by Tom Magliery
British Columbia, Canada
Wow! “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace” was out! Shortly after it launched, five of us guys decided to drive an hour north of Champaign, Illinois, to see the movie in Hoopeston, population 6000ish. Why drive so far? The Lorraine Theatres had a widespread reputation as having the
best sound system anywhere in central Illinois.
We caravanned in two cars, headed to a 4:30 p.m. showing. It was a beautiful day in May, 1999, with clear blue skies — a great day for a drive. We found the theatre, a stand-alone building on a small-town main street. Arriving at 4:20 p.m., we pulled up and parked in the angle parking across the street from the theatre.
We wondered, hey, shouldn’t there be some other cars parked here on the street already? There weren’t any, but we thought maybe the matinee business was slowing down since the movie had been out for a couple weeks.
Crossing the street, we found the ticket window empty and the front doors locked. Uh-oh.
Just as we finished trying the doors, out came the owner of the theatre, a fellow in his 40s with light brown hair, glasses and a beard. He told us that the theatre had stopped their 4:30 showing three days before.
Someone mumbled something about the web page, and he said that he hadn’t had a chance to update it yet, because his laptop was in for repairs. He asked us where we had come from, and we told him. After another minute or two of small talk I said (half joking, half hopeful), “So you wanna show it anyway?”
He looked at his watch, thought a bit… then said, “OK, sure,” and showed the movie to just the five of us!
We paid him the regular price, and he even let us buy pop and snacks from the concession stand, although it was lucky that we managed to find correct change for everything because he couldn’t get into the cash register.
It struck me that the theatre owner could just as well have said “Tough luck, fellas”, wished us a pleasant drive, and sent us on our way back home. It would have been perfectly reasonable for him to do that. Instead he chose to open his business, start up his equipment, and show us the film we’d driven so far to see.
I’ve no idea of the operating costs of running a projector and a full-scale movie theatre for a showing of a film. But I’d be surprised if the profit margin of five tickets and a few candy bars and sodas would be enough to cover it. I’ve always remembered this experience because we were treated so kindly by a total stranger.