If you spent the summers of your youth visiting a drive-in movie theater, you likely have a soft spot for this kind of movie-going today. I still harbor an ancient fear from having witnessed “Gremlins 2” in the middle of the night outdoors. Even in this HD-IMAX-digital-surround sound era of movie entertainment, I still have a fondness for the 35mm film-distant screen-celluloid-AM radio experience I get at the drive-in.
I recently visited the Valley 6 Drive-In Theater in Auburn and talked with its operations manager. Keith Kiehl has been with Valley 6 since 1991, but before, he was essentially raised at the drive-in. While growing up, his family helped operate the Rodeo Drive-In just up the road in Bremerton, Washington.
There’s an interesting legacy pervading Valley 6. A father, while helping his son search for a job, came to check out Valley 6. Later, both father and son ended up finding employment there. Keith says there have been several parent-child tandems during his time working at Valley 6.
Back in 1969, Valley 6 originally opened with only three screens and in 1980, it was extended to include all six screens currently on the site. One of the 1969 screens is in disrepair but still stands like a hollow phantom reminding us that drive-ins have entertained multiple generations in America.
Traditions such as the drive-in may be one means that we can preserve a sort of social cohesion that also gives us a sense of being part of something bigger. The Valley 6 drive-in theater has over 3,000 vehicle stalls that allow a multitude of families and groups of various walks of life to experience something together.
While roaming the Valley 6 grounds, I surveyed people hanging-out. Many of them were engaging each other with friendliness in the sweet fading sunset. Several of their children were also playing frisbee and other games in the grassy spot under the white projection screen. The scene expressed a certain easy-going togetherness that seemed perfect on a warm summer night.
My companion and I were told that in addition to the regular movie showings, the Valley 6 has also been reserved for high-school class reunion events where movies from the graduating year were shown to the alumni. “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” is played regularly for raving fans and once, a large Indian family even held an outdoor dinner along with dancing and celebrating to a Bollywood film on the drive-in screen.
Keith even offered to show us the projectors which are marvelous 1960s-era machines that still run strong and are each about the size of a small horse. Even more behemoth than these are the film reels which lay flat and measure over a yard each in diameter with upwards of 3,000 feet of 35 millimeter film spun round them. The film crisscrosses over and under head in an elaborate pulley system and it’s a wonder that it never gets twisted, tangled, or caught at any point along its winding string-game.
After the tour, we got one more example of how well-run the place is and how nice the employees are. We came back to our car during the previews of the movie only to find the car’s lights flashing rudely! A staff-person was quickly taping-up cardboard to cover up the annoyances. Murray, my troublemaking dog had stepped his paw upon the emergency flashers button in the center console. I only still owe penance to a few hundred others who were there.
Despite threatening sprawl, Valley 6 lumbers on with high-spirits and continues to provide the South Sound with multiple windows for peering into Tinsel Town.
Title: All six Puget Sound area drive-in theaters
Valley 6 Drive-In, Auburn
March-October at 401 49th St. N.E., Auburn. Adults $9 / Children Free to $6. (253-854-1250 or www.valleydriveins.com).
Skyline Drive-In, Shelton
This one-screen theater is celebrating 60 years of operation this summer.
April-September at 182 S.E. Brewer Road, Shelton. Adults $7 / Children Free to $2. (360-426-4707 or www.skylinedrive-in.com).
Rodeo Triplex Drive-In, Port Orchard
At this fun family owned theater, you can order concessions using your cell phone and they’ll page you over your radio to pick it up.
Mid-March-September at 7369 Highway 3 S.W., Port Orchard. Adults $8.75 / Children Free to $5.75. (360-698-6030 or www.rodeodrivein.com).
Wheel-In Motor Movie, Port Townsend
Stop for a relaxing show after one of Port Townsend’s many festivals.
April-August, 210 Theatre Road, Port Townsend. Adults $8.50 / Children Free to $6.50. (360-385-0859 or www.ptwheelinmotormovie.com).
Blue Fox Drive-In, Oak Harbor
Located in a beautiful Whidbey Island meadow. Blue Fox Drive-In also boasts a go-cart track!
Open all year, 1403 N. Monroe Landing Road, Oak Harbor. Adults $6.50 / Children Free to $1. (360-675-5667 or www.bluefoxdrivein.com).
Not the closest theater to the South Sound, but the land has been for sale for a while, so there’s no telling how long the screen stays lit.
444 Auto Vue Road, Colville. Adults $6.50 / Children $2.50. (509-684-2863 or on Facebook)