Sunday, November 14, 2010

Poltergeist: the only outdoor porn theater in Northwest Arkansas

Posted By on Sun, Nov 14, 2010 at 10:03 AM

I wrote this story 20 years ago for Grapevine, about Tri-City, the old porn drive-in just outside Springdale, which had a ring of screens surrounding its concession stand/projection booth, and sent the picture out to all of the screens at once. Former C.A.T. manager Kn Teutsch told me that they were able to do this by putting a prism in front of the camera lens.

Of course, Tri-City wasn’t the only dirty movie theater in our midst. For a time the old Apollo in downtown Springdale shown X-rated films.

This is included in my book, Ozark Mosaic.

Poltergeist

Like a tarnished beacon on a far hillside, it welcomed the bored, the curious, the lonely, and the slightly perverted. A monument to sleaze, Tri-City is a forgotten part of our local history.

That it existed is a real, verifiable fact. But today, it is difficult to find anyone who will admit to having been there at any time, even unwillingly. And yet, undisturbed, it thrived for many years.

Tri-City was an outdoor porno theater. As far as I know, the only other porn establishment in our area was the old Apollo in Springdale, but we never find that mentioned anymore.

Tri-City always ran incredibly raunchy ads in the local papers. One local paper invariably drew underwear on the women portrayed.

When you think of a drive-in, you probably remember necking, speakers you had to hook onto your car window, and a gigantic screen that could easily be seen from the highway. But a porno drive-in?

The problem was solved very neatly. The concession stand/projection booth stood in the center of maybe fifty individual screens each sized a little larger than a wide refrigerator The picture was sent to the backs of the screens, but you had to be parked directly in front to see the picture clearly. To hear the dialogue, you simply tuned your radio to the end of the AM band. There, amidst crackles and hisses, the sounds of simulated passion could be yours.

Great fun, no? When my old friend Kevin visited me from England in 1984, his most vivid memories were his visits to Eureka Springs and Tri-City.

I’m not making value judgments here; I know a lot of men and women who have a taste for the erotic. The truly erotic is a wondrous thing. But the manner of film shown at Tri-City didn't have much to do with eroticism. Instead one found the usual fantasy world of well-endowed, insatiable women and men for whom shyness and self-doubt were never a problem.

The films were trash, like cheap paperbacks and most television series. After all, watching naked strangers on a dimly-lit screen while you're eating Doritos and downing a Budweiser doesn't exactly qualify as a “night on the town.” And ultimately, I think, it's a little pathetic to spend your weekends fantasizing over celluloid vixens, when the world is full of real, fascinating women.

Tri-City might have lasted forever, though, were it not for the advent of the VCR. and video rental shops that carried X-rated tapes. Why sit out in the cold, fiddling with your car radio, worrying about your car battery, when you could watch Candy Stripers in Love on your 25" RCA, in the comfort of your home?

The once steady stream of cars out to Tri-City dwindled down to a trickle, and finally, one day, while looking over the movie section of the paper, you realized that you hadn't seen a Tri-City ad for what seemed like forever.

Nobody seems sure of the exact date of its passing away, but pass away it did. Today, homes sit on the spot of Arkansas' sleaziest drive-in.

And yet, I wonder if Tri-City truly is dead. In the film Poltergeist, even though the housing development was built on an old graveyard, the spirits of the dead lived on. There are those who believe that strong emotions and feelings continue even after those who have felt them have moved away. Have you ever heard someone say, “Oh, I can tell that this was a happy house?” Or, how about, “This place gives off weird vibes.”

What feelings would be left wafting around the Tri-City burial ground? I suspect a certain amount of loneliness, but certainly also desire. Lots of desire. After all, such was the nature of the place; it was their stock in trade.

Imagine those feelings are still around, even in a small way. The occupants of those homes may be the most, well, affectionate, in this part of the country. It's entirely possible.

But I’m not going to be the one to ask them.

Grapevine, September 7, 1990

rsdrake@cox.net

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