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Zito: American pride is here, hidden in plain sight | News, Sports, Jobs


Courtesy picture

Salena Zito

WEST NEWTON, Pa. — As the sun dipped below the horizon of the Laurel Mountains in the distance from the Evergreen Drive-In Theater, families with children were spread out on their sleeping blankets in front of their cars. A group of couples sat on folding chairs, enjoying each other’s company.

Then they all stood up and placed their hands over their hearts. They joined together to sing the national anthem as it played on all three screens.

They stayed up and sang along with the on-screen footage to Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American” immediately after that. Seasoned participants can always tell who the newbies to the experience are – they are the ones who are moved to tears and marveling on their faces.

It’s a scene repeated over and over seven days a week before each movie; I had a hard time finding anyone, young or old, who refused to participate. When the music starts, everyone immediately stands up and sings. It is and remains a truly remarkable and moving experience for anyone who regularly consumes the news or social media.

Equally rare is a night, any night, that the Evergreen Drive-In isn’t packed. There are often several dozen cars queuing at dusk, hoping there will be enough room for their family or group of friends to attend that night’s performance.

As soon as you pull in with your family or friends, there’s a sense of community all around you – very different from the sterile atmosphere of a traditional movie theater. Everyone here has embraced the experience of spreading a blanket and chairs and watching a movie under the stars, eating concession food, and even meeting new friends during the show.

Evergreen Drive-In began in 1947 as Ruthorn Drive-In. Its opening made local headlines with the headline “Ability Audience at Opening Night; Drive-In Theatre. The story sprang that Westmoreland County’s first drive-in theater drew people from all points in that county and Fayette County, with ushers escorting each car to its space.

The Ruthorn Drive-In opened at the very beginning of the industry, just two years before Richard Hollingshead’s 1933 patent for “Drive-In Theatre” expired. Subsequently, the drive-in industry exploded. In 1949, the same year Hollingshead lost its patent, Ruthorn became the Evergreen and has been ever since.

It was here in the heyday of the B-movies that splashed across screens on the pastures of the Midwest, Appalachia, and the Pacific and Atlantic coasts; it was a rite of passage for the American family (as well as lusty teenagers) to spend at least a dozen weekends at a drive-in every summer.

The 1960s were the golden age of drive-ins, culminating in over 5,000 outdoor screens across the country. Now that number is around 500, according to figures calculated by the United Drive-In Theater Owners Association.

The Warren family, who have been in the drive-in business since 1949 and own seven other drive-ins in the area, purchased the Evergreen in 1999. Two years later they added two more screens and they began showing first-run films a year later.

This week, if you get here in enough time, you have a choice of “Thor: Love & Thunder” and “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” on Screen 1, “Minions: The Rise of Gru” and ” Elvis” on screen two, and “Jurassic World: Dominion” and “Top Gun: Maverick” on screen three.

Adults pay $10 for admission, ages 6-12 pay half price, and children under 5 go free. It’s cash only and you have to follow the rules: no swearing; the speed limit is 5 mph; no alcohol; and don’t even think about littering.

In a time filled with news stories and social media posts listing grievances and reasons to hate living in this country, places like the Evergreen Drive-In, where they celebrate America, are more common than you. don’t think so.

Last week’s Gallup poll showed America’s love of the country is at an all-time low. A dwindling number of Americans, only 38% now, are “extremely proud” to be American. That’s down from 70% just after 9/11 and before the social media boom.

The question may lack nuance. People’s opinions on politics and government and the current state of the nation may have clouded many people’s responses. But I guess the answers to the Evergreen Drive-in would be remarkably different if you asked the same thing. Even though love of country has fallen out of favor with our cultural conservatives (those in power in news agencies, Hollywood, corporations, government, politics, institutions, universities and big tech), many, many people remain deeply proud to be American. .

Salena Zito is a political analyst at CNN and a reporter and columnist for the Washington Examiner. She reaches the Everyman and Everywoman through leather shoe journalism, traveling from Main Street to the ring road and every place in between.


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