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Just outside Maryville on East Lamar Alexander Parkway, the shining row of headlights files slowly past the checkered sign for the Parkway Drive-In.They inch past the tiny ticket booth (one adult, two first-run movies: ) and a tractor stalled just off the gravel track. The headlights creep among the parked cars, past the pickup where kids pile onto an air mattress covered in fluffy comforters, past the teenage girls taking selfies and the family setting up a playpen in the grass, past a card table surrounded by weathered-looking smokers playing poker, until they illuminate that perfect spot.
Maland recalls that the films were second-runs and the sound quality was horrible, coming to you through a little tinny sound box mounted on a stand next to your car or inside your car.Still, public officials deny that it’s a choice between the drive-in and the Walmart.Fred Metz, the city councilman who represents the Council on the zoning commission and zoning board of appeals, calls the Parkway’s demise “pretty highly speculative,” noting its loyal following.“When it was a two-lane highway, I can remember the cars would be backed up half a mile to turn in there,” he says.“That was the place.” In 1969, “when they showed A Walk in the Spring Rain, which was filmed in Cades Cove, it was just unbelievable how many people were there.”That’s just the short answer, Maland says.
(Little kids get in free.) “Splish Splash” is playing on the transistor radio the Coopers rented for a dollar from the concession stand—just one more service the drive-in provides, in this case accommodating those who like to listen to their movies under the stars instead of behind a windshield.