The best summer movies are shown outside.

We have no shortage of sophisticated entertainment. The Orchestra at Blossom, al fresco dining in Ohio City, art walks -- I like these things. But for pure finger lickin’ fun, nothing beats a bucket of chicken and a drive-in movie. When the weather turns warm, unpretentious trumps highbrow nearly every time for me. Imagine an 80-degree day, blue skies and puffy clouds. Would you prefer the Terrace Club or the bleachers, a sushi bar or a cookout, stilettos or flipflops? The drive-in movie is the ultimate in trashy (in a good way) summer fun. Here’re the rules:

1. Realize that your choices are limited. There are now only a few driveins left in the area. (We’ll miss the Memphis Drive-in.) The Aut-O-Rama in North Ridgeville (the only one left on the WestSide) has two screens, both of which offer a nightly double feature. And they never show anything even remotely complicated or dramatic or intellectual. About as good as it gets is Jodie Foster thrillers. I saw both” Panic Room” and “Flightplan”at the drive-in. But I also gamely sat through “The Hulk” and other popularduds.

2. Indulge. Phase one is bringing either a pizza or bucket of fried chicken, both of which are good cold, so you can set some aside for the later movie. Phase two is to visit the snack shack for popcorn, Sno-Caps or an ice-cream bar. They also sell dinner items meatball subs, pizza and nachos-- that are all fine choices, especially since drive-ins rely heavily on food sales to remain profitable. Just last year, in fact, the Aut-0-Ramastarted reluctantly charging $5 permits for those wanting to bring their own food. Pay it and don’t grumble about it.

3. Get comfortable. Sometimes it’s hot, so you keep the windows down. Sometimes it’s cold, so you bring a blanket. Recline your seat, prop your feet on the dash. Take your shoes off. Unsnap your pants for some breathing room. You can’t do these things at a regular theater.

4. Think big. Thus far, we’ve only been to the drive-in in a car. But we’ve seen SUVS, hatch open with a gaggle of little ones in sleeping bags, and pick-up trucks with chaise lounges in the back and a cooler between them. It’s more than the movie, more than the food. It’s the sound that your sandals make as you walk back from the snack shack across the gravel parking lot searching in the dark for your car. It’s seeing the kids do their happy dance at the prospector cotton candy, or a dad carrying a sleepy toddler, or a group of frisky teens. I always feel like an outsider, peeking in on other people’s Saturday nights. By now, though, I’m probably just as much a part of the scene as they are. Still not convinced of the drive-in’s allure? Go enjoy your film festival. 

Aut-O-Rama Twin Drive-In, 33395 Lorain Road, North Ridgeville; (440) 327-9595;
Mayfield Road Drive-In, 12100 state Route 322,Chardon; (440) 286-7173;
Midway Drive-In, 2736 state Route 59 (half mile east ofKent), Ravenna; (330) 296-9829;

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