Starting the Job
I can't even remember why I ended up applying for the job. Knowing myself now at fifty, I can pretty much assume it was because I loved movies. What better way to be able to see a bunch of movies for free. And eat lots and lots of popcorn.
Late May 1989 was sunny. It's pretty much always sunny in summer, right? The theater I applied to and was hired to work was the Cineplex Odeon theater on Gessner just north of Westheimer. In those days, I can't remember if the Westchase theater, also on Gessner, but to the south, was still open or not. What made my theater unique was that it was partially hidden behind a strip center including a Randall's supermarket. I ate a few lunches over there, now that I'm remembering.
This theater had three screens, if I'm remembering correctly. Three. Can you imagine that in these days of a couple dozen screens being a smaller complex? What that allowed us employees to do was have some down time between the screenings, something I don't think modern workers in theaters have.
Learning the Ropes
Hired on as an usher, I had the desire to work the box office at the front as well as learn how to operator the projector. Even as late as 1989, the projectionists was an old guy--probably late forties which seemed really old at the time--who snuck cigarettes into his upstairs booth. He had lots of downtime, and seemed to spend it in the half twilight of his projection room. He and I struck up a friendship. He actually gave me a physical copy of the Batman movie trailer. By the end of the summer, I was going to learn how to operate the projector, making me a quadruple threat.
Naturally, when you're an usher or ticket taker or concession stand attendant (everyone did everything), there was down times between shows. I got quite adept at taking a single popped kernel of popcorn, dipping it in the butter, and then dipping that in the wonderful orange salt. I also got past the gag reflex and ate the cancer-looking hot dog franks. And I'd take a hit of Dr Pepper whenever I needed a little pick-me-up.
This was the summer of 1989. The summer of Batman. Of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Of Ghostbusters 2. Of License to Kill. Of When Harry Met Sally. Of Star Trek V. And others. With only three screens, we didn't get a lot of different films, but we got the Big Two: Indy and Batman.
It is difficult to reconstruct just how many people all stood in a "line" waiting to buy food. Those times were frantic, hectic, and a blast! I loved the rushes because there were so many people, all wanting something. Most were nice, but there were those special folks. Gotta love'em.
I also learned how to pack a bag of popcorn in order to give the customers their money's worth. Even now, I still comment on concession stand workers who know how to pack a bag full of popcorn.
Seeing Snippets of Movies
During usher duties, we were required to walk the aisles and check on things. Which means we got to see snippets of the movies over and over again. For Last Crusade, it was the scenes with the blimp and the subsequent escape. I got to know those lines of dialogue pretty well.
But I never tired of seeing those scenes. I started to memorize the lines of dialogue, a keen feat in the age before the internet and DVDs.
Sometime in early July, the projectionist was fired. New management came in, and I was transferred to West Oaks Mall. They had seven screens! More than double. What made that mall special was that it was my hangout in high school. Now, I was working there. It was in this theater where I first saw When Harry Met Sally. That film remains my all-time favorite romantic comedy. And I really enjoyed walking those aisles.
By August, my summer was effectively over. I was in the Longhorn Band so I needed to get back to Austin and start a new year. Plus I had to talk to all my band friends who were geeks like me about all those awesome movies we had all seen. Some, like me, more than twice.
I never tired of working at the theater. Sure it was long and I'd often get off work after midnight, but I was young. I had a car. And my parents were cool enough with their college-aged son working until midnight. My dad never truly slept until I arrived back home, something I know I'll be doing with my own boy as his days of driving on his own approach.
A summer job in a movie theater the summer of 1989. Was there any better job?
It was the summer between my sophomore and junior years in college at The University of Texas at Austin. It was the second summer I returned home. It would also prove to be the last.