I'd driven by dozens of times and never noticed it. Tucked away from the main parking lot, vines had begun to cover the corners of the building. Pieces of sheet metal were hanging from what once might have been a modern looking building.
A Wheel of Fortune aficionado may have been able to make sense of the remaining letters on the marquee. It probably said "Home Alone", "Kindergarten Cop", and "House Party" or some other movies from 1990.
That's when the movie theater was shut down. It was built on the edge of a hill, and half of it was now a few inches down that hill. The building had cracked apart and been condemned.
We parked our car in a dark corner of the lot. There were six of us, each toting a mag lite we'd purchased minutes before at Home Depot.
The front door was locked, but that wasn't a surprise. The back door was locked too. We circled around to the box office, trying to see if we could somehow squeeze in through the ticket window. We couldn't.
I walked along the side of the building, desperate for any way to get in.
There was a set of exit-only double doors. I almost passed it by, assuming it would be useless, but at the last second I noticed that near the top one of the doors protruded by a fraction of an inch.
I grabbed a stick and jammed it between the doors. After a few tries I managed to pry the door open by half an inch. I stuck in my fingers and pulled the door open.
We piled in through the door. The floor was completely covered in sand. I thought that it felt like walking into a pyramid in Egypt.
Was anyone in here? If I was homeless I'd live here, I thought.
We slowly crept down the dark hallway. The only light was from our flashlights. After all, theaters are designed to be as dark as possible.
Around the corner was the actual theater. A giant tattered screen hung on a wall. Through the rips you could see where the speakers used to be. All of the seats had been removed, leaving a giant sloped room. The floors were covered in debris and sand, the only identifiable remains were the two aisle carpets that ran from the top to the bottom.
It was eerie being alone in a room that was designed to be full of people.
The concessions stand turned out to be a bonanza. There were two coke machines there, which we considered taking but figured would be too heavy. A Dove ice cream freezer was earmarked to be taken back to our dorm.
"Hey... have some coupons!"
I threw the book of coupons at Al.
"These aren't coupons. These are gift certificates."
Whoa. That was pretty cool. The nearby mall was the same brand of theater, so they might work there. The design looked dated, of course, but they'd have to accept them, right?
We dug around and found another book. Twenty dollars each, plus some coupons in the back of each book.
Al and I went upstair to the projection rooms. Between them was a big storage room full of paperwork and letterhead. In the corner was an unopened box.
I opened the box and yelled.
"Oh my god! Look at this!"
Al came over. Inside were bricks and bricks of gift certificates. Hundreds and hundreds of dollars worth.
We finished exploring (although we'd later come back many times, including once to test a flamethrower we built), and quickly drove to one of our apartments. We laid the gift certificates out on a bed and counted them.
In the end we had $3,600 worth of gift certificates, which we split six ways.
Still in disbelief, we met at the theater the next day to see if the tickets would work. I got suckered into going first.
"One ticket, please."
I handed him seven dollars worth of gift certificates.
He looked at them.
"Haven't seen this type in a while."
He glanced up, and then returned to his computer. My ticket printed out.
"Enjoy the show."
For the rest of the summer we saw every movie that came out. Every time we went we'd get pizza, slushies, popcorn, and candy (which the gift certificates also work on). I never spent all of mine... I lost the remaining few around the time I moved to LA many years later.
Note for those of you who think this is horrible and immoral : The way gift certificates work is that the franchise purchases them from the main office and then sells them for more to movie patrons. These were paid for by the defunct movie theater, so the theater we spent them on got their money back when they redeemed them from headquarters.
One of the few stories I've read that you hadn't already told me about! Next time I ask for a story before we go to sleep, I won't believe you when you say "I'm pretty sure you've heard them all, Kristen!" This one is so good, too; I'm amazed it never came up... Ya been holdin' out on me!
I laugh. It's the annual casino night at my college dorm. I'm dressed up more than usual - I'm wearing a blazer. Today it's more function than form, though.
The ticket taker isn't laughing, though.
Morocco - The Country that Travels within You ... i thought it was a strange tagline the first time i saw it. But it intrigued me and inspired me to return soon after my first short visit, to spend a few months in a country that remains within me, wherever i travel, in part because i picked up so many precious gifts from being there ...
SHARING I The first time I encountered someone on the train who offered and shared her kitkat with fellow travellers in the same cabin, it still surprised me even though it was something I had read about. That was repeated time and again on the train and on the bus trips I took exploring the country. It seems such a simple and natural gesture for any moroccan, yet so awkward and difficult for me to simply offer a stranger to share my snack (only good thing was that it prevented me from snacking on the trips just so I wouldn't look rude snacking by myself). Finally, on the bus ride from Rabat to Chefchaouen, I plucked up my courage to respond in kind and offered the lady sitting beside me mandarin oranges; after she gave me an apple. And on the bus ride back to Rabat, I made sure I had two bananas so I could offer the passenger next to me one.
SHARING II My student Mohammed offered to show me Salé on my last day after English class at the cafe in downtown Rabat with Younes and Rachid. We took the blue rowboat across the narrow strip of river and walked to the medina where we had tagine in a little local cafe. After lunch and tea, we walked to the old maderasah which was pretty much like the one in Fes. Climbing out of a window and onto the roof terrace, one could see the whole sprawling city of Salé. The old fort walls along the coast seem a lonely reminder of a once important stronghold of a bygone empire. We walked past the cemetery to the beach where surfers hang out to catch the waves... Mohammed is a surfer too, though he is too busy trying to make a living nowadays and has not gone surfing for a while. He insists on buying my ticket for the train back to Rabat, just as he paid for lunch and tea. I know it's in their culture to offer such hospitality and though I feel bad about him spending his hard-earned dirhams, I knew that the only thing to do was to say shukran and accept with a completely open heart and gratitude. It always humbles me to be the recipient of kindness and generosity from someone who we perceive has so much less than ourselves. Shukran Mohammed for sharing Salé with me and showing me that it matters not how much we have, only how much we want to share.
SHARING III Taxis can stop and pick up other passengers along the way if they are along the same route, to fill up the taxi. There is a separate metred fare for each passenger and all's fair. This is a practice which I have only come across in morocco and yet it seems to make good sense. When public taxis can cater to more passengers, it can reduce traffic; taxi drivers can earn more efficiently and passengers have access to more taxis rather than having to wait for only empty ones. So why don't other cities adopt this practice as well?
FACADESThe walls and doors along the narrow winding streets of Fes and any ancient medina look pretty much the same and one has no inkling of the economic status of the residence that lies within. Whether motivated by pure humility or a superstitious fear of having riches taken away if one flaunts them publicly...it doesn't really matter. Indeed it's a blessing not to be judged by one's facade and not allow others to do that.