Consider the following four items:
- V8 engines
- Fatty foods
- The bald eagle
- Drive-in theaters
What do they have in common? They’re all classic symbols of American history and culture. Unfortunately, they also have something else in common. Each is in danger of disappearing forever, due to changing economic or political shifts.
Fortunately, there’s hope. V8s still power many trucks and performance cars. The folks who make Twinkies are back in business. Bald eagle populations are rebounding across the country.
But what about drive-ins? In an ironic twist of fate, an obscure Japanese company called Honda (you might have heard of it) has started a campaign to save as many of these local institutions as possible.
Changing Technology Creates Crisis
Most of the 350 surviving drive-in theaters across the country survive more as labors of love than as money-making enterprises. They cling to life in rural areas and small towns, supported by a core group of intensely loyal patrons. Many of them do double-duty as flea markets or fairgrounds during the day, and virtually all of them shut down for the winter. Rainy nights are a washout for ticket sales.
A handful of these iconic American businesses have managed to cling to life despite all these disadvantages. But next year the film industry is switching to an all-digital format, a move that will require owners to invest between $50,000 and $100,000.00 in new projectors. For the drive-ins, most of which are mom-and-pop enterprises, the costs of upgrading are simply too much.
Honda’s initiative combines crowd-funding, publicity ventures, and three brand-new projectors the firm purchased outright in an effort to keep drive-ins alive. Basically, we the people get to decide which theaters will get the help they need to stay open. It’s democracy at its most American, with a helping hand from the Japanese. You can get all the details at the official website.
With international cooperation like this going on, maybe world peace isn’t so far off in the future. When that day does arrive, I plan to celebrate at my nearest drive-in. Won’t you join me?
- American history