Sometimes I feel sorry for young people who are growing up deprived of the experience of going to an outdoor theater.
That was one of the joys of my younger years — going to the “Cloud.” That was the name of the outdoor theater just west of St. Cloud, in Waite Park. Ironically enough, there is now a sprawling complex of indoor theaters (Parkwood Cinema) on the land where the Cloud once was. Later, in my mid-teenage years, another outdoor theater (the 10-Hi) opened on Hwy. 10 in east St. Cloud near the prison.
The first outdoor theater opened in Camden, N.J. in 1933. At one time, there were 4,000 in the nation. Now there are only 364 of them, according to “USA Today.”
My parents were not fans of the outdoor theater. Not at all. They almost never went to a movie, not even in the downtown theaters. So when I was very young, I depended upon the neighbors for trips to the outdoor theater.
When my neighbor buddies Ricky, Gary or Ronnie Fahnhorst would pop over to my house and mention the word “Cloud,” I would become instantly happy — on Cloud Nine, in fact.
“Dad said he’d take us all to the Cloud tonight,” one of them would say.
“Are you kidding?” I’d ask, always afraid they might be pulling my leg. “Really?!”
“No, I’m not kidding. Dad said we’d go for sure. Dalmans too.”
All day long I would be ants-in-my-pants eager for that hour just before dusk would arrive. My two brothers and I would rush down the alley to the Fahnhorst house. We boys would pile into John’s big old baby-blue Cadillac and off we’d go.
John looked just like the movie star, Clark Gable, and we kids often thought how neat it would be if the star-struck ticket-taker thought he really was Gable, and she’d let him in free. Us too. The star’s kids.
Usually, at the Cloud, we’d see cheesy horror movies, like “Rodan,” in which a giant flying pterodactyl threatened Tokyo; or “The Monster from the Black Lagoon,” about a slimy swamp creature that caused women to scream like crazy. We’d also see westerns in which the cavalry always came to the rescue to fight off those savage Indians; or sword-fighting epics — often starring Charlton Heston or Kirk Douglas — filled with clanking armor, gore and commotion.
I’m still trying to figure out why I loved the outdoor theater so much. Those speakers were so tinny-sounding, mosquitoes were usually buzzing and whining and biting, the front window would fog up and it was sometimes ungodly hot. A few times John drove off with the speaker still in the window. Whoops!
Later on, when I was a hooligan teen, it was even more fun to go to the outdoor theaters. Ronnie Fahnhorst, three years older than me, usually did the driving. The rest of us, sometimes as many as four, would cram into the trunk like sardines, along with a case full of beer, and sometimes one or two of us would be hiding under blankets in the back seat. That was a big part of the thrill of going to the Cloud or 10-Hi — the cheap thrill of “sneaking in,” as we called it. I can’t recall any of us getting caught. Once parked, it was fun to wander over to the concession stand to meet school chums and smoke cigarettes we’d filched from parents. We were such cool dudes, we thought, when in fact we were nothing more than delinquent, smart-mouth know-it-alls. Still, it was a lot of fun being so young, so carefree, so ill-behaved, so ignorant.
Kids today don’t know what they’re missing — that kind of outdoor-theater fun. I suppose nowadays kids have other places in which to be young, happy and ignorant. But where? Malls? Video-game galleries? Downtown streets? Borrrring.