Angst at the Cineplex

This column was published Tuesday, February 13, 2018, in The Manhattan Mercury.


My wife and I love movies and I suspect we see more than most middle class American Midwest couples. We have the refillable popcorn bucket, we’re members in good standing of the AMC Stubs loyalty program and we share a penchant to sit close to the screen.

Easier to see, duh.

We go to chick flicks, bio pics, superhero tales, romcoms, summer blockbusters, suspense thrillers, whodunits, war movies. We have not been to a slasher film since 1996, when, in our courtship era, she got up and walked out of “Scream.”

So, we were excited when we learned of the new state-of-the-art cineplex at the mall. Turns out I struggle with state-of-the-art.    

It starts with the ticket procurement kiosk, which resembles the flight control console of Jean-Luc Picard’s Starship Enterprise. I start punching and swiping screens at warp speed. It asks if I’m an AMC Stubs member. Why, yes, I am, in fact, but I wasn’t packing my membership card, decoder ring or AMC Stubs implanted microchip.

Next stop, refreshments. An elaborate labyrinth marked off by those spring-loaded canvas fence thingies, designed to herd human beings into orderly queues.
 
Cinematic small talk with the folks in front of us. “What’re you guys seeing?” “The Greatest Showman, you?” “Darkest Hour.” Eyebrows raised in mutual admiration of each other’s artistic sensibilities.

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We spill out of the labyrinth a few feet from the high school kids human resourcing the popcorn and Sour Jacks. Apparently, you wait there until called on, then trek the final dozen steps toward the goodies.

“Buttered popcorn, a large Coke Zero, large bottle of water and some Milk Duds, please.”

“This is the ticket line. You need to get in the other line.”

“Whaddaya mean ticket line? I got my tickets back there at the Starfleet console.” Tempted to ask him to apply my rewards points, but at this point, I just want my damn popcorn. Back through the labyrinth, doing my best not to make eye contact with those behind me in line. The shame is real.

When it’s our turn again, I hand the same kid my bucket. He gives me back a bucket full of unbuttered popcorn and an empty Coke cup. “Uh, ‘scuse me, but I said, BUTTERED, and this Coke cup is empty, my friend.”

Without a word, the kid points to another hi-tech station where I get in yet another line.  

Juggling a bucket full of unbuttered popcorn, shame, empty Coke cup, ignorance and our tickets, I’m eyeballing the movie going public ahead of me, so I can do what they do. Turns out you apply your own butter nowadays.

The soft drink dispensary takes me back to the Enterprise. If Captain Picard were here, he’d look at it and say, “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot,” and a little 24th century glass cup of tea would appear. Back in my 21st century reality, I resist the temptation to go full on Picard.

Dirty looks from the millennials behind us in line. “C’mon, Pop, figure it out.”

By now I’m anything but refreshed, but we make our way into the theatre and sit down. In a La-Z-Boy. With a built in TV tray and menu.

“Uh, you’re sitting in my seat…”

“Whaddaya mean I’m sitting in your seat?” looking around at a theatre full of empty seats.

“They’re assigned when you bought the tickets.”

Oh.

Examine the tickets. Sure enough. We move to our assigned La-Z-Boys and settle in. Push a button and I’m supine, which, for boomers, may prove convenient if it’s a crappy movie. Except for the snoring.

The menu features some delectable offerings, but again I find myself unsure of the protocol. Wait for the waitperson? Holler out “YO! CHEESEBURGER UP IN HERE! MEDIUM WELL. NO ONIONS. DAB O’ MUSTARD!” and then trust the system?

On the big screen, ads encouraging me to buy some popcorn and Coke that I’ve already bought. The theatre remains troublingly well illuminated and naturally, I assume when the actual movie starts, the high-tech system will dim the lights.

Nope.

We’re a couple minutes into the movie, house lights burning bright. Glance around at those who today share our specific artistic tastes, wondering who among us will seek to correct this grievous error. No one moves.
 
So, I push a few buttons, get up from my La-Z-Boy, trek out to the high schoolers and inform them of the system failure. It’s not their fault. They didn’t design it. They said all the right things, worked their magic and dimmed the lights, but the damage was done. On this day, in Manhattan, Kansas, the beginning of the “Darkest Hour” was, in fact, not.

There’s no doubt we’ll return to the movies and with all this experience, next time will be easier. I mean the Saturday matinee of “Diamonds are Forever” at the Orpheum in downtown Wichita was never this hard.