According to the theater's website, it was important that I arrived early at the Silver Moon Drive-In, but I probably overdid it.
The Silver Moon — the first drive-in in Lakeland and now its last — was a ghost town when I got there a little before 6 on a recent weeknight. I looked again at the advice at silvermoondrivein.com: "We strongly suggest you come well before showtime. This will allow you to avoid traffic and find a better parking spot."
The Silver Moon is among the few drive-ins in Florida, on a list that includes other survivors in Dade City, Ocala, Fort Lauderdale, Lake Worth, Ruskin and Tampa.
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4100 New Tampa Highway, Lakeland, FL 33815, USA
The first feature started at 7:30, but there were still plenty of good parking spaces available: all of them, to be exact. Strong wind gusts blew a sand storm across the giant vacant lot separating the two outdoor movie screens that still show first-run movies for a bargain $4 per-person admission.
I waited for other cars for at least an hour. Parked beneath the theater marquee on an industrial stretch of New Tampa Avenue (only a few miles off the County Line Road exit on Interstate 4), I munched quietly on the M&Ms I had bought at a nearby convenience store.
There's not much else to do in the neighborhood, once you've checked out the giant birthday-cake-on-a-stick at the nearby Publix warehouses, so keep that in mind, early birds. A line of cars formed about 45 minutes before my show.
I paid my $4 for the utterly drive-in worthy "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters" and wheeled my car into a row equipped with old-fashioned portable speaker boxes, blaring out doo-wop hits of the 1950s.
A list of audience guidelines flashed on the screen: an admonition to turn off parking lights, brake lights, "disco lights, Bud Lights and any bright ideas that you might have." Also funny, in another way, was the warning that "chairs and blankets taking up a space will be asked to move."
I didn't tease any of the staffers about the twisted grammar at the concession stand, where only a few items cost more than the $4 admission. A dude alone at a drive-in is in no position to make fun of anyone else.
For company, I called a friend, who helped me mock the bad dialogue that competed against the occasional whistle of a passing freight train. Then it rained.
With all that, I still loved it in a hop-in-the-time-capsule way. A bargain trip for $4.