Beware the Field Men!

Why I love the drive-in.


S. 227th and Auburn Way N., Auburn, 253-854-1250

Rattails, grown men in sweat pants, souped-up '70s-era Ford Broncos. You guessed it—South King County. More specifically, the Valley 6 drive-in between Auburn and Kent. Hailing from South King County myself, I feel quite comfortable with such sights, and I love drive-in movies. And while many Seattleites believe they're a relic of the past, I recently took a city-slicker friend to the Valley 6 to prove that there's culture south of King Street.

The rule with drive-ins is that there's no real start time. The six screens of the Valley 6 are scheduled to light up at dusk. Annoyingly, they usually go on about 15 minutes before dusk, making it nearly impossible to view the previews, but this didn't matter to us, because we were already late.

Another rule: The Valley 6 only accepts cash, which made us even later after a detour to the nearest ATM.

There are a number of beautiful things about drive-ins. One is that SUVs are actually punished for their obnoxious size, forced to park in the back of the lot. My little Toyota Corolla, on the other hand, was free to park in a prime spot, front and center. Another great thing, unlike at the multiplex, is that you can control your own personal environment. The movie's soundtrack is pumped conveniently into your car through the AM radio, and you can set the volume as you please. You control the temperature. And, if you wish, you can watch the movie in your pajamas, with no one the wiser.

After 20 minutes of the ridiculousness that is XXX, we went for a walk around the complex, beginning with the late-'50s-era snack bar. My companion was impressed by the lengthy menu: popcorn, soda, corn dogs, and cheeseburgers, plus deliciously thin, greasy supermarket-style frozen pizzas—all microwaved to perfection while you wait.

And the popcorn, oh, the popcorn! Made fresh a few afternoons a week, the popcorn is bagged and sealed so that, by the time you buy it, it's perfectly semi-stale and extra chewy. The managers of the Valley 6—who live in a mysterious house on the drive-in property—seem to have perfected the art of movie popcorn. Yum.

Next, we toured around the five other lots, checking out the other movies and doing a little first-class people watching. Here, we saw the totemic Bronco, top down, all six passengers smoking cigarettes. One woman was, in an impressive display of gymnastic ability, sitting atop a roll bar, smoking, watching Goldmember, and hanging over the side of the vehicle. There were no less than three minivans full of hot boxing teenage boys. (What's a hot box? If you have to ask, you've never gotten baked at a drive-in.)

It was a gorgeous South County summer night. The stars were clear and bright; there were six movies playing simultaneously on big screens all around us, their soundtracks spilling out of open car windows. We heard children laughing, parents scolding, couples fighting, teenage boys whistling, and the quiet crunch of our shoes on the gravel.

Then we met two field men—glorified parking attendants with the power to enforce Valley 6 rules and, if need be, kick people out. Dustin and Dan were serious about the rules: No drugs or alcohol. (Maybe the hot boxers were actually making out and that's why the windows were so steamy?) No open flames. (Once, a guy actually barbecued dinner next to his truck—until the field men regulated his ass.) No sitting outside or atop your vehicle. (Guess they hadn't seen the gymnast on the Bronco.) No public urination. (Oh yes, it happens!)

Finally: no sex. The field men WILL ask violators to stop their sexual activity. If they refuse, violators WILL be escorted off the lot by the field men (if they're lucky), or by the cops (if they're not).

How do the field men know moviegoers are doing the nasty? By telltale flashing brake lights "if the man has his foot on the brake while he's getting what he's getting," says Dustin. Lot watching is a tough job, but someone's gotta do it.

Back in the car, we entertained the idea of making out, but the e-brake between the front seats made it awkward and, quite frankly, we were a little terrified of Dustin and Dan. So we drove home along I-5, making fun of XXX the whole way. I love the drive-in, and now my friend does, too. His feelings about South King County, however, remain a whole different story.

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