Summer days are often spent seeking thrills at amusement parks, napping under shade trees and cheering on the baseball team. Summer nights, however, are good for more than a musical flashback to Grease.

Lake Shore Drive-In, now entering its 56th year of operation, opened this past weekend for the first time since the season ended last September.

Owners Phyllis and Earle McLachlan spent three weeks painting, reinstalling equipment and preparing the grounds for opening day last Friday. The pair are looking forward to another fun-filled summer.

“I think it will be a good season,” Earle said. “When it’s summer time people look forward to the drive-in.”

Family and friends have gathered at the outdoor theater for decades, making a night at the drive-in a summer tradition in White County.

“Drive-ins started out as family centered, then the teenage date phase came and there was a risqué phase. Now it’s back to the family. Without the family you wouldn’t have drive-ins,” McLachlan said.

“But I do see more and more young people coming out. It’s a great place to gather. I see crowds of kids around town and they’re saying, ‘Let’s go to the drive-in,’ or ‘What’s he seeing.’ It’s a meeting place.”

When the McLachlan’s purchased the theater four years ago, the entire facility was in fading condition and bordering on the out-of-date. A major restructuring, which added a new sound system and just last year a second film screen, was necessary in order to bring the operation up to par.

McLachlan notes the most popular among movie-goers is the improved radio sound system—which replaced post speakers—and says the addition of a second screen was a big improvement.

“The first year we opened we showed mostly family pictures and people liked it, but after school was back in people were coming and wanting action adventure films,” he said. “There’s a market for both types so now on one you have the family side and a more action side, too. They both do well.”

McLachlan notes blockbuster films such as Shrek II, Spider-Man 2 and the latest Harry Potter installment will be big draws this year.

After all the significant alterations to the theater in recent years, little is changing for the 2004 season.

You can still see two movies for seven dollars and get tasty drive-in refreshments like chicken fries and carmel apple chips that Phyllis says are, “something different you can’t get anywhere else.”

One variation has been added to visitor’s payment options, however. The theater will be accepting credit cards for the first time this summer.

“We’ve got to keep up with the state-of-the-art,” Phyllis said.

Approximately 10,000 cars jammed with family and friends came through the gates at Lake Shore Drive-In during throughout the 2003 season to partake in the time-honored movie experience.

“You can talk without bothering anyone and have a lot more freedom out here,” Earle said. “It’s a whole evening worth of entertainment.”