Rev up for summer reading

If you’re looking for some fast-paced beach reading, I’m happy to announce the release a new anthology, “Last Exit To Murder,” a collection 16 short stories about crime and the Los Angeles car culture, available now on Amazon, print and ebook.

Every two to three years since the late 1990s the Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles chapter produced a new anthology of stories by members. Entries are judged via blind submission so each writer, newbie and pro, gets an equal consideration. Over the years a number of aspiring authors have earned their first mystery publishing credit via these anthologies.

The titles of the first two books, “Murder by 13″ and “A Deadly Dozen,” refer to the number of stories inside. Since then the titles and tales have taken on a specific theme.

“Murder on Sunset Boulevard” takes the reader on a geographic tour down that iconic street. “LAndmarked for Murder” has stories set at famed locations throughout the city. “Murder in La-la Land” highlights the eccentricities of the City of Angels.

“Last Exit” closes with my story, “Dark Nights at the Deluxe Drive-in.” When I was looking for a story, I was initially stumped. I’m not a car buff. Cars are just transportation. I hate driving on the freeways and dealing tailgaters and bad drivers. I don’t watch car races and I don’t go crazy over car shows. If I have no interest in something, how can I write about it?

In searching for ideas I discarded the most obvious: dead body in the trunk, traffic jams, police car chases. Other stories in the book use these themes so anything I wrote would be a duplicate.

I wanted to write about those great characters cars of TV-Black Beauty, Batmobiles, Monkeemobile, Munstermobile-but I couldn’t come up with a plot and I didn’t know enough about car customizing to give the story authentic detail. Besides, the SinC/LA anthologies shy away from Hollywood stories and deal more with common folk.

At the time I’d recently visited the Nethercutt Museum in Sylmar and its fantastic collection of restored classic cars. That place would make a great setting for a mystery.

At some point I hit on drive-in theaters. Ah ha! I could have fun with that concept.

I grew up in the Midwest, where the drive-ins were, of course, closed during the winter months. The first drive-in movie I saw was “2001:A Space Odyssey” with my brothers. Some time after that I had my own car with a long hood. At the theaters I’d sit on the hood to watch the show, parked between two speakers for a fake stereo sound. 

Years ago one drive-in that I frequented was torn down for a mall/indoor movie theater. That gave me an idea for my story: A greedy developer wants to build a state-of-the-art multiplex on the site of an aging, decrepit drive-in; however, the owner won’t sell. Great conflict, great characters, great motive for murder.

I researched drive-ins and found that the LA area-the San Fernando Valley and Ventura County-once sported a number of drive-ins, all of which are now closed. A few drive-ins still operate throughout California. Most have two screens to pull in more revenue and a few host flea markets during the day to make ends meet.

 Despite the poor sound quality and a lowbrow reputation, drive-in provided good family entertainment at affordable prices. The kids could romp in the playground while their parents watched the film. Teens could show off their wheels and socialize.

 With the drive-ins gone, some people are trying to recreate the experience. In Eastern Ventura County, during the summer several cities host outdoor movie screenings of family movies in parks or plazas. Oak Park High School invites people to bring their cars to the school parking lot for an outdoor screening (the audio track is broadcast over the car radios). Simi Valley has “dive-in” movies at a community pool. People can watch the movie while sitting on the grass or floating in the water.

 Why do drive-ins strike such a fond note among baby boomers? Is it the friendships made in the lot? The silly monster pictures watched? Enjoyment of a clear night sky? The bad-for-you but tasty concession food? The simplicity of movie going?

 What are your memories of drive-in movies? Would you like to see drive-ins make a come back?   



Rev up for summer reading — 24 Comments

  1. Come on, Sally. You know why drive-ins were so popular. It provided a safe place for teenagers to ‘neck’ without the cops pulling up and sending them home. It was the obvious destination on ‘date night.’ Now I know I wasn’t the only teenager out there necking at the drive-in, because car windows were steamed up all around me. As I being too racy for this blog? I recall on my honeymoon, we went to the drive-in, but left half-way through the movie and headed for home…because… was getting late!
    Great blog, bet the book is great too. Good job.

    • That’s why drive-ins had the reputation as “passion pits.” I’ve read the other stories in the book and they’re fantastic.

  2. Sally, what fun to read your post. My memory of drive-in theaters is a jumble of several things. One that stands out is the story everyone liked to tell about the people who tried to leave and forgot to hang up the speaker, thus dragging it away with them, sometimes uprooting the pole as well. Never saw it happen, but it stays in my imagination.

    • Whenever I think of drive-ins, I remember that Disney movie “That Darn Cat.” There’s a chase scene through a drive-in with people jumping from car to car and falling through an open sky roof. Funny stuff!

  3. I grew up in So. Calif. with drive-in movies. My funniest memory was when a friend wanted me to go on a double date with her and her boyfriend, who had no car. His friend did. I didn’t want to go but said okay because the friend had installed bucket seats in his old car. I wouldn’t have to sit next to him. When they came to pick me up, he’d taken out the bolts and moved the seat next to him. Every time he stepped on the gas my seat would fly back and my friend’s date had to catch me. And that was just the beginning of the date. From there it got crazier. Funny memory. Thanks for reminding me!

    • Hi Marja. Thanks for sharing! Hope the guy didn’t get too fresh with you. Back in the days guys loved to fixed up and customize their cars. They’d show off their wheels at the drive-in. Nowadays with the big parking lots at multiplexes, nobody notices the cars (except when they’re all trying to leave at the same time).

  4. Double dates, girlfriends hiding inside the trunk to avoid paying, speaker clipped to the window, snack bar, Blue Hawaii…

  5. I’d love to see drive-ins come back, Sally. My memories of drive-ins center around my parents, who were my main conduit to drive-ins. I was little and got to flop around the backseat. I tried to fake being asleep and then, using my stealth, 12-year-old skills raise my head to see the “forbidden” scenes of films like Cleopatra or James Bond.

    My parents wouldn’t even take their eyes off the screen for one second. Someone’s hand would leave the tub of popcorn for an instant to firmly yet gentle push my head back down– a subtle but effective signal to get to sleep,

    Later, as a teen, I watched Star Wars at the Pickwick drive-in in Burbank one autumn night with my best friend. We were the only two people on earth who didn’t swoon over Star Wars. Maybe the poor sound quality from the speakers and the freezing temps had something to do with that?

    Still, I’d love to see drive-ins make a come back. I loved everything about them, including the bumpy ride to just the perfect viewing spot, the concession jingles, the playground– hell, the fact that I could wear pajamas to the movies and my Dad would carry me back into the house when we got home. I feigned asleep. No way was I giving up a free lift from my Dad!

    • Hi Marta. I didn’t go ga-ga over Star Wars either. I saw it at an indoor theater but never understood the appeal until years later. But drive-ins are great if you don’t want to get dressed up to see a show. I’d love to see drive-ins return but I’d need to arrive early to make sure my little compact wasn’t stuck behind a Hummer.

  6. I have a Star Wars drive-in memory too. It was the first movie I ever went to. My parents put us in our pajamas and we all went to see it. It captured my 5 year old mind. It seemed like the most incredible thing that had ever happened. I love the drive ins, wish they’d come back.

    • The beauty of drive-ins is that it was something families could do together instead of kids and parents scattering to different rooms at a multiplex. And since so many of today’s vehicles come equipped with a DVD player, families can watch movies without leaving the driveway.

  7. I grew up in the Midwest also and the drive-in was the only place for my family to afford to see movies because we could bring in our own food. There is still a drive-in near here in upstate NY and families flock to it in the summer. A fun place to go for everyone, not just for those couples wanting to make-out.

    • Drive-ins were invented in NY, not in Calif. as one might think. That drive-in theater you describe sounds great. I bet people flock to it because it’s the only one for miles around.

  8. In my area of Central Coast CA, the drive-in was our only form of recreation. You wanted to be seen in the snack bar with a boy–the highest form of social recognition. But unfortunately, one night I saw my sister’s steady boyfriend with another girl, and they weren’t exactly eating popcorn. To tell or not to tell! The repercussions of that decision redefined our lives.

    • I’m in SoCal so hello to a fellow Californian! I bet a number of relationships were formed and broken at drive-ins. Hmmm, a drive-in would make a good setting for a romance novel.

  9. Hi, Sally,

    We had drive-ins in NJ too. Not my favorite place for a date.
    The last time we went to one, my husband and I took our sixteen-month-old son, thinking he would sleep in the backseat–no such luck. Never knew what the film was about. We were too busy with the baby and left after less than an hour.

    • Sorry you missed the movie. At least in a car your son didn’t bother the other movie goers. I liked drive-ins for the privacy–the other patrons could talk and I could still watch the film in peace.

  10. You forgot to mention our brother had seen 2001 before and thought it was the most incredible, fantastic thing ever. He couldn’t wait to take us to see it. But it started raining halfway through . . . didn’t exactly look like Academy Award material.

    • A drive-in isn’t the best place to see a film like “2001.” I was sitting in the back seat and was too young at the time to appreciate the film. I saw the movie again years later and I still didn’t understand it.

    • Sorry you missed out on drive-ins. I didn’t see that many myself, but the experience was memorable.

  11. Hey Sally, great post. There is still a local drive-in/swap meet in the city of Pomona. They show current movies and the lines are still long.

    • Wished I lived closer to Pomona so I could attend that theater! All the old drive-ins in my area are gone. :(