the mid-twentieth century, the number of drive-ins was only estimated to be around 4,000. Now, in 2023, that number has been reduced to the hundreds, one of which operates on the outskirts of Oak Harbor.

The Blue Fox Drive-In hearkens back to what feels like a simpler era: a time when you couldn’t flip to something else if you didn’t like what was playing. You’d be stuck with what’s on the marquee, forcing a relationship between you, the movie and your Friday night.

A few weekends ago, we pulled up to an ill-fated attempt to see “The Super Mario Bros. Movie.” The traffic to get into Blue Fox nearly stretched to SR 20 with us as the caboose. Instead of stewing about not being able to see an animated video game movie geared toward children, I was happy to be turned away; too much business is better than no business at an American institution like the drive-in.

Thinking we’d beat the crowd the next showing, we arrived at a much emptier Blue Fox, only to realize that the long-awaited Nintendo adaptation was replaced by Guy Ritchie’s “The Covenant.” Knowing neither of us really dig brutal war flicks, my partner recommended that we leave. I turned off the engine anyway because how often do we get to watch movies we know nothing about?

Going in blind is both rare and exciting. Trailers are ubiquitous. From YouTube clips to social media links to TV spots, advertising is a language unto itself. With “The Covenant,” we were in an unequivocally foreign land, unsure of what would unfold within the next two hours.

It was enjoyable, but it always is; the drive-in transcends taste. Even bad movies look good on big screens (see: Ben Affleck’s “Air,” which was the double feature).

Along with thousands of other indoor/outdoor theaters across the country, Blue Fox abides by the use it or lose it principle. We must allow these species to thrive and not push them to become another streaming casualty, just as we did to the late-video store.

We need the caroling anthropomorphic foods, the Looney Tunes serials, and the National Anthem culminating in uproarious patriotic honks and flashing headlights because movies and popcorn are the great American unifiers. So, let’s keep going to the drive-in.

Brandon Berry is a curious newcomer to Whidbey Island who will soon be a new-goer.