I didn’t feel like working one Friday night at the Starlite Drive-in. I wasn’t too concerned because we were playing yet another in a long line of low budget Jean Michael Vincent flicks that nobody came to see anyhow. I figured that I’d hang out with the projection crew and the homeless derelicts who were living in the projection booth until between movies when I’d man the concession stand. Then I’d go home and feed a few unpurchased meatball sandwiches to my pig Seymour.
Driving down West Henrietta Road, I ran into an unexpected, unexplainable traffic jam. I wasn’t in any particular hurry so I cranked up my eight track and started listening to Arthur by the Kinks. By the time I got to “Brainwashed”, I could see what was causing the clot. All of the cars were pulling into the Starlite. I rechecked the title marquee and although a few of the words were misspelled, the basic idea remained; something about a Hawk starring Vincent and Will Sampson was indeed playing.
I pulled into the long, gravel road that led to the ticket booth and the cubicle was empty. When, at last, I got to the booth, I discovered that the restraining rope was down. The ticket seller had unlocked the rope, opened the booth and as I learned later, in a fit of self-righteous drunken, immature responsibility had decided to quit his “godamned shitty job”. He took off and left the gate unattended. I never saw the guy again but I heard he opened a fruit stand in Irondequoit specializing in illegally imported bananas.
I was ambivalent about the situation. It didn’t hurt me any that more people were attending the show, since I was paid a commission based on the sales of the concession stand. The more people who came to the flick, the more money I would make. Remember though that I didn’t feel like working that night and since I hadn’t expected anybody to show up, I was all by myself which meant I was going to have to do the work of three people maybe four even if I got a couple of the derelicts living in the projection booth to stop smoking weed, get off their asses and help me out a bit.
When I pulled into my stand, the projectionist greeted me. Drunk as he was, he didn’t particularly care how many people were in the lot. He was being paid by the hour. I told him that the reason that all of these people were here was because Mark had opened the gate and abandoned the booth.
One of the great mysteries of this night was how in the world did the people get the word that the movie was free and how did it spread so fast. If we had put FREE on the marquee, probably nobody would have pulled into the lot.
Reminded me of a friend of mine, named Rick who was trying to get rid of an old refrigerator. He put the thing in front of his house for a couple of days with a big FREE sign on its door. Nobody even sniffed it. Finally on the advice of another friend named Charlene, he put another sign on the fridge....$50. That night somebody stole the fuckin’ thing.
Art, the projectionist, and I were pondering these matters while also trying to figure out what the heck we were supposed to do. We had a parking lot full of freeloaders. Should I start popping the popper? Should Art start reeling the projector?
We looked around and got an eyeful of human nature as the sky grew dark.
People started to lean on their horns.
They were honking to start the movie.
That freakin’ did it!
A parking lot full of freeloaders defreakinmanding that they get what they didn’t pay for and expressing their rage by leaning on their horns.
I told Art, “I’ve got to say something.”
I didn’t know exactly what I was going to say but I knew that somebody had to had to say something and still I was still sober and going a shit, it had to be me.
I went into the projection booth.
I fired up the PA system.
I grabbed the mike and this is what I said:
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have a situation here. The guy who takes tickets left his post so all of you are here for free. Look around, the place is packed and nobody has paid as much as a dime.Now, I can’t blame you for taking advantage. I sure as hell can’t throw all of ya outta here. I do want you to know that this is NOT a FREE show and staying here would be like stealing. Stealing is wrong. I do have an idea, a solution. We’re going to send somebody back to the ticket booth. The right thing for you to do is exit the drive in on the right onto Brighton-Henrietta Town Line Road...then turn left and re-enter the lot. The ticket person will charge you half price and you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you did the right thing. We will begin the show in 10 minutes.
Art had been listening to this with a look of astonishment on his shitfaced grill. He asked me what I thought would happen. I said “I believe in people.”
Then I heard a car engine start up. Then another and another. I saw a line of cars heading for the exit, God bless’ed, every single car that I could see headed out the exit. Moments later we got a call from the ticket booth out front.
“It looks like an invasion out here! There’s a procession of cars coming down West Henrietta Road and pulling in. What should I do?”
“charge ‘em half price and say thank you”, I told my man.
The drive-in filled back up not quite as full but almost. Ten minutes after my announcement, we started the movie. I gave away free popcorn all night. The owner made more money that night than he had any right to make. The people saw a movie for half price and got free popcorn along with the satisfaction of, on this occasion, doing the right thing.
That night, I went home and had a moonlight talk with Seymour about human nature. Pretty sure Seymour didn’t understand a word I was saying yet between gulps of his meatball sandwiches, he grunted and farted at appropriate times.