The Theater

Categories: Short Stories, Writing

One of the advantages of going to the movie theater was the fact that they had their own parking lots. The theaters in the city were either single screen high end operations or niche joints that only played independent films and live stage acts. Joe’s local megaplex was a relic from days when theaters still only sold overpriced candy and popcorn. Having been purchased by a historic film organization it had been recently restored it to it’s late 1990’s glory.

A friend of Joe’s had acquired tickets to one of the themed dinner and movie nights at this newly refurbished location. He was running late that evening after a meeting at work had extended it’s intended length. Once parked, he quickly opened his trunk to remove a long fake leather jacket, sunglasses, and toy swords. The air was getting very cold and clouds seemed to be moving in as the sun went down. With his makeshift costume adorned he slammed the hatch on his Civic and rushed over to the front doors where his buddy was waiting inside.

Tickets to these themed nights normally ran well over $50 a piece, not something that Joe could afford on his own but his buddy Rikk’s mother was on the historical preservation board and received free tickets select shows. Any other night she would have taken Rikk’s father to the movies but tonight was a 90’s techno-goth themed showing of Blade. In the lobby were well over fifty other people dressed in plastic rain jackets, cheap shades, and their hair slick spiked and gelled accordingly. There were some people there in simple costumes like Rikk, who was wearing a similar setup to Joe but with the added fun of synthetic silver pants. Some of the event goers were much more into it with real vintage raver pants, doc marten boots, spiked leather bracelets and all. Each ticket came with a free set of fake plastic vampire teeth, but some had their stage-ready fangs in place.

The interior of the newly remodeled theater was a vibrant mix of wavy sprinkled carpets, real abstract neon lighting, and checkered tiled walls. Joe checked his watch as Rikk sent him the ticket code. Upon opening the ticket he could then order his meal before the show started.

“Hurry up and pick your food, they already started seating.” Rikk said, watching Joe scroll through the menu options. Given that this was a themed night the menu was restricted to three options per category. With the vampire theme all the food and drinks were red or blood themed in some way. For his meal he opted for the Blade Burger, which was a vegetarian beetroot patty smothered in a spicy bbq sauce, red onion,cherry pickles, and was served on a nearly black dark brown rye bun. It came with a side of “fang fries” which were just normal potato french fries. His appetizer options were an assortment of vintage red candies or garlic butter popcorn, he went with the garlic butter popcorn. Finally, for his cocktail he went with the Sprinkler System Special which was more or less clear tequila and frozen Big Red, the glass dipped in a cherry syrup which dripped down the edge. The other options were an all too obvious Bloody Mary with a fried “bat” wing in it, and a red colored beer aptly named the Slaughterhouse Vibe.

Everything about the theater was as true to the late 90’s as the society could muster, save for the ticketing system. They employed actual staff wearing black slacks and embroidered polo shirts with stamped name tags. Workers at the front box office actually stood behind computer screens to take last minute ticket and food sales in person if one wished. An attendant at the entrance to the theater hall checked digital tickets on devices and told them which room it was in. Even though it was clearly on their watch, had they sat down in a seat unauthorized an usher would come up to have them leave. Modern theaters simply had you buy tickets, walk in and sit down with no hassle. Having so much staff in the building was strange to them. Off to one side was even a vintage style arcade filled with loud stand up cabinet games from the era. Had Joe arrived sooner he could have played some absolute gems like Dance Dance Revolution, Tekken, and House of the Dead. All of the arcade cabinets had been fully restored and purchased by the historical society, a few donated here and there. Some were too rare to be real and were simply a kit cabinet but no one seemed to mind.

Up above the doorway entrance to the theater rooms were several sets of scrolling red LED panels that told the guests which theater their movie was in. With the crowd, all four theaters were showing the same movie but tickets dictated which room you were in. Joe and Rikk had theater 2 which was off to the left. As they walked down the hallways they were met with a small snack bar selling small bags of the saltiest popcorn known to man, the smell of which was unmistakable for a vintage theater as the popcorn oil had seeped into the carpeting and drywall. The boys walked through the bright purple doors with their porthole windows and took a long trek up a dark hallway up to the seats. Now, when the theater was new the seats were all at a decent slope with several rows packed in together to get as many people in a room as possible. At some point they remodeled the rows, removing every other one and raising the levels considerably to allow the best view and most comfort. Given the extensive and expensive work removing such structures would take, the historical society opted to leave the stadium seating in place rather than return it to the impractical and cramped style it was in its hay day. Only a handful of people complained and none of them were there that night. There was another historical society run theater that still had the terrible wooden fold down seats and physical tickets but it was geared more for showing black and white movies or silent films with a live orchestra. Rikk’s mother and father tended to visit that one.

The boys then walked up the dark stairs to their assigned seats. Rikk’s mom had told them that back when the theater was in operation guests could sit anywhere so one had to arrive early enough to get a good spot and had to sit through up to forty five minutes of ads and trailers for other shows before the main one started. Giving leeway with modern theaters this one only showed fifteen minutes of trailers for other vintage films. The premium ticket prices at the movies saw to the end of advertisements and people were so used to it at this point had they been true to the time with such long previews people would have demanded refunds and left. The boys sat down in their seats and an user came by with their pre ordered drinks and appetizers. Rikk had picked the candy and chicken wing Bloody Mary. They both split the candy and popcorn, Joe wasn’t a fan of booze in cold tomato soup. At their chairs were fold out tables that would be needed for the meal, those weren’t authentic either but the historical society ran out of funding and ordered modern chairs hoping people would donate more to have real draft-house style ones put in.

The previews began and soon the movie had started. The waitstaff was informed to wait until the rave scene was over to serve the main meals. Joe thought his burger was a bit dry, hence the need for all the bbq sauce which made the bread soggy. He couldn’t tell exactly what Rikk had ordered in the dark but it appeared to be some sort of burrito. In fact it was, a modern attempt at something once known as a grilled stuffed burrito back before Taco Bell filed for bankruptcy during the fast food bubble. For the movie theme they added bits of spicy Dorito chips and a spicy red taco sauce. The main difference was the lack of expensive beef, which was substituted for more rice and beans. After a while they finished their meals and ushers walked by to take their plates so they could fold the little tables back into the chairs. Rikk ordered a second drink as he was taking his moms auto car home. Joe had chugged his early on and, after they took his plate, got up to go to the bathroom.

This was the one downside to a theater he thought, not being able to pause the show like he could at home with a movie. Most people had a movie subscription service rather than going to a physical theater as their tvs and sound systems were far superior to a projected screen in a dark room. He got up and went down the stairs which were now had each step lit with authentic rope LED lighting. Slightly buzzed, this made it difficult to walk through but made it down the ramp and out to the theater hallway around to the bathrooms. By now it was completely dark outside the lights from the parking lot being visible from the glass doors at either end of the hallway. Small flecks of something flickered in the distance. It was beginning to lightly snow. Luckily Joe had put the snow tires on his car a few weeks before. He sighed and checked his phone before going back into the theater. Snow wasn’t forecast for that night but a sudden front had moved in when the movie started and several alerts had gone off on his watch that he had hushed before going into the theater.

He walked over to the small snack stand and got a small coke and mini popcorn to help sober himself up before attempting to drive home in a little less than an hour. There were photos behind the snack bar of what the real items used to look like. Huge buckets of popcorn and soda, candy in boxes, all of which were nearly at modern prices. Joe couldn’t imagine people going to a three hour movie only to eat popcorn and soda. After standing in the hallway a little longer to finish his popcorn and watch the snow begin to accumulate on the window he walked back into the theater to finish the show. When he made it back up the authentically poorly lit stairs he leaned over and whispered to Rikk about the snow. Rikk hated taking the auto car in the snow because they were known for going extra slow during adverse weather. He was going to be stuck in the slow lane with all the other auto driving cars the entire way home almost doubling his travel time.

The movie went on another 45 minutes and Rikk ordered a final drink. Joe was beginning to sweat inside his plastic jacket now that the theater had turned up the heat to the building. Soon the movie was over several people got up and began walking to the exit. Rikk stayed seated, checking his phone to see if there were any special scenes at the end. Joe had told him that other comic book movies used to have them but neither were sure of this one. By the time they made it into the hallway there was a line of people waiting for the bathrooms, Rikk wasn’t the only one who had 2-3 drinks. Joe waited for him over in the arcade. He tried playing Tekken but the 2D aspect of the game was confusing as was the joystick and large buttons.

Once out of the theater the other attendees discovered the light dusting of snow around their cars in the parking lot. Because so many places had parking garages, poor weather meant your vehicle was still protected. Joe thanked Rikk for the tickets and offered to give him a ride home. Rikk said he had to get his moms car back home so she could get to work tomorrow. Joe told him to just send it home later but he didn’t want to make Joe drive too much in the weather.

Rikk waved him goodbye as he had his mom’s auto car pull up to the front of the theater. “That’s my car, drive safe man!”

“Yeah! Tell your mom thanks for the tickets.” Joe said, and fished for his keys in the long plastic jacket that was now no longer keeping him warm.

Joe remote started his car to get the heater running and began making his way to the back of the full parking lot. Once there he got in, and was met with an equally cold interior. The heater of his car throwing an error code on the dash.

“Are you kidding me?.” he said to himself, knowing that the repairs of such a thing in a car this age would eat into his food budget. “Guess I have to get his fixed.” He said, shivering in the driver’s seat, turning off his air vents that were aimed directly at his face. Joe pressed the clutch of his sudo-manual car and put it in reverse. The aluminum shift knob was so cold he had to use the sleeve of his jacket over his hand just to touch it. Joe looked out the snow dusted windows to watch the other cars slowly exit the open parking lot. Knowing that it would be some time before he could leave he thought for a moment. His teeth chattered as he put the car in neutral and pulled the handbrake. Even if the transmission was emulated, the hand brake was very much real. He pushed a button under the steering wheel to popped the hood. There was a control box and part of the emulator system for the transmission off by the drivers side. Joe opened the fuse box and frantically reseated the ones he knew were connected to the a/c as it had given him trouble back in the summer. One of them was loose. He rebooted the car and got back inside, pressed the ignition and waited. Hot air slowly began to pour from the vents in the dash. Joe cheered, threw the Civic in reverse, and left the nearly empty parking lot.


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