Sunset falls on a historic season for the drive-in

NEW YORK (AP) — Julia Wiggin was still shivering after running out to hang up the weekend’s marquee — “Ghostbusters,” “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” — at her Northfield Drive-in near Hinsdale, New Hampshire.

“It’s cold,” Wiggin said on a bitter, wet morning. “It’s definitely time we closed.”

After a historic season, winter is coming at the drive-in. Summer and early fall have seen their simple, old-fashioned lots transformed into a surprisingly elastic omnibus of pandemic-era gathering. It has hosted concerts and comedy shows, business conferences and Sunday services, graduations and weddings. Dodger fans watched their team win the World Series from a drive-in in their stadium’s parking lot. Red-carpet premieres that would normally consume Lincoln Center uprooted to drive-ins. (At one, Bill Murray joked that he’d visit every car.) Even the campaign trail joined the trend, leading to the first ever presidential race that included a mini-referendum on the drive-in. “You know, people in cars. I don’t get it,” said Donald Trump after Joe Biden’s Atlanta drive-in rally.

Yet the drive-in has undeniably saved a small slice of 2020, offering socially-distanced salvation at a time when most large gatherings are off the table because of the pandemic. But, well, it’s starting to get pretty cold — at least in much of the country. Drive-ins in Texas, California and Florida can keep humming all year but most of the U.S.’s roughly 300 drive-ins are seasonal. They aren’t built for the cold, and they’re definitely not built for the snow.

With temperatures dropping — and even some flurries this past weekend — one of the pandemic’s few bright spots is running low on time. But many drive-ins are staying open well beyond normal closing, stretching a season that might usually end around Labor Day much later. Some are selling a lot of hot chocolate.

“I don’t think people mind the cold,” says Wiggin. “I’ve seen people bring sleeping bags and, like, a tarp. They’re die-hards. Well, OK, if you’re willing to come out, I’m willing to come out.”

The Northfield Drive-in went over by two months before its Halloween-weekend finale. That’s mainly because the drive-in has turned into what Wiggin calls “a major community service project,” hosting graduations for everyone from fifth-graders to doctors of internal medicine. On Sunday, a Shakespeare theater group was on the schedule.

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