“It is Tuesday, isn’t it?” I ask.
The local theater in this small Midwestern town looks shabby, dark, and uninviting. The October air is too chilly for waiting by the door, and yet Gary and I don’t want to give up so easily. We sit in the truck to watch for other movie goers. Showtime is 7:00 p.m. Supposedly! About five to seven, a car parks in front of us and a young man gets out.
Gary jumps out to talk to the new arrival. “Do you know if the theater is open today?”
“Yes,” the young man says, “I’m just going to open it.”
It turns out he is the projectionist, ticket seller, ticket taker, usher, popcorn salesman … everything.
We expect worn wooden chairs, planked floors, and clapboard walls to match the exterior of the building. To our surprise, we are shown into a modern theatre with a red carpet and plush velour-covered seats.
“You can go on in and sit down,” the projectionist says. “I’ll turn the heat up a bit for you.” We exchange smiles.
It feels odd being the only patrons, but we shrug and settle down to watch the trivia entertainment until the previews come on. At this point, the sound becomes garbled.
“This isn’t good. Can’t he tell there’s something wrong with the sound?”
“I’ll go tell him,” Gary offers. When he comes back the sound problem is fixed. “Our young man was out in the lobby chatting with someone and hadn’t noticed.”
Three other people show up about 7:30, just as the main feature begins. Locals know how it works.
But with such a small turnout, how can the theater stay in business? I do some quick figuring. At $5.50 each, the total take for the evening, not counting candy and popcorn, is $27.50.
And how ironic, that in this tiny hick town with only one bank, tonight’s movie is “Wall Street.”
After the movie, as we wait for the truck to warm up, we have a good look at the outside of the building.
“Look at the long-ago facelifts these outside walls have had,” I say. “And all from different time periods. Brick facing, vinyl siding, old dark brown wood shingles. Doesn’t seem to go with the new red carpet and plush seats inside.”
Gary points to the side of the building. “And look at these lights. The projectionist must have turned them on while we were inside.”
Last year’s flashing Christmas bulbs light up the sign welcoming patrons to the Prairie Cinema. They may not have been quite ready to open the theater for this evening, but they are definitely ready for Christmas.