When they round up the usual suspects, you expect to hear the names Al Capone, John Dillinger and Ma Barker. You might not expect to hear the name Gail Doughty.
But the older sister of my best friend was responsible for a crime wave of epic proportions when I was growing up in New Jersey. She repeatedly allowed underage delinquents to hide in the trunk of her car so they could sneak into the drive-in to see movies deemed unsuitable for minors.
If you don't know what a drive-in movie is, ask your parents.
Gail was a hero to those of us condemned to a summer without possibility of a driver's license, but to look at her back then, you would never have guessed that she was involved in such nefarious activities. She was an excellent student, went to church regularly and was respectful of her parents.
She was in no way one of those out-of-control teenagers depicted in movies like "Rebel Without a Cause" and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." As far as I know, she never rode a motorcycle or carried a switchblade. She never rebelled against society in any way, with the possible exception of movie ratings that discriminated against the young. She apparently believed it was wrong to deprive youngsters of their right to watch low-budget, poorly made movies about zombies, vampires and biker gangs.
I'm pretty sure the statute of limitations has run out on Gail's crimes against humanity, so allow me to describe how she carried out her misdeeds.
Gail (I'm not using her married name to protect her family from public scorn) drove an American sedan roughly the size of Rhode Island. The trunk could fit six teenagers comfortably. I believe that feature was included in some of the advertising.
Just outside the entrance, Gail would pull over and pop the trunk. We would climb out of the car and pile into the trunk. She then drove up to the box office and bought a single ticket.
Gail, who is now a grandmother, always said she felt silly asking for one ticket. These outdoor theaters appealed more to couples and large groups of friends.
She would park the car in a deserted area and unlock the trunk. We would jump out like we had been freed from 20 years of solitary confinement, running around like crazy people.
Before you suggest that we were cheating the theater owner, let me emphasize that Gail wouldn't have been there if we hadn't persuaded her to smuggle us in, so the theater owner made at least one unplanned ticket sale. More important, the six of us ate like pigs and we spent most of the night at the concession stand buying popcorn, pizza and sugary drinks. The theater owner made serious concession money, and we had a glorious night at the drive-in even though we were not old enough to drive legally.
I have no proof, of course, but I believe that most theater owners knew exactly what was happening. How else to explain a young woman entering a drive-in alone? It's a game traditionally played willingly by theater owners and young moviegoers alike. The owners pretend they don't know that underage customers are sneaking into R-rated movies, and underage customers keep an eye out for ushers.
Until recently, theater owners only paid lip service to the campaign to keep youngsters out of adult-themed movies. Nobody seemed to work very hard at preventing it from happening. Parents blindly left the responsibility of policing the theaters to the owners, and the owners blindly pointed to the parents as the responsible party. Meanwhile, underage moviegoers saw what they wanted to see.
However, it seems the game has become somewhat harder to play.
According to a 2012 undercover investigation by the Federal Trade Commission, the nation's movie theaters are doing a better job at enforcing the restrictions.
"Ratings enforcement at the movie box office is at its highest level since the FTC began its mystery shopper program in 2000," the report stated. "Less than one-quarter of underage shoppers were able to buy a ticket to an R-rated movie, down from one-third in 2010."
The FTC said enforcement was especially high at four of the seven major theater chains. AMC Entertainment did the best job by turning away 95 percent of the teens trying to buy tickets to R-rated movies, followed closely by Regal.
Apparently, the FTC hired an unspecified number of undercover agents, ages 13-16, to try to buy tickets to R-rated movies at 250 movie theaters around the country. The teens, who were not accompanied by adults, also were pushed to buy DVDs, CDs and video games aimed at an adult audience.
The report focused on movie theaters in general, but made no specific mention of drive-in theaters.
It also made no mention of my friend Gail, the usual suspect.
Barry Koltnow: email@example.com