Back in the 1976 when I got my first drivers license, Fort Worth had at least a dozen drive-ins still operating. The most notorious was the Riverside way out on NE 28th St which showed porno films. Most of the others were mainstream fare: car chase movies, low-budget comedies and movies that looked like porno films, but weren’t. And while I did manage to get a handful (huh huh…handful!) of young girls into the back-seat, as often as not I would go by myself. Incredibly not once did they ever ask to look in my trunk! That still amazes me 30 years later.
One vivid memory is watching the trailer for a movie called TAXI DRIVER; don’t remember what movies came on after it, man do I remember that trailer! Saw that one at the Cherry Lane, which was the closest to my parents house. The Cherry Lane was built in the mid 60’s; it was about a half-mile off I-30 behind a K-Mart. Not far from both Carswell AFB and General Dynamics, it seemed to do a lot of business right up until the very end in 1985. One night my parents and I were going to the K-Mart when I was about 12 or 13. There were cars lined all the way up Cherry Lane to I-30 and down the freeway exit ramp. We couldn’t get to the K-Mart because of all the people lined up to see PATTON !
When I got old enough to drive and start taking girls to the drive-in, their business had died somewhat. If they got the right movie, the place would be packed. If it was a movie no one had ever heard of, the place would be deserted. So I quickly learned that if I wanted privacy, go to the ticket booth with the shortest line.
One week there was a full page ad in the paper: THE MANSON MASSACRE ! Oh boy! At the pizza place I worked at, everyone was talking about it. Let’s all go; we’ll make a party of it! After our shift ended we caravaned to the liquor store and stocked up, then it was straight over to the Cherry Lane. We had a massive tail-gate party waiting for it to get dark and then the movie. When it finally started the evening air was electric.And what a monumental piece of cinematic shit it was too. For ninety minutes a bunch of hippies talk. And talk. And talk. No massacre; no nothing. That full-page ad had to have cost more than they spent making that movie. At the pizza place we never spoke of this again.
But I didn’t let that bad apple of an evening stop me from going back to the Cherry Lane. When I met my friend Tom in 1979, we went there quite a bit. Sometimes if we had no where else to go, we would go almost nightly. We were such regulars that towards the final days, they wouldn’t even charge us for tickets. Just waved us through and smiled. Tom had (and still has) a 1976 VW camper van with a pop-up top. Six people could watch the film comfortably, although we would piss off whoever was behind us when we raised the top. Toms van had a stove and a little refrigerator, although we used ice chests more often. Sometimes we would fix our own hot dogs, or boil fozen dinners on the stove in those boiling bags. Then we’d feel guilty about it and go buy some popcorn at the snack bar.
In 1984 I bought the Chevy pick-up you see in the photos. I loved to park backwards, open the tailgate and lay in a lawnchair next to my ice chest. If I went to a drive-in that had FM sound, I would put a portable radio on the roof of the cab and I was in hog heaven. Sometimes I would drift off to sleep and wake up in the middle of an unfamiliar movie, or in the middle of a gunfight (“what the hell?”)
By the early 80’s slasher films seemed to make up the bulk of the Cherry Lane weekly line-up. Couldn’t list all the NIGHT/DAWN OF THE DEAD Italian rip-offs we watched, or the Spanish/ Italian ALIEN clones as well. By the mid 80’s there was a lot of NeoCon type entertainment like the Rambo movies or the REEFER MADNESS of the 80’s RED DAWN which they showed forever. Movies like that or TOP GUN or THE RIGHT STUFF (which I actually still like) would pack the Cherry Lane with lots of good ole boys however, so Tom and I learned to avoid those and stick to the slasher flicks.
Oh and then there was the Night Of the Piss Queens…one night Tom, his sister Julie and yours truly were in his van (can’t remember the film) The place was about half-packed. We were parked about half-way between the screen and the snack bar. Tom and I are in the front of the van; Julie is in one of the seats in the back. The van was parked on an incline with the front tilted upwards so Tom and I could see straight ahead, but Julie couldn’t. All she could see was the screen. At one point of the movie, these two girls come walking towards us. They stop about 25-50 yards ahead of us. Maybe they thought it was too dark for us to see them. Maybe they thought our eyes were fixed on the screen, I don’t know. But for reasons that to this day still elude me one of them drops her jeans while (I guess) the other one plays lookout, as the other squats and starts pissing on the ground. The first girl finishes and then they trade places and go through the same procedure a 2nd time.
Needless to say Tom and I are giggling like a pair of naughty schoolboys; Julie has missed this little show and is clueless what we’re laughing at. When we finally tell her, we get a two-word response: “You turds!” And then incredibly enough, a few minutes later here they come again! They repeat the entire spectacle again as Tom and I sit there laughing until tears are rolling down our cheeks. The snack bar and the restrooms weren’t that far away; could they have been doing this on purpose, for our amusement?
And as if that wasn’t funny enough, a few minutes later a sedan packed with a family pulls up right over that very wet spot. Tom and I start joking about “Honey, it smells like piss around here” and then on cue the car starts and moves a few spaces up.
By 1985 business had dropped to almost nothing. It didn’t help matters that they would run RED DAWN on one screen with a different “B” feature and RAMBO with a “B” feature on the other for the entire duration of their final summer. I got so tired of watching RED DAWN ( and partly because I hated Reagan so much) I spray-painted the words DEAD RAWN underneath their West screen in protest ( are the statute of limitations still good on that?) Eventually Wal-Mart made them an offer they couldn’t refuse and the entire complex was bulldozed shortly after Labor Day 1985. I took five pictures and as far as I know these are the only known photos of the Cherry Lane. Oddly enough the WalMart closed last year and moved over to 183. It sits today silent and boarded-up. Hey WalMart, can we have the Cherry Lane back now?
NEXT: TALES FROM THE SOUTHSIDE DRIVE-IN !