Dependable Drive-In Welcomes Moviegoers With Smart, Safe Measures

The longstanding outdoor cinema addresses COVID-19 concerns and provides a great night out.
Drivein

PHOTO BY SEAN COLLIER

After 62 days, “Trolls World Tour” was a pretty alluring option.

I’m usually in a movie theater about four times a week. After March 15 — when I saw Kurosawa’s “High and Low” at Row House Cinema — I didn’t visit a cinema for 62 days.

So when Dependable Drive-In, the long-standing outdoor movie theater in Moon Township, announced it would be restarting operations on May 15, it wasn’t particularly important to me what they’d be showing. It could’ve been “Trolls World Tour,” “The Shining” or an hour of “Three Stooges” shorts. I could get in my car and go to the movies. That was enough to make my decision.

It wasn’t, however, my only concern.

Every business that can reopen under yellow restrictions has put in COVID-19 safety measures, from the laissez-faire (turns out stickers on the floor will not help a crowded Target check-out line) to the more robust. As much as I wanted to spend a night at the movies, it was impossible to know how safe I would feel until I arrived.

Turns out: I felt absolutely fine. Thus far, the staff at Dependable Drive-In is doing an admirable job.

Anxious but undeterred, I set out Saturday evening. I left early; the business’s Facebook page indicated that Friday night screenings had sold out well in advance of showtime — and admission is first-come, first-serve. Anyone who arrives early enough gets in; when each screen hits capacity (which is about half of normal, due to social distancing restrictions), sales stop. By 6:45, I was waiting in a line of cars for admittance; around 7:15, staff posted to the theater’s Facebook page that only capacity had been reached, despite the movie not starting until about 8:30.

As I crawled up the hill to the ticket booth, every employee I saw was masked and maintained a healthy distance from patron vehicles. Buying a ticket still involved a handoff of cash; Dependable hasn’t yet upgraded to a contact-free admission policy, something I’d like to see added in coming weeks. The exchange of cash was, however, the only time I came close to another person all night, thanks to steadfast enforcement of new social distancing rules. Before the movie started, staff members were combing the lots; any vehicles parked closer than about 10 feet from the neighboring car were made to park again. Anyone who tried to line up folding chairs between cars was made to move them in front of their own car to maintain the buffer.

They were also making people turn off their headlights once the movie started, which is unrelated to the coronavirus but essential drive-in etiquette. (For the uninitiated: If your car is facing forward, you’ll be casting light onto the screen, muddying the picture; if you’re parked backward, you’ll be blinding other patrons. Turn ’em off.) 

The concession stand process was handled beautifully. Orders were placed on the FanFood app, which promised a notification and text message when my order was ready. When my phone buzzed, I donned my mask and walked to the snack stand, which was closed off to patrons. Inside, three employees wore masks and gloves, carefully bagging each order for pick-up; a plexiglass barrier blocked staff from patrons. I grabbed my order from a picnic table, took it back to my car, briefly disinfected the packaging and munched away.

Happily, I also found that most of my fellow patrons were respectful of social distancing. The best-laid COVID-19 plans of any business can be foiled by customers determined to flaunt the guidelines (again, I refer you to the Target check-out line, an experience I do not recommend). The majority of the guests I saw, however, stayed dutifully in their cars and donned masks anytime they left. Only a handful seemed apathetic toward the rules — a car in front of me both tried to set up chairs near another car and left their headlights on, a combination that made me loathe them vigorously — but anyone staff had to correct merely grumbled and fell in line.

This last bit gives me a bit of hope for shared spaces as we navigate the yellow phase. While the comment sections may be clogged by ill-informed outrage, it seems that most people are happy to follow good sense and state rules in exchange for loosened restrictions. And, just as importantly, it seems that those ready to reject such behavior are easily shamed into more reasonable decisions if everyone around them is displaying good citizenship.

That’s speculative based on one experience, but this much is certain: A trip to Dependable Drive-In was a lovely night out. My anxieties about the crowds and staying safe melted away quickly; seeing a business determined to do everything it could to make me feel safe was a great feeling.

And, as always, the drive-in is a beautiful place to be. Waiting for the movie to start as the sun sets, watching the previews as night falls and taking in a movie framed against the night sky — this is one of the best summertime outings, bar none. Getting this back right now is wonderful.

As for “Trolls World Tour,” I liked it. Maybe it was 62 days without a movie theater, but I was thoroughly engaged by those tiny songbirds. (Songtrolls? Song-ogres? Whatever they are, they’re funny.)

Categories: Sean Collier’s Popcorn for Dinner, The 412, Things To Do