Wednesday, June 06, 2012


Jimmy Akin notes that the first drive-in movie theater opened on June 6, 1933; and thinking about drive-in movie theaters certainly brings back memories.

I spent parts of elementary and middle school, and then later senior year of high school, in Carlsbad, New Mexico, a dusty but charming little town. Like most dusty by charming little towns, it has quite a few quirks arising from the combination of various historical accidents and the general lack of things to do. So, for instance, Carlsbad has a mall, but for large parts of the town it wasn't very conveniently located, and there was little to do there except buy clothes. So instead of going to the mall to hang out and see people they might know, they went to Wal-Mart -- still do, from what I understand. In a town the size of Carlsbad, you're very likely to meet someone you know there. There were lots of other quirks.

One of these quirks was the fact that everyone called the movie theater the 'walk-in'. And the reason for that was the extraordinary popularity of the Fiesta Drive-In. If you were going to movies, people would assume that you were going to the drive-in, unless you specified that you were going to the other place, which everyone started calling the 'walk-in'. Carlsbad had had a Fiesta Drive-In long before, but it had shut down. However, in 1989, a businessman named Brad Light re-opened a fully updated drive-in with FM stereo sound and a pretty decent concessions stand; and since you paid by the car, it was also a cheap way to take the family out for entertainment -- a movie that would cost a family thiry or forty dollars at the walk-in would cost ten or fifteen at the drive-in. It was a hit.

One of Carlsbad's traditions is what is known as Christmas on the Pecos. The Pecos River runs right through Carlsbad, and many of the most fancy houses and wealthiest people in the town are found along it. So every Christmas season they run river tours along it so that everyone can see the Christmas decorations. Houses that don't participate have a slight tendency to get vandalized, and there's a social status element to participation, so participation is quite good -- the householders along the Pecos usually pull out all the steps. Quite a sight. In any case, you could always recognize Brad Light's house because his Christmas display would include a little replica of a drive-in movie screen with a projector that would play old cartoons.

Alas, it seems that Light, while awaiting trial on charges of light drug trafficking, died in early summer of 2010 of a drug overdose, thus shutting down the Fiesta. A sad thing, really; he always came across as quite a decent guy (although, of course, I was not very old at the time), but seems to have fallen in with the wrong 'friends'. I think the theater's been sold and is reopening again under new management. It will be interesting to see how it works out. A lot of what made the Fiesta work was that Light put his heart and soul into it; it's very unlikely to have any new owners who will do as much. On the other hand, the perpetual problem of what to do, and especially what to do on weeknights, will always require a solution. And what else are you going to do? Go to the walk-in?


  1. Aristotle's Revenge10:33 PM

    Wow.  I actually began my mission for the Mormon church in that town.  I saw Christmas on the Pecos and participated in a Pecos River cleanup project (it's scary what that little river is hiding under the mud, I'll just leave it at that).  I knocked on - and was chased from - a lot of doors in Carlsbad.

  2. branemrys11:05 PM

    Small world!

    Having done a lot of fishing in the Pecos in my youth, I definitely believe you about the secret horrors.


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