Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Something went wrong at the drive-in

I hate it when one of my perfect little (against-the-rules) schemes fails to come together.

Even when it was decidedly imperfect, like Saturday night's scheme.

It's happened twice now in 2011. Do I have to rethink my schemes?

First it was losing my wallet at the movie theater two months ago, when I snuck into a second movie after paying for the first. I still haven't gotten caught doing that, but this time I did pay for it in the form of losing my wallet. (I did get the wallet back about three weeks later, when I was finally notified by the theater that they had it in their lost and found -- but I'd already paid for a new driver's license by then.)

Then this past weekend, it was a snafu at the drive-in -- where you're not supposed to switch theaters between movies, but they don't usually enforce it. Usually.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Saturday night's plan was decidedly imperfect from the get-go, because it involved bringing our six-month-old son with us. Sure, it's a lot easier to bring your baby to a drive-in than to the regular theater -- optimistically, you think he'll just sleep in the back seat while you enjoy your movies in the front. But it's still pretty bold and carries a high level of risk -- both for your enjoyment of the double feature you're supposed to see, and for his sleep over the next couple nights. But given that there were a couple new releases we were interested in this weekend (Battle: Los Angeles and Red Riding Hood), and that we usually see crap at the drive-in because we tend to go based on our availability, not based on what's playing, we decided to take this opportunity of our availability lining up with movies we actually wanted to see. The optimistic plan was to see Battle: Los Angeles and Hall Pass, and then stay for the second screening of Red Riding Hood (since each opening feature plays a second time after the second feature, to accommodate the late-arriving crowd). The realistic plan was to see Battle: Los Angeles and Hall Pass, and then go home.

We did take precautionary measures to ensure our son stayed asleep, by using walkmen rather than letting the sound play out loud in the car. I dusted off my old cassette player walkman, which still works, and which I still use about once a year to listen to a baseball game while I'm rollerblading. For my wife, I found a radio-only walkman (they don't call them that anymore, of course) at Rite Aid for $10. This after finding an FM device that worked on scan-only at the 99 Cents Store. If we'd needed to rely on this device, it would mean we couldn't tune to the actual radio station playing the audio for the movie, but we should be able to find it on scan. They were so cheap that I actually bought two of them that were slightly different models, in case one didn't work. But we never needed them.

The first obstacle was that despite leaving in plenty of time, we were still cutting it fine when we got there, because the line to get in was longer than we expected for a late-winter weekend. (You're probably even surprised to hear that they're open year-round. This is the earliest we've ever been, with our three previous drive-in experiences all coming in July or August.) As the line slowly slogged along, we couldn't believe we were going to have to rush when we got to our screen. It was a comical scene as we each stood outside the car, fumbling with walkmen whose headphones had become tangled in one another, using the available light from my cell phone to try to tune to the correct station. I got there just before the movie started -- my wife, about 30 seconds to a minute in. This was followed by having to figure out where in the car the various foodstuffs we wanted were, without waking our sleeping boy in the back seat. I settled for locating my sandwich and the drink I'd already been drinking, even if I sort of wanted a different drink and some chips to accompany my meal.

The viewing of Battle: Los Angeles went reasonably well, all told. My wife ended up spending a good 20 minutes in the back seat, craning to see the screen while nursing our son back to sleep. However, this was a situation entirely of her own creation. He was actually sleeping very deeply, not fussing at all. But in trying to ascertain some proof of life, like a little movement of his hand or something, she had to unintentionally disturb him, and he was a bit restless from that point on. I spent about the last 15 minutes of the movie holding him on my lap in the front seat. He wasn't asleep -- and since it was about 9:15 by this point, that was unfortunate -- but at least he wasn't requiring anyone's specific attention. He looked out the window with wide eyes -- yet another sight he'd never seen before. It was about this point that I discovered we hadn't actually needed the walkmen, as the sound playing from other cars was basically loud enough to serve as our own soundtrack to the movie.

However, I started to stress out as Battle: Los Angeles winded down, for reasons that had nothing to do with the non-sleeping baby on my lap. I knew that Red Riding Hood, the feature that played before Hall Pass on the neighboring screen, was shorter than Battle: Los Angeles. Not significantly shorter, but enough shorter that Hall Pass would be starting before the Battle: LA credits finished. So as soon as the director's name came up on the screen of our movie, I turned the car on and started driving. According to the theater's rules, we were supposed to stay on this screen and watch The Green Hornet. But that was never part of the plan. Besides, I've already seen The Green Hornet, and am not particularly interested in a second viewing.

The thing is, my wife's bladder was about to burst. So she asked me to drop her off at the bathrooms, and she'd come find me in Hall Pass if I agreed to park in about the same spot we'd been in for Battle: LA. This worried me, since, as discussed here, I hate it when my wife misses parts of movies. But I didn't have much choice, since there was no arguing with her bladder. We knew before going in that it would be a close call on getting the start of Hall Pass, but were willing to accept that as one of the sacrifices of the imperfect experience of seeing a movie at the drive-in. Plus, neither of us was really that interested in it -- we were just using it as a bridge to potentially get to Red Riding Hood, if we decided to stay for the third movie.

However, I was determined to miss as little of it as possible myself. And right after I let her off, I looked up to discover that it was already starting. Since my son was still basically awake in the back seat, I just let Owen Wilson's voice fill the interior of our car as I was driving over. I couldn't see all the images or maybe hear all the words, but the idea was for most of it to seep in.

The real problem was in getting to the other theater. At this particular drive-in, they funnel you down these different pathways to get you to the various theaters, rather than having kind of the open floor plan that the other drive-in has (we frequent two different drive-ins that are about ten miles apart from each other). This means that to get to one of the other ones, you have to go back against the flow of traffic, although none of this is marked very well so it's all kind of vague. Since most of the cars are settled in their spots, this maneuver isn't dangerous.

But it does tend to call intention to what you're doing -- precisely because you're one of the only cars in motion at the time. And so it was that I looked off to my left and saw a golf cart pacing me on the opposite side of a mesh fence. When I turned in to Hall Pass, they turned in behind me. For a moment I tried to convince myself that I was not being followed, but it was useless. The golf cart flashed its headlight the way a police car would flash its rooftop lights. Yep -- I was being pulled over by drive-in security.

It was an older guy who looked kind of like an aged hippie, with a dark black beard, and a younger, clean-cut guy in his mid-20s. "Hello there," one of them said.

"Hi, I went into the wrong theater."

"Can I see your ticket please sir?"

"Are you serious?"

"Yes sir."

"Man, it's in here somewhere." It's true that I didn't know where the ticket was, but I also knew that the ticket would not help me.

"Did you just get here, sir?"

"Yes." Neither of us said anything. I suddenly knew I had no play other than the truth. "Okay, no, I just went to another movie. Can't I go to this one?"

"No sir."

Another moment of silence. And then defeat.

"Okay, but my wife is in the bathroom, I need to go pick her up."

"Okay, you can just flip a bitch right here and go back the way you came." It was the first time I had heard someone use the phrase "flip a bitch" in years.

I did just that. At this point, it certainly seemed as though Hall Pass was toast. Its audio was still playing on the radio, but the movie was slipping further and further into oblivion in terms of our ability to come in late. It's not that we'd be confused by what was happening, but missing that much of a movie just kills it for me.

I hadn't given up on the idea of other options, though. I noticed the screen that was playing The Adjustment Bureau followed by Unknown was still in the trailers prior to Unknown. But I also noticed that the Golf Cart Nazis were still observing me from a distance of about 100 feet away.

I pulled up into this no man's land by the bathroom and called my wife. Four rings and then voicemail. Left a message explaining our predicament. Called her again. Straight to voicemail. And again. Voicemail again. Now I was starting to worry that she'd already finished her business and was walking out among the cars in Hall Pass, looking for her car, not hearing her phone. And every moment that passed without her coming, I worried that the Golf Cart Nazis were doubting the validity of my story, and considering whether to interface with me again.

In another couple moments she materialized from the bathroom and got in the car. I started instinctively heading back toward where Hall Pass was -- not because I intended to try my luck again, but because I didn't know where else to go. For a moment we discussed whether to make a bee-line into Unknown. But then I noticed that the golf cart was still positioned strategically where it could observe what we were doing. You can violate theater rules once, without any consequences. A second violation, and they may try to get the police involved, or at the very least, brusquely escort you out. And that could carry consequences like them taking my wife's license plate number and banning us from the theater. Doubtful, but possible. (We'd just take my car next time. If there is a next time. More likely, we'll just go to the other drive-in, even if it's more ghetto. Or, we'll just realize we have to start out with two movies on the same screen, and then switch to another screen if we want to go to a third, since most of the cars will be in motion at that time, and we'll blend in to the general departure.)

Flustered, I drove back toward the golf cart and asked them where the exit was. They pointed me toward it. We left.

So the night that could have involved three movies involved only one. So we paid $7 apiece for one movie -- which is still cheaper than theatrical prices, but not when you consider the gas required to get us to this theater, some 40 miles from our house.

I was in an unshakable funk for the next 15 minutes. Any time you get busted doing something wrong, it puts you in a funk. I was as much frustrated by their attempts to enforce a stupid rule (once you pay, who cares which two movies you see?) as by the fact that we wouldn't be seeing a second movie. When you come right down to it, the tightness of our schedule meant that our second movie would be compromised anyway. So instead of seeing the movie we wanted to see and missing the first ten minutes of a movie we didn't want to see, we only saw the first movie. Not that big a difference, all told.

Plus, my wife pointed out a couple things: Now we'd be home sooner, where we could put our son into his proper bed and watch the second half of our double feature in our own controlled environment, without scrounging around in the dark for the food we wanted. Not only that, but this was the first time we'd been out to the movies together since we saw The Town back in October. Even getting to see one movie together was a treat. And getting home sooner was especially useful this past weekend, what with losing an hour to daylight savings and all. After initially discussing watching something funny, to take the place of Hall Pass, we then decided on War of the Worlds, since Battle: Los Angeles had whetted our appetite for that kind of movie. (You might say, we wanted to see a superior version of that kind of movie, having just seen a merely decent version.)

I'd like to say we segued perfectly into that second movie when we got home, but the challenges of the evening stuck with us. First my wife stepped in cat poop on our lawn, which had been hidden by the darkness. Fortunately, she discovered it before she got into the house, but it necessitated bringing out the hose at 11 p.m. And then of course our son wouldn't settle. We'd kind of broken him by throwing off his sleep schedule so much, and he was inconsolable. And then our speakers were giving us problems, emitting loud feedback rather than the sounds of the movie, so we had to watch the movie with only the sound from the TV. It was nearly 2 a.m. -- which was really 3 a.m. -- before we even got to the Tim Robbins scene. We decided to turn it off then and just continue the next day. Even fans of the movie will probably understand why.

So it was definitely an imperfect trip to the drive-in. But in another way, it was a perfect story, more memorable than if we had sailed through smoothly. "It's a funny story we'll tell people," she said, when she could tell I felt like a failure for having gotten busted.

And she's right -- you're people, and I just told it to you.


Sebastian Gutierrez said...

I don't know. Sounds like a pretty fun night to me. I've never been able to go to a drive-in theater. And all that excitement? Sounds like a treat! Glad it all worked out in the end.

Vancetastic said...

Good points, Sebastian. But if it had merely been a fun night, I might have only written 1,300 words on it, rather than 2,600. And where would we have all been then? ;-)