February 11, 2007

Theorizing at the Movies

I arrive at the theater with just over half an hour left until our movie is scheduled to start. This should be plenty of time to get snacks and be in my seat before anything happens. I consider the previews a valuable part of the movie experience, in order to see what movies are coming soon.

After buying the tickets, I enter the vast lobby. There are snack counters on either side. I do what I always do: I stare intently at each clerk behind the counter, judging for intelligence and speed from their appearance alone. Don't judge me ~ this is VITAL. Each clerk has a line of at least 20 movie-goers. I've spotted the one I hope is the best. I get in line.

After waiting five full minutes, I notice that I'm still standing next to the potted plant I stood beside as I got in line. I haven't moved. I shift my weight onto my other foot and resist the urge to tap my foot. I'm taller than the people in front of me so I have a clear view of all the people behind the counter. Soon I find myself doing what I love best: people watching while speculating what their lives are like. Actually, this time I'm speculating about how on earth these people got hired in the first place, and, more importantly, how they've kept their jobs being this slow. It boggles the mind.

Suddenly we move forward in line about 12 inches. Progress! I struggle to remember what my family wants for snacks since I sent them inside to get good seats a long time ago. It's a valid worry. I chant the list of treats in my head like a mantra, trying hard not to do it out loud, or silently move my lips to give the other people in lines beside me the idea that I'm crazy. Which may be debatable considering that I've been standing in a line for 10 minutes without moving more than 12 inches.

A child around 10 years old comes and stands right beside me and the woman in front of me. She and I look at that girl, then at each other, and suddenly the woman in front of me looks at the girl and motions that the back of the line is way back there. Sorry. The girl looks back (I'm frankly not sure she could even see that far away) and walks away, probably looking for someone a little easier to cut in front of.

The woman looks at me and says, "I'm not usually like that, but my movie starts in five minutes, and I'm worried. Have you ever SEEN people work so slow in your life?"

"No. I was standing here thinking that I could work CIRCLES around these people....not that I'd really want that job..." She smiled and we got back to the serious business of waiting.

I found myself looking at the backs of those in front of me, hoping that they were a huge family of adults out together, and that they were buying one large popcorn and large pop to split between them, so that our line would miraculously disappear in one order. It's amazing what kind of deluded thoughts run through my mind when I've been idle for that long, wishing and waiting.

I realize that these employees are the same no matter which theater I go to, across town or across the country. Theater snack counter workers are all the same. My thoughts veer toward what I'd have been like as a teen (since they were all teens) if I had become a theater worker instead of a bagger at a grocery store. I think I'd still have worked circles around them. There is no sense of urgency whatsoever. There's a full popcorn machine, yet they are working as if it is imperative for the lines to wait as long as possible. I don't think I could work that slow if I were TRYING to work that slow. Then it occurs to me: That MUST be what they are doing! It's INTENTIONAL!

I stand there furiously trying to work out why this would be so. But apparently it is. Look at them the next time you are standing in your line at the movies. They are TRYING to be that slow. The big question is WHY?

Obviously they have worked out a comfortable niche for themselves. They are needed, actually vital to the theater in a big way. They already recognize that they will be paid the same if they bust ass or if they take their sweet time. So why work your tail off if you don't have to?

Some of them, if you look closely, get a sadistic thrill in making others wait and having such power over them. Usually he (or she) is the one who is the most nerdy-looking and unkept of the group. He may have discovered this is the only outlet he has for feeling power, when all other avenues of his life prove to him that he has none. This is the kind of look you should watch for and avoid when you make your first initial assessment over which line to get in. Should you happen to actually find yourself in the sadist's line, do not, I repeat: DO NOT give him the satisfaction of showing him he made you late for your movie. You will only be rewarding him. He LOVES making people mad.

I move forward another step.

I think about what would happen if a person with a sense of urgency and work ethic ever found himself employed at a theater. What would happen? Would he become theater manager within a month? Maybe. Or...more likely, the other workers would teach him. Picture him coming out of the bathroom stall during the hours before movie time when they are at work preparing for the customers. He steps out to find all his co-workers in a big circle around his stall ~ he is surrounded. He wants to run back in the stall and lock himself in, but he knows he'd just be delaying the inevitable. So he asks, "What do you want?" (He is proud his voice only squeaked once.)

"Listen, buddy, to how it's gonna be from now on. How it's GOTTA be from now on. We have seen how much harder than us you've been working. It's makin' us look bad, see, and we can't have that, now, can we?"

When he doesn't answer quickly enough, the entire circle of guys step forward and sneer. He shakes his head no really fast.

"We wouldn't want to make your life hell here, would we? We knew you'd understand. We're really glad we had this little talk." The group stands close for a moment before breaking up and walking away. The poor employee stands there shaking, wondering how this happened. But he needs this job and isn't about to question their plan.

This is why the movie theater industry has identically slow employees worldwide. The good ones are beaten down so the bad ones can thrive. It's the only possible answer.

It is finally my turn. What was I supposed to order again?


Cele said...

okay you are reaffirming why we only go to the movies once or twice a year.

And hey wait? A whole family is suppose to share a tub of popcorn. OH.MI.GOD.

montchan said...

You simply GOT TO go to the movies in Sweden. You think those kids in the US are slow? I thought so too, until I moved here.

And that is precisely why I have always smuggled (and always will) my own snacks in.
And if they tell you that no outside food is allowed, and try to take your stuff away, you calmly ask them: "Do you have a search warrant for that?" And they let you go in WITH your illegal food. Works every time!

Genilimaa said...

I prefer candy to popcorn, and the movies don't have the best candy. So I have to make an additional stop on the way to the movie theatre.
My sister smuggled in a hamburger once. Probably the worst kept secret ever, the whole salon smelled of hamburger and everbody were turning their heads to find out where it came from. But that was better than the time my friend brought whisky with him. He began to comment on the movie in a loud voice even before it had ended...Sigh.

JMK said...

Smuggling stuff in is the best. I've even managed to get a can of soda in! The key is a big coat and inside pockets. It's a little tougher in the summer, but then I tend not to go to the movies in the summer as all the kids are out of school then and they're obnoxious as hell!

Went to see Casino Royale last night with my sister. Excellent movie! We split a large popcorn and had our own drinks. And may I just say how gross the butter is they put on popcorn. Eeeew. Ick.

And speaking of slow as molasses service--what's up with that? Theory or no theory, it is SO unacceptable! In my grocery working days, you hustled or you got fired. Perhaps we need to reinstitute that policy...

Steve said...

We went to the movie last night, way up here in northern Minnesota, and had the same experience. I watched probably 10 minutes of the movie before my friend made it in.

Oh, Norbit is funny as hell by the way. It probably offends almost everyone, but it was sure as hell, in a juvenile way, funny.

Bishop Rick said...

Greetings from Times Square. Looking out my hotel window I can see:
duane reade
Virgin Records
The Carter Hotel
Milford Plaza

What Hotel am I in?

Didn't mean to change the subject, just have nothing to say about movies.

Hellmut said...

If you pop a bunch of kids behind a counter and don't train them then things are slow. I used to flip burgers at McDonalds as a teenager. Actually, I sucked flipping burger. So I got to work at the cash register where I outsold everyone else by $2 per customer. That's a lot.

Let me tell you. It's essential that you follow the exact routine. If you serve the food in the wrong order then it will get cold.

These jobs where humans are extensions of machines and standardized methods actually require personnel that is disciplined. But even that won't help if the management does not take the time to explain the processes well.

Most small business owners don't appreciate that. Their business is their life and they think abut it day and night. They do not realize that high school kids will not figure out operations on their own.

Sideon said...

There's a certain pleasure in sitting back at the movie theater and enjoying candy and/or popcorn. (No, I'm not going to use this space to bitch about the prices, which are obscene.)

Milk Duds. Bottlecaps. Lemonheads. Mike and Ikes. Butterfingers. M&Ms. Dots. Raisinets. Red Hots. Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Runts. Nerds. Twizzlers. Whoppers.

If you get popcorn, no butter. That stuff is radioactive.

Love your posts, SML.

Just one of many said...

Maybe if the worked on commission or for tips things would be different? I always carry the BIG BAG into the movies! If I ever get busted, I'll just quote your post! Well said!!

Rachel said...

I plan ahead for the movies. It is strange but we usually only have to wait a couple of minutes to order.
I usually sneak in a beverage (the 1 liters are perfect and fit inside your jacket) but I freeze it slightly before I go so that it stays cold throughout the movie.
I also sneak in candy.
I will buy the popcorn but typically don't eat a lot of it.
Since most movie theaters make the majority of their money from the concession stands you would think that they would have people hustling.

wry catcher said...

They're really slow in Switzerland, Germany and France too. It must be universal.

I am a smuggler as well. I've smuggled in whole meals from Taco Bell. Sometimes you gotta have movie popcorn with butter-flavored grease all over it though. Sigh.

Nice post, SML. :-)

eendje said...


I've been reading your blog for a while and really enjoy it. I linked to it from Kimmie's blog and love reading it. =-) You are a wonderful writer... and great artist. I do quite a bit of poetry and do some sketching occasionally, but it never turns out the way I want. Maybe with more practice... in my infinate spare time. lol. Sorry to change the subject off of movies. =-) Just wanted to pop in to say hi. =-)

supernova said...

SML, this is gonna sound strange, but the lines in the movies here (Bangalore, India) really don't take that long! Maybe an exception to the general rule?

Coral said...

They are clones.

Please welcome DartMan from me - I can't comment over there!