Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Drive out the old year, drive-in the new

Parents going out on New Year's Eve without needing a sitter?

Mission: Possible.

On Saturday night, we rang in the new year with Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol and The Sitter at the Mission Tiki Drive-in in Montclair -- the site of both successes and failures in our moviegoing past. And we got to be (semi)-responsible parents by having our son right there in the back seat with us. (Better than leaving him at home with Jonah Hill, right?)

It had been a rather late-developing plan. The initial idea was to do more or less what we did for his first New Year's, which was go out for an early dinner at somewhere that was fancy enough to serve us a celebratory cocktail, then return home for a movie (last year, it was the thematically appropriate countdown movie Run Lola Run).

But this past Wednesday Mission Tiki sent me its weekly email advertising its offerings for the upcoming weekend, and it was clear they would be open on New Year's Eve. In fact, we were being told to "ring in the New Year under the stars." Since we'd failed to decide on a movie (Roland Emmerich's 2012 had been batted around, but did we really plan to see this behemoth a second time?) or a place to eat, going to the drive-in would take care of both, as we'd buy sandwiches to picnic at the theater. In fact, the sandwiches and the $7 entry fee per head might make the whole evening about as expensive as just our two celebratory cocktails.

We'd learned our lesson about trying to switch screens between the first and second movie (see the "failures" hyperlink above), so we needed to be convinced that both the movies were ones we a) at least sort of wanted to see, and b) had not already seen. The only one of the four pairings that met our criteria was M:I - GP and The Sitter. (With The Adventures of Tintin and Hugo, we'd both seen Hugo; with Sherlock Holmes and The Darkest Hour, she'd seen Sherlock Holmes; and with Chipwrecked and We Bought a Zoo, I'd seen Zoo. And besides, not even at a drive-in would I see a chipmunks movie.) And since they repeat the first feature after the second one finishes, we could risk switching screens at that point and might even catch The Adventures of Tintin. (Though it would be weird watching the clock strike midnight in the middle of a movie.)

Ah, but there was one more criterion we haven't mentioned: They both needed to be movies we'd be willing to see in the compromised environment of the drive-in. Here was where I almost tripped us up.

See, everyone's been talking about how great Mission: Impossible is -- and specifically how great it is in IMAX. If there were ever a movie to see in IMAX, this was apparently it. I knew that most of the action set pieces had been shot with an IMAX camera, but I didn't know what most of those set pieces were, meaning I might be able to claim bliss by virtue of ignorance. However, the film's most famous set piece -- Tom Cruise climbing the outside of Dubai's Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building -- would always haunt me if I didn't see it in IMAX. This is what I wrestled with once my wife had decided she was on board for the drive-in, lured particularly by Mission: Impossible.

I wrestled for less than a day. Ultimately, I felt pretty fortunate in the first place that my wife wanted to wade back into the unknown dangers of going to the drive-in with a toddler, and if I got hung up on whiny technicalities ("But I wanna see Mission Impossible in IIIII-MAAAAX!"), I'd run the risk of throwing a wet blanket over the whole affair. You can't see every movie you want to see in the ideal setting to see it. Sacrifices must be made for the greater good.

So we got all our ducks in a row and left around 5:25 for a 7 o'clock show -- in other words, at least ten minutes later than we'd wanted to leave. It's funny, because after last time, we swore we'd never be running late to the drive-in again. Last time, we were fumbling with our walkmen (that's how you don't bother the sleeping baby with the sound) as the opening credits were rolling, desperately trying to find the correct FM station on cheap equipment we'd bought for $10. When we got a late start Saturday night for the hour-long drive, I felt the same nerve-jangling scenario arising again.

Never happened. In fact, we were parked and ready to go at about 6:40 -- early enough even for me to sneak off to the bathroom for, ahem, something more than a trip to the urinal. (Since I don't want that innuendo to be misunderstood, I'll remove its usefulness as an innuendo by explaining: I had to go #2, and was already worried that I wouldn't have the time for it, leaving me in a potentially desperate situation during the movie.)

The place was dead. We thought there was a decent chance parents would see this as a way to get out with their kids for New Year's Eve, especially with two family-friendly double features playing. But we were one of only about a half-dozen cars facing our screen when we got there, and that number only doubled by the time the show started.

It went mostly smoothly. Our son slept all the way through to the Burj Khalifa sequence. At this point, my wife got into the back seat and fed him the bottle we'd warmed up at home before we left -- and I started to panic. See, my wife had left her walkman in the front seat -- I think she didn't want to get tangled up in the headphone cable. I thought she'd planned to just hand him the bottle -- he can drink it without our assistance -- but she stayed back there until he was done, and even comforted him when he wouldn't return to sleep. So I was filled with that sinking certainty that she was missing ten minutes of the plot (the scene where they set up the fake exchange at the Burj Khalifa), and it started distracting me terribly. Eventually I went diving for her walkman on the passenger side floor, and handed it back to her. It was only later that I learned that she was hearing the scene fine, albeit at a quieter volume -- there was a car less than ten feet to our right, and they were playing it at full volume.

Whew. Had the chance to ruin the whole movie for her.

Our son was up for a good 90 minutes at this point, but surprisingly, it was not that much of a distraction. We each took turns rocking him in place in the carriage, and even though he didn't go back to sleep, he was pretty docile. And all you really have to be doing is facing the screen with your headphones in. Who cares if you're standing up or sitting in the car? Seeing the movie is the important part.

And so it was that we didn't care that we both watched the first half (the weaker half) of The Sitter outside the car, as a sign of solidarity to the other person who wasn't doing the rocking/pushing. He finally went back to sleep, and we both watched the more heartfelt second half of the movie back inside the car.

We had decided beforehand not to stay for The Adventures of Tintin when it played again at 11. We knew that things would time out perfectly for us to get home just before the ball dropped if we were lucky, and that was a goal worth striving for. Being on the roads before midnight, rather than after, would also cut down on the knucklehead factor in terms of other drivers. But the people at the Mission Tiki made it easy for us anyway, taking the microphone during the closing credits for The Sitter and thanking us for coming -- "We are now CLOSED." So much for ringing in the new year. My guess is that they looked at the paltry attendance and figured that they could at least salvage something from the evening by sending their staff to a local party in time for midnight.

Sure, it wasn't like the old days at the drive-in. We didn't get to eat as much of the wide variety of food we'd brought as we'd planned, because it's much harder to locate where you put things when you're trying not to rustle and crinkle too much around a sleeping baby. (And that was even with my wife taking precautions to organize everything better than last time.) We lost a small bit of each movie to baby logistics. And listening to the movies through our headphones rather than the car's radio was a definite step down in the auditory experience.

But hey, as a New Year's Eve activity with a 16-month-old? First rate.

And we did get home before the ball dropped. In fact, it was 11:49 when we pulled up outside our house, and though our son woke up and started wailing, I appeared to have him down by about 11:58.

As soon as I exited his room, he started wailing again. But by now, it was a mere 80 seconds to midnight. We decided he could endure 80 seconds of wailing and watched the ball drop in Times Square -- three-hour tape delay, of course -- then finished the countdown with the customary kiss at midnight. In that moment, we really didn't notice the screaming baby soundtrack.

Just two parents finding that compromise between the way things used to be, and the way we're so glad they are now.

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