Friday, 6 July 2012


I so loved this post (thanks, Jenny, for forwarding it) about the demise of Joburg’s drive-ins.

My parents both came from working-class backgrounds in the UK (my dad from Manchester and my mom from Glasgow) and, perhaps as a result, militated against all the fun things that working-class people did, which included going on holiday in caravans, getting take-out food and going to drive-ins. And as a result of that, my siblings and I wanted nothing more than to go on holiday in a caravan (despite having a real brick-and-mortar holiday house at Salt Rock), eat take-out food (although my mother was a fantastic cook) and go to drive-ins.

My brother’s best friend, Rob, had a family that was drive-in crazy – and, to add to the appeal, his dad had a Chrysler Valiant! (which my parents, who had a Peugeot station wagon, considered excessively flashy). I remember the actual ache of envy when my brother jaunted off, several times a week, to drive-in with Rob and his family in the Valiant, to eat take-out food and see movies in which people went on holiday in caravans.

(My parents did once take us to drive-in – we saw Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the Top Star – but it was just that once, which is probably why it stands out in my memory like a flaming beacon. We also once got take-outs from The Pizza Hut, and my mother vomited for the next two days, so that was the end of take-out food for us. And there was never any chance – none whatsoever – that we’d go caravanning.)

As soon as I found myself a boyfriend with a car, drive-in became a weekend treat. (And it was part of the fun, back in the days when you still paid per-person, to hide people in the boot so they could get in free.) And best of all (theoretically) were ‘midnight movies’ – double features screened when a public holiday fell on a Monday, and beginning at the stroke of 12 on a Sunday night. In reality, we’d all be played-out by midnight on a Sunday, and usually fell asleep a few minutes into the first movie, only to wake up and head blearily home at 4am on Monday. Still, it felt suitably untamed, heading off to drive-in at 11pm on Sunday night, so whether we actually saw the movies or not didn’t matter.

When I moved to Cape Town in 1985, there was only one drive-in still operating. I think it was in Strand (but I could be wrong). My boyfriend and I went there to see Out Of Africa, and it was a miserable experience. I was used to Joburg drive-in addicts who, like me, went to actually see the movie (or sleep, if it was a midnight movie; or vroetel*, but you could actually do that while also watching the movie if you positioned yourself just right). In Cape Town, people apparently went to the drive-in to show off how powerful their car engines/sound systems/spotlights were – and Meryl didn’t help, because every time she said something in her berserk Danish accent, the audience went noisily wild. It was the last time I ever went to a drive-in.

When I moved out to the Swartland in 2000, I was delighted to discover that there was still a drive-in operating in Malmesbury, although I never went to it. I’m sorry now that I didn’t, because it also closed a few years ago.

My daughter often tells me how she wishes she’d been a teenager in the 1980s, when sex and hitch-hiking didn’t kill you, legwarmers were an actual fashion accessory, music was universally danceable, and blue eyeshadow wasn’t ironic. I think it’s fair to add ‘when going to drive-in was a thing you did on a Saturday night’ to that list.

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