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A memorable trip to the Wellfleet Drive-In

The Wellfleet Drive-in
The Wellfleet Drive-in

This summer is the 65th anniversary of the Wellfleet Drive-in, the only drive-in movie theater on Cape Cod. Many people, locals and vacationers, have fond memories of watching first-run and classic movies under the stars, whether it was shivering with delight watching Jaws or interacting with sing-along-dance-along features such as Mama Mia.

Over the years I have been to the drive-in dozens of times, but nothing can match my first experience there. The year was 1964, and I had a job that summer collecting garbage for the Cape Cod Refuse Company, whose memorable slogan was “SATISFACTION GUARANTEED OR DOUBLE YOUR GARBAGE BACK.”

The company was owned by Dave Furness, a quirky, multitalented individual of multifaceted interests. Among other things, he had studied Symbolic Logic at the New School in New York City before coming to Wellfleet. In addition to the trash collection business he also ran, out of the same building, a used record store called the Record Rack. (One local wag referred to the combined businesses as “Garbage in, Garbage Out.”).”

The garbage truck I drove was a veteran vehicle that Dave had picked up at an auction in the Berkshires. It had gears that sounded like a metallic avalanche and was painted the color of a ripe avocado, which prompted its nickname, “The Green Monster.” Because most of the garbage was collected in the mornings, I had to go to bed by 8 p.m. and get up by 3 a.m. As a result, my social life that summer was virtually non-existent. Dave must have sensed my loneliness, and he suggested that we double-date on my day off. He knew a couple of Wheaton College girls who were waitressing here that summer, and he invited them to go with us to the drive-in. The movie that was playing that weekend was Where the Boys Are, which followed the adventures of four co-eds on their spring break in Fort Lauderdale. It was described as one of the first American films to explore adolescent sexuality and changing mores. It seemed a propitious choice.

What the girls didn’t know, or me neither, was that Dave planned to take us all to the drive-in in the Green Monster. He thought it would be “romantic” to park the truck facing away from the screen, raise the garbage container, and watch the movie on the top of the slanted body. The girls, to their credit, were game for it. We all squeezed into the cab and headed to the drive-in.

The first problem came when we got to the ticket booth.

“You can’t take that thing in here!” bellowed the ticket taker.

But Dave had an exceptionally ingratiating manner and appealed to the ticket taker’s sense of adventure and romance.

“Well,” he finally conceded, “I guess I’ll let you in this one time, but you’ll have to park it in the last row,” which seemed not necessarily a drawback to Dave and me.

We navigated our way to the back of the parking lot, where the girls and I got out of the cab, and Dave elevated the back of the truck. What we didn’t realize was that over the summer Dave and I had become inured to the ripe odor of garbage coming from the back of the truck, but the girls obviously had not. “No way are we getting up there!” they said, and insisted that Dave turn the truck around, whereupon they got into the cab to watch the movie while Dave and I stood outside, listening to the dialogue on the small monaural speakers that attached to the truck windows. Needless to say, it was a less than successful drive-in date, but nonetheless a memorable one.

A nature writer living in Wellfleet, Robert Finch has written about Cape Cod for more than forty years. He is the author of nine books of essays. A Cape Cod Notebook airs weekly on WCAI, the NPR station for Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, and the South Coast. In both 2006 and 2013, the series won the New England Edward R. Murrow Award for Best Radio Writing.