Well, it finally happened. The Vernon Plaza Theater officially re-opened this weekend. And it was everything I could have hoped for: a week full of 12-15 hour days, very little food or downtime, learning a completely new set of technical skills, dealing with unruly children, building a concession stand system completely on the fly, dealing with money, training volunteers...
I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It’s my movie theater.
Now, with that comes lots of stuff that I am learning for the first time. The motion picture industry, as we have all known for years, is a blind idiot god, flailing mindlessly about in California with little regard to rhyme or reason. Well, that actually extends all the way down to the movie theater level. This whole last week was a series of heart attacks as my booking agent called to tell me that we couldn’t get one of the movies we’ve been telling people that we would have; no, wait, there’s a print available after all; oh, and would you drive to Oklahoma to pick up the other print from another theater; and hey, this other carrier has a print for you: Snakes on a Plane—you wanted Bridge to Terabithia? Well, I’ve got snakes on a plane for you...
And then, just like that, we were open.
About four or five weeks ago, as the air conditioner repair man was walking me through the manual process of reversing the airflow in my two gigantic units and we were both marveling at the computerized thermometer that had been somehow connected to this fifty-plus year old giant, I realized that this building, with its creases and crevices, Byzantine wiring and patchwork infrastructure, was my Millennium Falcon. It made me grin, and I immediately set to trying to get Cathy to learn the Chewbacca roar. She refused, of course, mainly because I think she thought of herself as Han Solo, and me as the Wookie.
Flash forward to opening day. I’ve got 155 schoolchildren in my building, buzzed on Dr. Pepper and popcorn, and the ice machine has just stopped working, after two weeks of a steady avalanche of cubes every fifteen minutes, whether we need it or not. Cathy was running wild, my volunteer staff was gamely scooping out of open bins, and we discovered that somehow, the water had been turned off. Hence, no ice. As we started the flow of water into the ice machine, I could almost hear Carrie Fisher asking me, “Would it help if I got out and pushed?”
“It might!” I said aloud.
This weekend was a real trial for me. I’m learning, on the fly, four or five new skill sets. The projector maintenance and film handling involve a multitude of steps. Daunting. And I’m also in charge of the concession stand—and I have NO IDEA how to best set that up. Talk about humbling. I’m asking the sixteen year olds with fast food experience how to best make it work. They are teaching me, even as I’m showing them how “Mickey Finn” acts in full-on managerial mode. They think I’m strange for an adult. I have to keep reminding them that I’m from Austin.
Stay tuned for more on the saga of the Vernon Plaza theater. I’ve got some plans, including a big, cool surprise for the Grand Opening at the end of March. We’re showing a (limited) FREE classic movie-and one of my all-time favorite films in the whole entire world. If you know me at all, you will know that I’m speaking about a very short list from which to choose. As part of the promotion, we’re doing a bit with the local radio station whereby Cathy and I will act out a scene from the film, and callers can guess it and win passes to the free show.
Here’s the scene:
Her: How come you haven’t settled down, gotten married and raised ten or twelve kids like your friend Sallah?
Me: Who says I haven’t?
Her: Ha! I say. Dad had you figured out a long time ago; he said you were a bum.
Me: Aw, he was being generous.
Her: The most gifted bum he ever trained. You know, he loved you like a son. Took a hell of a lot for you to alienate him like that.
Me: Not much, just you.
If you don’t know this scene, then I will weep for our friendship.
Finally, at long last, I can start to set up a working schedule of what I need to do and when. This will finally, at long last, free me up to start writing in earnest. Finally, at long last, Cathy and I can start putting the Loft together, get a bed, stop sleeping on our futon, and begin to assemble our Fortress of Solitude over the theater.
It’s been a long couple of months. We’re really tired, but we’re also really happy. It was a great opening weekend. We made money. Everyone was excited for us. It’s just the beginning.
In other news, Blood & Thunder is still doing well. I’m getting a trickle of fan-mail, emails, congratulatory messages, and other epistolary missives, all of it really positive. I’m in the middle of another essay right now about REH, and I’m still enjoying exploring various aspects of his life, but I’m REALLY ready to start writing fiction again. I’m WAY overdue for a short story or three.
More later, folks. I’m tired. I’ve got a concession stand order to make out. We popped about 90 lbs of popcorn this weekend. And I’m out of Skittles. The horror of it all! So, if I’ve been quiet, unresponsive in emails, haven’t called, or apparently dropped off the face of the earth, now you know why. The blogging will continue on LiveJournal, and it’ll be little things every day—mostly about the movie business at the ground-level.