While driving on Route 110 recently, I was struck by the large buildings on the north service road of the Long Island Expressway in Melville. I saw names including Leviton and Marriott. They sparked memories of a time when things were simpler and a movie was a big night out.
Those buildings stand on what used to be the Century 110 Drive-In Theater. When the 42-acre theater opened in July 1956, it boasted "the world's largest screen," 8,866 square feet, half as long as a football field. It had high-fidelity speakers for 2,500 cars and a kiddie playground with a minature train ride.
The 110 drive-in was a place to take the family or a sweetheart. When a car entered, the ticket seller in the booth counted the number of occupants to charge per person. To save money, some parents stuck kids in the trunk, and then let them out after parking. Or they had kids lie flat on the backseat floor and covered them with a blanket.More ExpresswayReader essaysReader essaysGet published in NewsdayCartoonDavies' latest cartoon: Key to the White House
I worked at the drive-in and was told not to worry about families sneaking in kids. The operators knew that extra children meant parents would overspend at the concession stand during intermission. (That was a half-hour break in the middle of a movie to change the reels and sell refreshments. Imagine any theater trying that today.)
I was 17 when I started in the summer of 1964. My parents insisted that I get a job to make me more financially independent. I had aged-out as the "banana man," which I did for five summers at a farmers market in Hicksville. I enjoyed surfing all day at Gilgo Beach and Long Beach and did not want to give it up. I saw in the want ads that the 110 drive-in was hiring workers to clean from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. The perfect solution!
My close friend Buddy Thomas and I applied and were hired immediately. We would be able to work all night and surf all day.
The drive-in quickly shifted Buddy and me to an earlier shift serving refreshments. Our friends Chip Siglain, Curt Kruger, Eddie Rithmuller and Bob Hannah also got jobs. I remember laughing when seeing 6-foot-6 Curt, the center of our basketball team at Island Trees High School, squeezing into the driver's seat of the miniature railroad that children loved to ride. Wearing an engineer's cap, Curt would prop his knees up to his chest and ring the bell. He loved the job and kept it all summer.
The rest of us rotated among filling sodas, selling hot dogs and candy, and washing dishes. The popcorn job was the property of Kathy Breen, who we called the "popcorn queen."
After the closing credits, we enjoyed shining flashlights into cars still parked 15 minutes after each movie. We found some people asleep in their cars. A few speakers were ripped from their posts because viewers drove away without first taking them off their car windows.
It was the job of the dishwasher to squirt every employee with water as he or she clocked out. It was a ritual everyone actually liked because there was no air-conditioning then and the snack stand got miserably hot and humid.
Years later -- on July 21, 1976 -- I flipped through Newsday and read that the drive-in would close that night. I let the words sink in. I thought how sad progress can be sometimes, with office buildings and strip malls everywhere. I had great times and worked with great people at the drive-in.
Reader Paul V. Rossi lives in East Northport.