Going out by driving in: The benefits of Drive-In theatres during pandemic

by Lauren Eshelby

To make entrance into the drive-ins quicker and COVID-safe, USA Summer Drive In requires you to purchase tickets online before your arrival and bring them either printed out or on your phone. After arriving at the USA Summer Drive In, we were given a sheet of paper with the list of rules and our tickets on the back before parking up and getting settled in with blankets and snacks.

If you were to take a look at my bank account and watch what I spent my money on prior to coronavirus, you would’ve seen that one of the biggest things was movie tickets. Going to the movies with my friends was one of my favorite things to do. If there was inclement weather, we’d just head to the movies. If we were unable to come up with ideas of things to do, we’d just head to the movies. We were able to come up with an excuse to go to the movies all the time. So when coronavirus and the lockdown hit, you could understand our frustration when we weren’t allowed to see one another, and not allowed to go to the movies. We tried out all the known ways to watch movies together, ranging from a Netflix party to share screen over Zoom, during quarantine, but nothing was the same as sitting next to one another in front of the big screen The moment that we found out the drive-in theatres were allowed to open up, we quickly formed plans to try and test out different ones throughout the summer. While we headed to a number of them, the two drive-ins we enjoyed the most were Canterbury Village Drive In up in Lake Orion and the USA Summer Drive In at the USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth.

The first drive-in that we went to was Canterbury Village. The village temporarily set up a screen in a large field onsite and painted on socially distanced rows for cars to line up. From family movies at earlier times in the day to horror movies at night, their screening schedule was filled with a wide variety of genres, times, and dates you could pick from. We decided to buy two tickets and go to an early 5pm showing of Footloose and stay for the 9pm showing of The Hunt. Personally, I found the ticket purchasing process to be confusing and pricey. I had to dig for information on what movies were when and where to buy the tickets , making it take longer than it should to online purchase movie tickets. Pricing not only did they charge by car, but they had a cap on the amount of people per car for different prices. For example, purchasing a ticket for a car of 4 people was $20, but when adding only one more person, the price shot up to $30. After finally purchasing tickets, the four of us hopped into the trunk of my friend’s Chevy Silverado and headed to the movie. Parking was easy with specific rows and spots and workers directing you as you pulled in or backed in. We had brought our own carryout and snacks, but there was an option to have carryout from the pub onsite delivered to your car. Overall, the movie viewing was average; while it was easy to see the screen, it was difficult to hear. Without stand up speakers at each row, you relied on using your car radio or bringing one. Being in the trunk of a pickup meant we had to roll down the windows and crank it to hear it, but being with a group of people meant that we weren’t really paying that close of attention to the movie anyways. We worked our way to the concession stand in between movies to buy some popcorn and discovered that they were selling edible cookie dough, which might’ve been greater than watching the movie itself. Overall, Canterbury Village Drive In was great.

Next, we headed over to USA. While it was slightly farther than Canterbury, all of us were very familiar with the arena making it an easy drive. The USA Drive In offers 3 different movies 7 days a week, switching the schedule every Friday. They tend to stick to themes of family, horror, or classic movies, but they still show a large variety of other genres as well. Purchasing tickets was fast with the website being extremely easy to navigate. I also enjoyed that tickets were sold individually and not by car, that way you were given the ability to bring as many people and cars as you wanted. Upon arrival you headed to a check in booth to scan your tickets and were directed to the screen your movie was being shown on. While I’d say it’s more of an organized set up than Canterbury, parking showed itself to be difficult. Spots were set up so that you pulled in with the hood of your car facing the screen, meaning to back in you had to pull all the way through the spot and do almost a three point turn to switch it so that your trunk was facing the screen. After finally parking, we made a venture to the concession stand set up in between screens. We purchased popcorn and candy before heading inside the arena to stop by CJ’s Brewing Company to pick up a carryout meal. We all agreed that the popcorn was better than Canterbury’s, and the brewery food didn’t disappoint as well. While USA doesn’t have stand alone speakers either, being inside of the car made it easier to hear. Despite our very family friendly movie choice of Shrek, the lot was packed with cars full of teens and adults.

If I had to pick which theatre I liked better, I’d have to go with Canterbury. While both have many similarities and are each good for their own reasons, Canterbury won me over with more movie options, better accessibility, and something about being tucked in a field rather than a big industrial parking lot felt more “Drive In Material” to me. USA might’ve had better food and better pricing but when it came down to the overall atmosphere and experience, Canterbury won.

Now that the weather is getting colder and the lots are actually needed for other events, both Canterbury and USA have shown their last round of movies; but, drive-in movie theatres have proven themselves to be a fun option in the summer whether COVID is or isn’t present. While the lockdown has been lifted and indoor movie theatres are allowed to open again, the second the weather starts getting warmer I will be heading back to the drive in instead.

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