We took the kids on a trip to the Detroit Historical Museum today. After its amazing renovation, there’s even free admission for a full year. Well worth the trip and a great place to bring visitors to the Motor City.
On the floor dedicated to the “Mo” part of Motown, near the Cadillac assembly line demo and some great old photos of Woodward avenue during its cruising days of the 50’s and 60’s, I spotted an ugly old sight that warmed my heart–the drive-in speakers. You know, the ones you might find accidentally tagging along with you at 2 A.M. and a close relative to the A&W trays and those deposit tubes at the bank pull-up windows–just souvenirs of amnesia.
At the tail end of the drive-in’s existence, when they had decided to get their own little radio stations in the projector-huts and let you hear the movie on your much nicer car speakers you could still see the remnants of the old ways–derelict little poles facing the peeling billboard-sized screen with perhaps a rusty swing set below–lead paint and everything.
Before I was exposed to what nice hi-fi audio was, there was nothing more exciting than putting on my pajamas, piling into the back of the station wagon with my sisters (and a friend or five) without a car-seat in sight, passing the toll-booth and dropping the tailgate toward the screen. That little nasty speaker would hang in one of the windows and if you saw the movie in the middle of the summer in Michigan, you didn’t really have a darkened theater until 10:45 or so. But it didn’t matter. It was a blur of bad movies, generally. We’d usually play on the swings and risk our necks on the teeter-totters and merry-go-rounds that went out with the arrival of the car seat and the peanut allergy. Then we’d fall asleep after one last trip to the scary concessions counter and restroom in the pill-box bunker.
I don’t even think that little knob worked–it was just the illusion of control. But if you were on the car’s roof, on its tailgate or sitting in a lawn chair, you could hear the collective choir of all of those bullet-proof speakers singing the soundtrack of summer.