PROLOGUE: Going to the movies used to be fun, and was one of the ever-dwindling few things I actually enjoy in these terrible times. And so, WARNING: Full blow rant time. No pictures, just bile, and a lot of foul language ahead.
SO ... I escorted my Dear Sweet Mama Bear to Kansas City a couple weekends ago so she could have a reunion with her two sisters. Trip went well despite a slight detour due to some recent flooding when a road we thought was open was not -- at least that’s what the flashing sign over I-80 told us. No problem, alternate route quickly sussed out with the bonus of popping onto I-29 south of St. Jo, Missourah, where we’d planned to eat at a Cracker Barrel, the same Cracker Barrel that spawned the notorious “Cheesy Potatoes” incident between my Mama Bear and a very patient waitress a couple years ago. So that was out, but we wound up at a truck-stop in Faucett, where I had the best damned piece of scratch carrot cake I’ve ever had in my life. So, win.
We make it the rest of the way without incident. Traffic was flowing, and we got to the hotel and met with the others. This was a Thursday night. We were coming home on Saturday, and there was a family dinner planned for Friday evening. And with my Mama Bear left in very capable hands meant I had most of Friday to myself. And luckily enough, there was a Half-Price Bookstore, a Barnes and Noble, and an AMC multiplex within a four block radius of our hotel.
Friday morning I got an early jump, hit a convenient Sonic for a convenient breakfast and hit the Half-Price Books. Now, when this whirlwind trip finally fell together I was hesitant because, duh, Kansas City in August is a terrible idea of high heat and even higher humidity. We got lucky because the temps stayed in the low 80s the whole time we were there, but the humidity was still high and tended to occlude your lungs. I say this to paint you a picture before pointing out the HP Books’ air-conditioner was out, and the store was sweltering. I swear you could hear the paper pages slowly curdling as you browsed the stacks. But I pressed on, with some time to kill before a planned early matinee later that morning. In the end I got skunked. Things I wanted but didn’t really need. And there you go.
Thus and so, empty handed, I bee-lined for the Barnes and Noble. A few weeks prior I had raided one in Omaha to take advantage of a half-off Criterion sale and had hoped to find a few titles that eluded my grasp earlier before the sale expired that very weekend. Alas, everyone else had the same idea and the selection had been pretty ransacked. Again, things I wanted but didn’t really need. Did wind up buying a few graphic novels to pass the time because it was about 45 minutes until the morning matinee started.
Got to the theater, parking lot is fairly empty, and I started reading. But then, between page 9 and 10 the parking lot started filling up pretty fast and, thinking it over, with 30 minutes to showtime, I figured I’d head on in, get a ticket, and enjoy the air-conditioning in the theater as I was really feeling my pits by now.
And so, our hero strolled into the AMC Independence Common 20. The plan was to hit an 11:15am showing of Hobbs and Shaw, and then finally see either Yesterday or Toy Story 4 at 2pm. And maybe, just maybe, another screening of Endgame later that night if the family dinner wrapped up and we adjourned to the hotel in time.
Now, the first thing I come across is a mob of people in the vestibule huddled around a half-dozen kiosks just inside the entrance. I deduce these people are buying tickets. I’ve seen these self-service contraptions at other theaters and avoid them like the plague. I spot a clerk at a desk directly behind the machines helping an older couple and think, screw the machines and power to the people, baby.
But the first thing I notice when I gain the theater proper is this desk with the clerk is completely roped off, making a makeshift triangle with a guard at the apex to allow people in or out. Finding it odd, but undaunted, I jumped the rope, amble up and ask to buy a ticket for Hobbs and Shaw. She looks at me, first confused -- like how did you get past my sentry?, then disdainfully, and asks if I’m buying with cash or credit. Cash, I say. And she bluntly tells me I have to use the kiosks if I want to buy a ticket. That’s what she said, but all I heard was, Get lost, dip-shit, you’re bothering me.
Mumbling I just want to buy a ticket I head back to the glass caged vestibule and get in line for the kiosk. Only there really isn’t “a line.” There is no queue for the machines, just a mass of people pushing forward. There is one AMC employee among the herd, headset on, helping those who can’t get the damnable things to work. My turn finally came, and I follow the instructions on the touch screen like an obedient drone. And then the machine started f@cking with me. First, I select the movie I wanted to see, and what time, and there’s like, a 30 second lag between each screen. Some longer, some so long I half expected for the server to timeout and kick me back to the homescreen -- he typed ominously...
Finally, and I mean finally, it asks me to choose a seat. It’s a mix of green and red seats on the screen. Mostly green. And did I mention I'm color blind and can't really tell the difference between red and green? Anyhoo ... Intuitively, I assume the lighter seats means available and the darker ones means occupied. That was my first mistake as I start pressing on a lighter seat like some rabid lab monkey hoping a protein pellet pops out of a tube before I start flinging my poop around. I check the screen, it says nothing about which color is which, so, mentally screaming every curse word I know because I’ve been forced to deal with this goddamn thing, I ask Headset how do we know which seat is available. Red are open seats, she says. Fine, I say, and pick two of the darker seats together in the back row. Why two seats when I’m alone? Oh, I’ll be covering that in a second. Believe me.
OK. Fine. Seats selected, now it asks how I will be paying. And not wanting to deal with trying to feed cash into this f@cking thing, I opt to use my credit card. Which I swipe. And then swipe again. And then swipe for a third time because the f@cking machine that I need to use to buy a f@cking ticket to a f@cking movie in a f@cking movie theater who does not want to interact with me as a f@cking customer won’t recognize my f@cking card. And then it gets even better.
On the fourth swipe, the machine errors out, and asks me if I would like to cancel my purchase but words it in such a way you’re not sure what you should answer so you can keep going in a No means Yes but Yes also means No sense. And guess what, I picked the wrong one. And so, the machine goes back to the homescreen. I have no ticket. And I have to start over. And start over I do, click, and wait, click, and wait, click, and waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaait, click, and waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaait. And then, get this, when I finally get to the choose your seat screen, there are now only two seats left, first row, way in the corner. Someone sniped by back row seats while the machine rebooted. At this point, I am so f@cking livid I am ready to pick up this kiosk, throw it through the plate glass window so it would land right beside the clerk who wouldn’t sell me a ticket even though she was standing right beside a cash register that could print out tickets. But, nope. Screw customer convenience.
By now, there’s a sizeable crowd stacked up behind me who would also like to buy a ticket, too, who are all growing very impatient with my apparent ineptitude. But determined to see this through without any bloodshed -- which is pending if the pay screen fouls up on me again, I tried again. And guess what? It did the exact same thing. But this time, when the screen came up asking if I wanted to cancel the transaction when it still wouldn’t recognize my card, which had worked just fine a second ago at the bookstore, in my rage I couldn’t remember which Yes means No and No means Yes button I pushed last time and just smashed the screen with the palm of my hand, basically pushing both buttons at once, which kicked it back to the swipe card screen which mercifully accepted my transaction at last and belched out my tickets, row A, seats one and two.
I get it. I really do. Movie theaters want people to buy their tickets online now and remove the human element from the equation altogether, which saves them the hassle of lines and money in salaries and unused ticket sales. I mean, have you tried to get a refund for a movie ticket you purchased online? Forget it. It’s easier to pull your own toenails out with a rusty pair of pliers in my experience. Get with the times, you say? Fine. You wanna reserve a ticket to a movie in case it sells out. Fine. Reserve a ticket -- BUT NOT A SEAT. We’re talking about Hobbs and Shaw, not Hamilton. And what this all really means is it’s now nearly impossible to go and see a movie on a whim. All because some dumb f@cks couldn’t get their stupid ass to the theater in a timely fashion and get a decent seat, you have to deal with this crap. Sorry, I’d rather reserve the right to move then reserve a specific seat. And before I let this go, before the film finally started after 12 previews -- TWELVE, that took so long I honestly forgot what movie I bought a ticket for, I took a look back at the rest of the theater and, sure enough, nearly 1/3rd of the seats were empty. I assume they were bought online, and folks either cancelled or failed to show up.
Here, I remind you all I got to the theater almost 45 minutes early, was forced to interface with a temperamental machine, and wound up in the worst f@cking seats available because they were the only ones left. And they were terrible, but you had an excellent view of the emergency exit door and the dividing wall. Beyond that you could see about half the screen, which was about four feet from your nose, forcing you to look up and keep your head at a dutch angle to almost see the whole thing. I had to take my glasses off because the frames were obscuring too much of the film. Just awful. I think they call legitimate theater seats like this an obstructed view. The movie was fine, I think. I don’t know. Too close, the action blurred a lot. And craning my neck gave me a stress headache, which kinda had me hoping it would end sooner than later. That, or the migraine would get so bad I would upchuck all over the theater floor as a middle finger to this whole experience. Congratulations, AMC, you made me hate a movie where the Rock lassos a helicopter. You suck. Hard.
And speaking of sucks, lets address the double seat issue. I am a big guy. Read fat. Morbidly obese by definition. (I blame the large gaping vacuum in my brain where my pituitary gland was supposed to be.) And when I fly, I am required to buy two seats so I do not inconvenience other passengers. Believe me, it’s for my convenience and mental health as well. I don’t want to crush anybody and it’s all part of living in a world that is not built for your specs. I cried when movie theaters started putting in seats with retractable arm rests. After decades of squeezing into the old-fashioned ones, the cup-holders digging into your thighs and your knees rubbing up against the row in front of you, I swear this has caused some serious and permanent nerve damage in my right leg. (Being fat kinda sucks, being tall and fat sucks even worse. Trust me.) But now, in an effort to make going to the movies the equivalent of staying home in your basement, these seats are being torn out and replaced with “Dream Loungers.” Recliners. When this started, they were individual seat recliners. These were fine, but cut capacity immensely, and so, someone had the brilliant idea to dump the single recliners and do a smaller loveseat to squeeze just one more seat into every aisle and would also allow you to get really, really, really intimate with a complete stranger with only a retractable armrest in between you. Sure you can recline. You know what else it can do? It makes it a lot easier to doze off, adding the dulcet tones of snoring to the film’s soundtrack. Perfect. This is just like home.
Full disclosure, I tend to spill over my half in these damnable seats and find them terribly uncomfortable. At least AMC had the brains to put the controls on top of the armrest instead of inside them like the Marcus chain, where the slightest brush by a leg will set your chair into motion. Again, my problem, not the theater’s problem. And like with an airplane, I am willing to purchase two seats because I don’t really have a choice. It pisses me off that I have to do this when I used to not need to. I am being discriminated against, sure, but it’s what you have to do if you want to go to a movie these days as every attempt at improving your theatrical experience only seems to make it worse.
With all the previews, I barely had time to beat two more tickets out of the damnable kiosk to get to Toy Story 4 in time. Headset recognized me and moved in to help. My “Stay the f@ck away from me or I will murder you dead” glare resulted in an immediate and very comical about face. You wanna help me? Cut the stewardess shit, get behind the counter, and sell me a ticket. At least I got a better seat this time since that movie had been out for forever. Here, I found out the Dream Lounger also had a seat warmer option -- at least I think it did, that I accidentally turned on at some point during the second act and the illumination bulb on the control pad had burned out and the theater was too dark to see how to turn it off, making things nice and toasty on a warm and muggy August day. And if they don't have seat warmers, then what the hell just happened?!
EPILOGUE: And with all that, to me, then, it is no real surprise that movie theaters are dying. With my experience that awful weekend, it’s like they don’t want you to even come. You're an inconvenience. They don’t care. Why the f@ck should you? I know I bitch about my beloved Stadium 7 a lot -- like, A LOT a lot, but now I really don’t want that rusty antique to change and stay as is. For if this is what the future of going to the movies will be like, then I say, let them die. And let them die horribly.