Who remembers going to the movies in the great outdoors at theaters where the screens were the size of railroad cars, the sound was as puny as a squeak, the paper soda cups were mushy and the food, was, well, what do you want for a buck and a half?
Unfortunately, those are the memories flowing this week in Coxsackie with the news that the Hi-Way Drive-In is on the block. OK, the sound system is better than it was in the 1960s, modern technology makes the images brighter and the hamburgers are beefier today, but the Hi-Way has been a movie lover’s mecca for almost 70 years. A Golden Age of local popular entertainment might be coming to an end.
The Hi-Way, on Route 9W in Coxsackie, brought movies to a town that didn’t have a theater. The closest cinemas were 10 miles down the road in Catskill or, ironically, another drive-in, the Jericho, 19 miles north in Selkirk. Like all drive-ins of that period, the Hi-Way had one screen. It was angled to face the 9W and slow-moving drivers could take in a few seconds of the show as they passed.
The fare was typical of the times: a mix of exploitation and cult films, action flicks, low-budget horror movies and important first-run features. The James Bond pictures were a particular favorite.
Moviegoing tastes shifted in the mid-1970s as the exploitation market cratered and was replaced by blockbusters that drew big crowds. As a result, the Hi-Way added a second screen. The drive-in’s popularity took off and two more screens were added to meet the new demand for movie variety. Digital projectors enabled the drive-in to show movies in the 21st century. In a sense, the Hi-Way became the first outdoor multiplex theater in the region.
Owners Roger and Sharon Babcock are putting the Hi-Way up for sale because they are retiring. The Hi-Way will stay open until the theater is sold, Roger Babcock said Monday. We wish them luck in their new lives. We only hope that they sell this rare and historic theater to someone with a love for movies and the art of screening motion pictures.