' ' Cinema Romantico: An Ode To The Greatest Summer Of My Life

Friday, May 27, 2011

An Ode To The Greatest Summer Of My Life

Memorial Day Weekend 1997. I dress up in my maroon vest and cheap black bow tie. I climb in the Tenacious Tempo and set sail down Hickman Road, past what were then invitingly empty plots of land but are now full of strip malls and grocery stores and gas stations, blasting "The Beacon Street Collection" by No Doubt, singing along (badly, but loudly) with Gwen. Within 15 minutes I have reached the rather unscenic corner of Hickman & 86th in West Des Moines, Iowa (Most Chain Restaurants Per Capita In The United States). Destination: Cobblestone 9 Theaters, my home away from home for the Summer of '97.

I settle in at cash register 4 on the west side of the lobby so that I can be summoned between show times to assist in the cleaning of theaters. The whole team is in place. Dave Gorden and Brad Dean, the 'stone's Danny Ocean and Rusty Ryan, who at some point this summer will stay up for at least 60 consecutive hours, refusing to take breaks while on the clock for fear they will fall asleep on the crappy sofas in the break room. Jeni Roberts, Drew Barrymore in "Charlie's Angels", whose apartment, whether she knows it or not, is about to host oh so many post-shift after-parties, and who I saw a couple years ago when I was home for Christmas at some un-posh Des Moines bar and embraced like a long lost sister. Josh Zagoren, Tom Jones in "Mars Attacks!", with whom, upon seeing "Conspiracy Theory" in August, I will harmonize on "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" numerous times while cleaning the popcorn kettle. "Salazar Reignfort" (i.e. Wretched Genius), Cpl. Dwayne Hicks, a pupil of my speech teaching father down the road a piece at Urbandale High, who I'm still friends with and with whom, on more than one occasion, I have drank three too many Carlsbergs and who will likely leave an asinine comment at the conclusion of this post. The young vixen home from college whose first name rhymes with mecca, Lisa P, with whom nearly all us idiot males will fall in love with at least once over the next three months. And the late, great Matt Tettinger, Captain Mal Reynolds, assistant manager extraordinaire, who will take me on numerous bank runs and one humid evening bust a serious and seriously hysterical move in the office to some crappy 80's song and then tell me, straight faced, as I'm laughing so hard, "It's all in the legs, Nick." (There were others, of course, but we don't want this post to be 870,000 words long.)

We count our cash and stack our soda cups and unfold our popcorn bags and unlock the candy counters. We regale each other with ridiculous stories. I likely quote "Seinfeld" at least 7 times ("Why is he so obsessed with Ovaltine?" - "He just thinks anything that dissolves in milk is funny."). We are Captain John Miller and Pvt. James Francis Ryan biding time, waiting in Ramelle for the Germans. You see, Spielberg's "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" is opening. Over the course of the next three days, when it's all said and done, it will have racked up a then weekend box office record of $92 million. We pour soda, scoop popcorn, fetch chocolate raisonettes, dash to and fro from theater to theater, cleaning up the leaked soda and spilled popcorn and dropped chocolate raisonettes and every now and then I look across the lobby toward the enchanted land of the box office (which I was not yet privileged enough to man) where the line of people waiting to buy tickets for "The Lost World" still stretches out the door and down the block. The line never ends. Never. More people and more people and more people and more people and so on, etc. This is because the show times for the film are as follows: 12:00, 12:30, 1:00, 1:30, 2:00, 2:30, 3:00, 3:30, 4:00, 4:30, 5:00, 5:30, 6:00, 6:30, 7:00, 7:30, 8:00, 8:30, 9:00, 9:30, 10:00, 10:30, 11:00, 11:30 followed by the always foreboding midnight show.

"We work for Carmike as concessionists. We're damn good, too. But you can't be any geek off the street. Gotta be handy with the hokey, if you know what I mean, earn your keep."
But we did not care. No, sir, we did not. We were a family. One big, happy, massively dysfunctional family in matching uniforms. We were all in this together. The patrons kept coming and we kept working and then, after it was all over, after "The Lost World" had set the single day box office record, we all crossed 86th Street to Perkins and took over its many booths and drank coffee and soda and devoured The Tremendous Twelve (4 pancakes, 4 strips of bacon, hash browns, and 3 eggs over easy, thank you) and laughed it all off like it was nothing. Hell, we still had three more months of this to go and that was all right because Cobblestone 9 was the circus and our concession stand was The Greatest Show On Earth.

I have never loved a job more than the Summer of '97 and sadly, yet beautifully, I know I never will.


Wretched Genius said...

No asinine comment this time. I too look back fondly at that place, and I vividly remember The Lost World playing in 4 auditoriums, with showtimes every 30 minutes causing a nonstop "rush." The stress it induced is second only to the stress caused by Titanic, which opened during the winter holiday later that same year. But I loved it, and I still consider it the best job I ever had.

Nick Prigge said...

My favorite "Titanic" memory was working the box office alone for a matinee show a couple months after its release on a day when school was out for some reason and so we were besieged by teenage girls to such a degree the noon show sold out. That was intense.

Wretched Genius said...

What I remember most about working during Titanic was that Side 2 was used as a giant holding pen, which would become so wall-to-wall packed that whoever was working that concession stand would end up with like a full half hour of nothing to do, because no one could make their way to the stand.

Nick Prigge said...

I know "Avatar" surpassed it and all but the Na'vi will never understand what a box office force "Titanic" really was back in those days.