One day several years ago, my wife went to a garage sale, plopped down a dollar and came home with an old Royal portable manual typewriter.
She displayed it on a small table in the living room. My daughter and her friends saw this black contraption with its carriage and chrome return bar, and ink-soaked ribbon. They seemed puzzled. What happened to the electrical power supply cord, cables and flat-screen monitor?
Finally, one of them grew brave enough to push down on a key. The thin piece of metal shot up and struck the white paper, leaving a smudged "e" or whatever. They all jumped back, as if a firecracker had exploded right in front of them.
Whoa! What was that? Then, of course, they all had to try it.
The novelty wore off quickly, though. It resumed being a worthless museum piece made obsolete by computers and laptops, iPhones and all the other electronic gadgetry that evolves by the minute.
Which brings us to a story in The Bee last week. The owners of the Ceres Drive-In want to reopen the long-dormant outdoor theater.
Like that old typewriter, drive-in theaters represented a link to another time, another era, a completely different world. Drive-ins offered affordable entertainment $1.20 per carload in the early 1960s, according to advertisements that ran regularly in The Bee.
Many were born in the 1940s, offspring of America's love affair with the automobile. It represented freedom in the days before every home had a television, and the opportunity to socialize in person. Teens flocked to them. Families, too.
Roughly 30 years ago, Stanislaus County had seven drive-ins: the Prescott, Briggsmore 3 and McHenry in Modesto; the Starlite in Keyes; Lucky in Turlock; Motorin in Salida; and the Ceres Drive-In. Stockton had seven drive-ins, and Merced one.
Profit becomes tough
One by one, though, they began disappearing. Carved out of orchards and fields near highways, some became prey when highways became freeways.
The Prescott Drive-In in northwest Modesto and the McHenry Drive-In in north Modesto both gave way to a mix of housing and shopping centers.
It didn't help that the McHenry Drive-In in the 1970s developed the reputation of being a naughty neighbor by showing X- and R-rated films. That riled its Sherwood Forest neighbors and disrupted the center fielder's concentration at the old Bel Passi Little League complex nearby. A Bee story in April 1974 detailed the issue, including a protest by 150 parents and residents who signed a petition and took their complaint to a county supervisors meeting.
The owner's reply? Of course he really didn't want to show those kinds of movies.
"But we've found they are profit makers," he told the board. "You gentlemen are businessmen; you know the name of the game is profits."
The theater closed for good in 1988, and a Wal-Mart and homes now straddle the site.
The collective demise included the proliferation of video rental stores on every corner and premium movie channels on cable TV in the 1980s. Next came the wave of stadium-style theater multiplexes with Dolby sound that could never be matched by the sound systems hanging on a car window at a drive-in.
Videocassettes went passé, replaced by DVDs and movies streamed directly into your home via computer and game systems. Online sites offer movies by the thousands.
By the time the Ceres Drive-In closed in 2008, it had been the last one operating for about a decade.
Successful return possible
All that stated, I'd love to see it return and become wildly successful. To do so, it will need to offer new-release films at affordable prices. It will need to provide a clean, safe and friendly environment. It can't become a gang playground.
A nostalgic night out, just like the olden days. The kids might find they actually like leaving the house to watch a movie beneath the stars.
What's playing? No problem.
Just call the recorded line. Use your rotary dial phone.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @jeffjardine57 on Twitter or at (209) 578-2383.