Movie theaters these days divide and subdivide about every two seconds, like hyped-up amoebas. Soon they will be so small, a family of four will have to go in shifts. But don't despair, because hey, hey, hey, the drive-in's back.

"People have rediscovered them," says Milt Moritz, vice president of Pacific Theaters--which, with 65 locations is the largest operator of drive-ins in the state. "If you want to smoke, you can smoke. If you want to talk, you can talk. Senior citizens like the privacy of their cars--they can turn up the sound. If the kids cry or fall asleep, the parents can still see the film."

The drive-in era peaked in 1958, when 4,063 drive-ins (of 16,354 total theaters) flickered across the country. Today, drive-ins account for only 910 out of 23,814 screens. Not surprisingly, California has the most of any state with 156; Ohio trails far behind in second with 60. It's easy to see why the numbers have dropped. Even multi-screen drive-ins, which are generally profitable, are not the most lucrative of land developments. But the $7.50 admission price of walk-in theaters may put the drive-in back in business. Drive-ins are cheap: Adults get in for about $4 and children get in for free. And gone are tinny, window-mounted speakers. Today, there's "Cine-Fi Sound": Clamp-on wires that attach to car antennae pump soundtracks through auto sound systems. And refined projection systems project more brilliant images. Then there's the social side of drive-ins. Some have playgrounds, and almost all offer real food: burgers, pizzas and burritos, as well as popcorn.

"People come early," says Moritz. "They come in a half-hour or hour before the picture, have their dinner, meet their families and friends. It's a real outing, a gathering place. You'll always have drive-ins."

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