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1997 Kings Drive-In projector

The Kings Drive-In projector is shown in this 1997 file photo. 

Something you take for granted in my home state of Ohio — in addition to the chili dog quality and the breathable air — is the abundance of drive-in theaters.

Becoming a phenomenon in the 1950s, the drive-in combined two of America’s greatest loves — cars and movies — to great popularity.

Through the decades, the drive-in declined in popularity and the iconic big screens have closed up shop. The popcorn stopped popping.

But you wouldn’t have known that growing up in southwest Ohio. In the greater Miami Valley region, every summer, I could take my pick of the litter. When my friends and I started to drive, we had many options. Would we go see the “South Park” movie at the run-down yet cheap drive-in on the north side of the city? Or would we see the first of many terrible American “Godzilla” movies at the drive-in with the good popcorn further out in the country? OR would we see “The Sixth Sense” at the drive-in next door to the roller rink and get in a few laps beforehand?

And there were at least half a dozen others in the area.

It wasn’t until I left Ohio that I realized this was an anomaly.

“Where’s the drive-in,” I asked when I moved to California to blank stares and answers like, “maybe the San Luis Obispo one is still open. I don’t know.”

And it’s not just California. It’s everywhere. Ohio has the third most drive-ins, according to driveinmovie.com. There are more drive-ins in Ohio (24) than in California or Texas, despite being a much smaller state.

Drive-ins are a unique and fun experience that everyone should try once (even if you have to drive to Barstow or wherever the closest one is). The double features, the cool night breeze blowing through the car, the ability to walk to the concession stand and not miss a single frame of the film – I love it all.

The diminishing popularity of drive-ins made sense for a while. Huge 24-screen cineplexes with IMAX screens and D-boxes were popping up everywhere and the cost for drive-ins to transition from projecting film to digital files was an expensive one that few theaters could afford.

But I’d also think now is the perfect time for a comeback. It’s no secret that those aforementioned 24-screen cineplexes aren’t doing as well as they once were. And it’s become the norm for movie-goers to have the abhorrent habit of being on their phone during films, so giving these inconsiderate narcissists their own personal car to Snapchat from during a movie seems like a win-win.

Sidenote: When I saw “Avengers: Endgame,” a guy with four kids with him, was constantly checking Wikipedia on his phone so he could bring those kids up to speed on the continuity of the previous 20-something Marvel films.  That guy could definitely benefit from watching a movie in his own car.

Anyway — Hanford Parks and Recreation is bringing back the spirit of the drive-in with its Movies in the Park series.

At dusk Friday night, Parks and Rec will screen the modern Disney classic “Wreck it Ralph” in Civic Park. So, bring some popcorn and a blanket and make it a movie night. Admission is free.

Other movies in the series include “The Incredibles 2” at Centennial Park on June 28, “Hotel Transylvania” at Hidden Valley Park on July 12 and “The House with the Clock in its Walls” on July 26 in Civic Park.

You can’t drive your car into the park, of course, but this is the closest we’re going to get to a drive-in in the Valley until someone re-opens the Kings Drive-In.

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Parker Bowman is the assistant content editor for the Hanford Sentinel, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @ Parker_THS or send an email to PBowman@HanfordSentinel.com

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