It had been almost six months since I’d seen a movie in an actual movie theater when my girlfriend and I pulled into the parking lot of St. Thomas’s multiplex. It was midday on a Monday in July and I’d just finished a grueling week at work. Instead of heading straight back to St. John, we stayed an extra night on St. Thomas specifically to see a movie in a real movie theater. Now here we were, trudging across the hot asphalt in the seemingly deserted strip mall, steps away from magic.
I love movies. Not just movies but the whole movie-going experience. I love the cool, darkened theaters and the quiet scurrying to find the perfect seat. I love the whispered anticipation and the moment of free-fall when the lights finally dim. I love being in the dark with strangers as a luminescent wall transports us to another time and place. I love the ride, with all its inconsiderate cell phone talkers, loud snorers, and inappropriate laughers. Watching a movie at home is not the same thing.
The multiplex had a large marquee and posters in the windows along the concrete front wall advertising all the summer blockbusters. So far so good. The ticket booth was empty but I had too much experience with the workweek matinee to be deterred. One just buys their ticket inside at the concession stand! It was when I went to push through the front doors that things took a turn. They were chained.
Not just locked but actually chained with an enormous steel chain. The kind used to secure condemned wharf-side factories recently implicated in ritual teenage murder rings or abandoned psychiatric institutions shut down after rashes of suspicious deaths. It was so unexpected I spent a good few minutes testing and retesting the door as if the chain were decorative. I checked the movie times posted on a paper printout taped to the inside of the door. Minions should have started five minutes ago and Selfless had only been playing for ten. What kind of movie theater chained their patrons inside? What kind of movie theater shut out people running a few minutes late?
After a few more desperate tugs, my girlfriend gently pointed out there were no lights on inside. The theater was closed. Dejectedly, we walked away, checking our phone to see if it was some kind of holiday. But I refused to give up. I pounced on the first authority I could find – a young woman working in the nearby pet shop.
“The movie theater has chains, like really heavy thick chains on the door!” I shouted like it was a national emergency.
The kind young woman looked at me strangely and nodded her head. “Yeah,” she said, “they keep chains on the door when it’s closed.”
“But why is it closed? Minions and Selfless should be playing right now. It says so right on the door.” My hands flew around my face in frustration.
The woman shook her head slowly. She told us she didn’t think the theater opened until 6 o’clock on a weekday. I thanked her with what grace I could manage and stomped back over to the theater to prove her wrong. But she was right. Closer inspection of the movie times showed only evening showings on the weekdays. And when we came back that night, sure enough, the chains were off, the lights were on, and an eager crowd was already lined up in front of the ticket booth.
That might seem like a good place to end this story. Earlier thwarting of hopes and dreams ended in satisfactory outcome for all. But I can’t end the story here. Because, beyond my wildest imaginings, my movie-going experience was about to get better. As I stood in line behind a young man paying for a ticket to Ant Man in 3D, I happened to notice he paid for his ticket with a ten dollar bill. Then I happened to notice he got back CHANGE.
“How much was that?” I tried to contain myself.
“$8.75,” he said, stuffing the $1.25 back in his wallet.
The ups and downs of the day were almost too extreme. With shaking hands, I received change for my twenty for two tickets to Ant Man in 3D and, after promising the ticket lady I’d let her know if I liked the movie afterwards, I dazedly walked into the theater. And if that wasn’t good enough, there was an extensive selection of arcade games. And if that wasn’t good enough, the theater was large with comfortable seats, great sound, and a huge screen. And if that wasn’t good enough, there were enough previews and commercials to accommodate the tardiest of movie goers. Needless to say, Ant Man was one of the great movie experiences of my life. And I did let the ticket lady know. I would have hugged her but it was hard to get my arms through the tiny hole in her window.
So it’s with some surprise I’ve come to realize it’s not the magnificent turquoise waters and palm tree studded beaches, or the rolling green mountains filled with exotic flora and fauna that make living in the Virgin Islands so extraordinary for me. It’s a concrete building at the end of a slightly forlorn strip mall where, for half-price, I can sit in the dark and let the movies take me away.