Thursday, January 08, 2004


I'm having a TinyTuna moment, which you can read about here. If you don't care to click-through, let me summarize. A multiplex movie theatre is closing its doors tonight. Forever.

As TinyTuna once wailed, "I hate change when it happens to me!"

I spent many, many years working in the movie-biz. I started in High School selling tickets and popcorn. It was a 4-plex inside a shopping mall. My first Christmas? Two screens of Kramer vs. Kramer (Hoffman and Streep) and two screens of Electric Horseman (Redford and Fonda). I learned quickly what it was like to be really really busy. Back then (in the late 70s, if you must know) there were no computers. We had old-fashioned ticket rolls. We counted seats by tickets numbers using a calculator. The box office was a glorified closet and we cashiers felt like we were in an isolation booth. We weren't supposed to open the box office door (security and company money first), but we did it all the time. To breathe, as much as to socialize.

Thousands upon thousands of innocent polyesters were slaughtered to make our less than stylish uniforms. And oh, how they changed over time. When I started, the women wore a generic "tunic" style top (think Season One of Star Trek). Short sleeves, round neck, piping down the sides. The company colors were either red or reddish orange and black, depending on the dye-lot. Ushers wore black pants, a white shirt, a bow tie and a polyester suit coat. Remember, these were the old days. Once, out of boredom, an usher spent an entire evening with one arm of his polyester suit coat pinned up. He tore tickets one-handed with the other behind his back. We always found ways to amuse ourselves.

After the tunic came the vest-style uniform. It buttoned up the front and had short sleeves, but between the v-neck cut and the lack of strategically placed buttons, it was a bit dangerous for women. We hated that uniform with a passion. It would not be unusual to find us in a "national anthem" hand-over-heart pose; but but to protect our cleavage, not our patriotism.

The theatre was located on an outside entrance of the mall. That way, we could be open all those fun days like Christmas and Thanksgiving and Aunt Eunice's birthday while the rest of the mall was closed. One overly blizzardy Thanksgiving morning I remember opening up, and then leaving my little closet to sit on the bench in the middle of the mall hallway. The three of us (usher, cashier, concessionist) sat there until we saw some poor forest-green sedan fishtailing through the parking lot. "Car!" We yelled, taking our spots. Once the tickets and popcorn were sold and the patron was tucked away in the theatre, we went back out into the hall again. I still remember the total attendance for that Thanksgiving afternoon. Five.

The newfangled theatres (closing tonight) were built on the other side of town. This was exciting. It was an 8-plex, which was big news in those days. It was a huge two-story complex, with a projection booth running the entire length of a second floor. It was slick. As a part-time manager, I helped hire and train new employees, and then won the coveted job of going through the holy and sacred office supply catalog to outfit the new complex. Office supplies and the Green Tuna? Heaven on earth.

Eventually I left the 4-plex and transferred out to the new theatre. What a difference! The kids had a real break room, and not a supply closet. Management had an office. TWO offices, really. There were ticketing computers, new projectors and a concession stand complete with two poppers, two warmers, six pop stands and a hot dog machine. I had reached the Promised Land. A land of Coke and popcorn.

I worked in the theatre biz upwards of ten years. It was a coveted high school job (very cool) and a handy college job. School during the day -- work at night. I saw managers and employees come and go. I made lifelong friends. I worked with people that weren't really my favorites, and people I loved. I saw some employees date and break up, and others that would date, fall in love and get married. It was one of those jobs that even if you left, you'd come back to visit, whenever you were in town.

But it's difficult and unusual to make a career in movie theatre management. Theatre work grows tiring. The movies know no holidays. Theatres run movies until the crack of dawn. Working midnight movies can kill you. Patrons are cranky and never satisfied. Kids try to sneak into R-rated films. There is a high ratio of cinematic crap. Theatre success is dependant on many uncontrollable elements, including the whims Hollywood and the weather. And then there is always the competition of new theatres. Bigger, fancier. It gets harder and harder for an older venue to compete.

My boss, MovieTuna, made his career in the movies. He managed movie theatres for as long as I can remember. He was there when I started in the 70s, he was when I hung up my Manager nametag, and he'll be there tonight when the doors close for the last time. How can I describe him? Loud. Blustery. He loved to tell jokes. Lots of people were afraid of him, but not me. Somehow I think I got his groove. If he dished it out, I'd dish it back. I'd yell about his smoking, especially the cigars. He had a big, big bark, but it wasn't really a bite. He was absolutely one of my favorites, and he still is.

So tonight is the last show. I missed closing night at the old 4-plex several years ago. You can bet I'm not going to miss this one. I'll take a buttered popcorn, diet coke and Raisenette. Save me a seat on the aisle.

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