The Old Galaxy Drive In

by Larry Purcell

They'd had this very special car since new. It had been babied and cared for like no other car could have experienced. It was white, with red interior, had an automatic transmission so Glenda could drive it, but if the truth were known, that was the only offering in '53. The wire covers on the headlights looked strange for a while, until the uniqueness of the car overcame the quirky design. It was not fast by any stretch of the imagination, even though its sexy design made promises it couldn't keep. But then, that was okay with Glenda and Gary they only wanted it for cruising and to take part in the nightly ritual on the main drag, then head for one of those great 'park and neck' locales.

"Hey Gary", a buddy would call out on sighting the little white roadster, " You gonna keep that car forever?" Those chastising jeers from the old gang had diminished over the years. After high school, most had hurried away from their hometown, a dark, foreboding settlement - physically and spiritually overshadowed by the skeletal remains of a once booming coal mining operation. Nearly everyone left the lucky few went off to college, others moved to a larger town or city with more promise, the rest married and marched their daily lives off to work, if work was available.

Closeting themselves inside small, boxcar-like apartments like cave dwellers, they emerged only after the birth of a child, to push it around town in tired, old hand-me-down carriages, or to make a brief appearance in the church, stoically watching the casket of a loved one slowly pushed down the aisle.

With no public transportation, cars were the prime mode for getting around town when people ventured out. Teens somehow managed to have cars at the appropriate time battered wrecks with four tires and most of the window glass in place. Cars came and went and the 'locals' moved along with the styles fins/no fins, portholes in the fenders, gun sight tail lights, new and sometimes psychedelic finishes, buttons for transmission operation, then AM-FM radios, followed by eight track tape decks, then cassette recorders and finally CD players. Cars transitioned from large and lumbering to 'petite', from enough horsepower to move the library to environmentally correct craft.

And while this automotive evolution proceeded along the roadway of life, Glenda and Gary's little white car executed a perfect imitation of 'Dorian Gray', by not aging. That's right, the paint was as new, the tires with fat white walls were perfectly pliant, with full tread on all four corners, the red plastic interior remained the same, the little canvas top still a pristine white. The chrome shined like new and under the hood, the neatly packaged, "Blue Flame" six cylinder engine was immaculate, ticking along as smoothly as an expensive Swiss watch.

Glenda and Gary never had children, never actually wanted any jokingly referring to the little car as their baby. They were still living in the same small cottage they had bought when they married, with its perfect garage for the little car heated in the winter and air-conditioned on warm summer days. And for a considerable time, it was a running joke.

"Glenda, did you fill the tank after you used the car yesterday?"

Or, "Gary, aren't we overdue for an oil change? How long has it been since we last had it serviced?"

But since neither had ever added a drop of fuel to the car, or added any oil, or air, or coolant, they eventually stopped teasing each other and 'counted their blessings.'

Because the community had gone through such transition over the years, few if any residents would have remembered Glenda and Gary. So while it was a surprise that they only got mild reactions when they cruised the drag every night in their immaculate little white car, they believed it was because, in their sixties, they knew few, if any, of the citizens, and the nightly cruise wasn't considered eccentric by today's standards.

So, it was on the first perfect spring evening in April, as they drove through town, with the top down and the car purring along that Glenda and Gary became aware of a new phenomena which they decided to attribute to the car. Glenda was using the side mirror to apply fresh makeup when she let out a screech, followed immediately by a second, louder and longer one as she stared at Gary.

"Oh my God," she murmured as she looked back and forth from Gary to the mirror.

"Stop the car now," she yelled against the sound of the air flowing over the top of the windshield. Gary brought the car to a stop, looked at Glenda and at once lost all of the color in his face. "What happened to you, did you take some freak over-the-counter age reversal pills," he exclaimed.

"Look in your mirror, Gary," Glenda replied, sounding slightly out of breath.

Gary looked in his mirror and immediately back at Glenda, who wore a smile somewhere between whimsical and smirky. "What's happening to us, Glenda? Are we going through some kind of freak stage of our lives?"

Shaking her head, now covered with rich, chestnut brown curls down to her shoulders, she broke into a broad smile. "Our baby is taking care of us, Gar," the shortened version of his name she hadn't used since they were teen-agers. "It's stayed so pretty and everything, I think it wants us to be the same way."

"Don't be ridiculous, Glenda, it's only a car. Cars can't do anything like that. Besides, that's just too spooky," Gary said, without sounding the slightest bit convincing.

Glenda put on a teen's pouty mouth and said, "Well, then don't look in the mirror any more and you won't have to believe it. I like what I see in the mirror, I like what I see in your eyes and I like how you look."

Arching an eyebrow in a comic leer, he glided his arm around Glenda' shoulders, sliding it beneath the dark tresses that seemed to glisten in the glow of the first streetlights as they came on. "Want to head out to the old Galaxy Drive-in for a little make out session, girl?" he said, mouth tight and moving in a tough guy attitude.

"Oh, for God's sake, Gar, don't get all weirded out. That old place has been closed for twenty-five years at least. It probably has a ratty old subdivision sitting on it now," Glenda said, trying to adjust the clothes of a sixty-plus year old to her recently re-arrived twenty-year-old body.

Swinging the little roadster out onto Main Street, Gary said, "Well, let's run out there and see what's become of the old passion pit."

The car purred out of town, almost eager to get down the road to a real destination. The air on the outskirts changed from the remnants of one hundred years of coal dust to the rich aromas of spring freshly turned earth, wild gladioli and newly sprung grass and wild plants. There was no other traffic on the old country road that used to end at the drive-in's twin ticket booths, with cars lined up ready to pay for the privilege of parking in a space containing a pole from which hung a speaker with a small volume control knob. Most 'theater-goers' didn't bother to determine if the speaker worked, some never even removed it from its hook to hang it inside the car.

Gary slowed the white roadster as they got close to the end of the road, eyes wide with apprehension at what appeared at their destination. Their tiny neon lights aglow, the twin booths sat waiting for them as if the place had never closed. As they approached, it was evident that no one was in the booths. The panels that generally held posters of 'coming attractions' were empty and there was nothing on the marquee to announce what was currently playing.

Gary looked at Glenda and shrugged. "Go ahead Gary, drive in and let's see what's playing," Glenda said, wiggling in her seat with anticipation.

"Is this your idea of a joke, have I forgotten an anniversary or what?" Gary asked with a look of chagrin on his recently acquired youthful countenance.

Patting his arm, Glenda smiled and said, "No silly, I don't know any more about this than you. Maybe some of the old gang is having a party and we accidentally found it. Don't let's sit here any longer, Gar. Let's get inside."

They drove slowly through the entrance, along the high fence that enclosed the drive-in and followed the still-dirt road, as it swung left and into the back of the parking area. The screen was empty, but every parking space was occupied. Gary stopped and rubbed his eyes, not able to absorb what he was seeing. It was the cars they were all special, all from the '50s and early '60s custom rods with flames painted on the fenders, lowered Fords and Mercuries with hooded headlights, long fender skirts and cats eye taillights, spinner hubcaps and no chrome. Some of the occupants were out of their cars, trading junk food, drinking pop and beer. Others were hanging out car windows, laughing and talking. An occasional smoker would unroll a tee-shirt sleeve to retrieve a pack of smokes, passing it around to share with buddies or girlfriend.

Some of the people out of their cars were waving at Gary and Glenda, pointing at a parking space close by. "Well, go ahead, Gary, find a spot and park it. Let's see who's here and what it's all about. Hey, pull over there by that '56 Fairlane convertible. They look like they're having the most fun," Glenda said, as she stood up and started waving and yelling.

Gary pulled forward and into the space, cautiously eying the 'kids' who surrounded the car, all laughing and talking at the same time. They were all in their late teens and early twenties full of life, with big smiles and glowing complexion. "Not a zit in the lot," Glenda whispered as she leaned across Gary to shake someone's offered hand. In no time at all they had a beer in one hand and peanuts or chips in the other.

Gary spoke through his teeth clenched in a smile, "Let's find out what it's all about. There can't be this many kids here without us seeing some kind of promotion for it. See anybody we know or used to know?"

Glenda looked around and said, "It's been forty years, how do you suppose either of us would recognize any of the old gang? Besides, who cares? Most of them moved away and never looked back. I'm more interested in what time the movie starts and what's playing."

One of the kids leaned over the side of the car and said "It's a big surprise and nothing's going to happen except party until midnight. So why not just get out here and have some fun."

Glenda, needing no more encouragement, started out of the car when the girl who invited her out cautioned, "Just be sure you're both in your car at midnight, or you'll miss the most important part."

Tugging on Gary, she pulled him out of the little white roadster and they moved off to make new friends. Still mildly curious, Glenda and Gary asked innocuous-sounding questions, but no one seemed to have a clue as to why they were there, other than their wonderful cars had brought them. Looking more closely at each nearby car, Glenda and Gary realized that all of them were perfect in every way perfect paint, glistening chrome, perfect wheels and tires.

"Gary, they're all just like our little car, perfect in every way. I didn't get much from anyone, but everyone I spoke to had no kids, just like us," Glenda said very softly. "Do you suppose it's a special car club and the one requirement is no kids to share the affections with just the car?"

"That sounds a little far-fetched, Glenda. But right now we better get back to our car. Everyone else is heading for theirs." It was just a few minutes before midnight and everyone was anxiously awaiting the main event.

"I wonder if they'll have coming attractions and cartoons, or a selected short subject?" Gary absently inquired of no one in particular.

"No, silly. I'm sure this isn't a regular movie. It's got to be something like a gala premier, new, never seen before with lots of stars," Glenda gushed enthusiastically.

Gary shook his head and said, "Naw, just look at this audience. This is going to be about cars, probably hot rods, and drag racing and teens, the beach, maybe even a beach party or two."

It was midnight and all of the floodlights on their tall towers dimmed and then blinked out, leaving the drive-in theater in complete darkness. Some of the cars' occupants began honking horns and flashing headlights. Slowly, subtly the outdoor theater took on a soft glow just enough to see the closest cars and occupants.

At once, all the old drive-in speakers came to life, in full volume, with Bobby Vinton's soft voice singing Blue Velvet. Glenda slid onto Gary's lap and tucked her head under his chin, curling up like a contented kitten.

"Where's the music coming from? There's no building open and no one is operating any of the equipment anywhere," Gary said. Glenda didn't answer, but began to make a sound that could only be described as purring.

Sitting up suddenly enough to clip Gary under the chin with her head, Glenda pointed out through the windshield and said, "That's where it's coming from that little juke box in the sky. What a minute, it's not so small and it looks like it's going to fall on the drive-in."

Gary sat up and starred at what appeared to be a '50s Wurlitzer, complete with fancy lights and bubbling fluorescents, floating down to the front of the theater, its immense size deceiving until it was just off the ground and pillars of flame came from underneath, helping it settle onto the drive-in's surface.

As the music continued, several panels opened in the side of the 'juke box' and ramps looking surprisingly like those used by car transport carriers were lowered to the ground.

One by one, exhausts barking and burbling, the cars lined up and began to drive up the ramps into the 'Wurlitzer.'

"What are we going to do, Glenda?" Gary asked, as cars behind and nearby beeped their horns and pointed to the jukebox.

"What's to worry about, honey?" Glenda said as she patted Glen's arm affectionately, but absently. "Our baby has always taken care of us, maybe this is something we need to do for 'her.' Let's go Gar. Get in line and let's go partying."

Just as the last of the cars had driven into the gigantic jukebox' and the panels began to close behind them, Glenda picked up a book from the floor of the little white car and held it up to show Gary

"Must have got dropped in the car while we were partying," said Glenda.

"What does it say?" Gary asked cautiously.

Glenda turned it over in her hand and toward the last of the drive-in's lights and said, "Well, it's got a black cover and the only thing it says is 'Don't Panic.' No, wait, there's more. It's says something about The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."

The ramps began to retract and the music changed. As the Beach Boys cranked up 'Surfin' U.S.A', the panels clicked closed, the craft lifted gently off the ground, tilted slightly and left the Earth at warp speed. Next stop?

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