The band had a day off. The tour so far had been one of our better ones, but not our best. Some of our most loyal followers in our favorite cities like Reno, Houston, and Columbus were absent. We had some van trouble in Kentucky that made us 3 hours late to the show that night, and set us back $400, a decent chunk of our merch profit. That night we were in a town we’d never been to before and when we got to the venue it was clear no one was coming. The trials of the road are tough on the strongest men and can turn the most optimistic young soul into a crotchety curmudgeon, bitter and broken. We needed a respite. We went to the movies.
The paper said eleven o’ clock, roughly an hour away. Ian, of course, had to call his mother. The rest of us can rarely tolerate listening to him update her with a minute-by-minute account of our day’s events (Yes, he calls her everyday). So we dropped him off at a McDonalds, his little red head inhaling Camel Lights as it moved back and forth across the parking lot. The rest of us conferred regarding the night’s fiasco and decided we needed to get in touch with the promoters of the following nights to make sure everything was in proper order. Two bad nights in a row on tour sucks. Three or more can be catastrophic to a band’s moral. It took less than ten minutes to sort out any loose ends. Eric was hungry, but didn’t want to eat McDonalds. “Fuck that dirty trash.” He had a craving for Taco Bell. “Yeah, dude. It’s got tomatoes and shit.” No emphasis on ‘shit’?
By the time Ian was ready to go we had forty minutes to get some tacos and make it to the theatre. The GPS on my iPhone said a Taco Bell was roughly four blocks north and ten blocks west. “That’s the complete opposite way of the theatre.” Eric persisted. “Dude, it’s Taco Bell. It’s quick as fuck.” Turned out this Taco Bell was closed. “Is there another one around here?” “There’s a Burger King, like, eight blocks back towards the theater.” Ron was driving. “Well, that’s good because we are running out of gas.” We almost hit empty before we got to an AMPM a block past the Burger King. I didn’t like the lack of cars and lights. “Looks like it’s closed, too.” Eric’s vision isn’t the best, but once he has his mind set on something there’s no dissuading him, and he was dead set on Whoppers. I looked at my phone. “Dude, the movie is starting soon. Don’t take too long.” It didn’t take him long to return, but it took him a while to microwave the Big Bite burgers inside the AMPM, longer than it took to fill up the tank. Once he was back to the van, Ron got a whiff and decided it smelled too good to pass up. “How much were those burgers?” I looked at my phone again. Christ. We’ll never make it.
We still had about 10 blocks to go and 15 minutes until the movie started. We immediately found out where everyone in this shadow town of the American Dream were tonight. The line to get into the theatre was at least 45 people deep, and we could see inside that we’d be lucky if we could get any popcorn. Ron shrugged. “Good thing I got those Big Bites.” We got our tickets with no time to spare. However, when we got into the actual theatre where our movie was playing there were still so many people trying to find seats that the management decided to keep the lights on while the movie started rolling.
I like to sit in the very middle and insisted that’s what we do. The guys didn’t put up much of a fight, but it was hard to figure out where the middle was. We decided to split up. Directly in front of the entrance there was a hump of seats that obscured the view of most of the rest of the theater. The people facing us clearly had the worst seats in the house since the screen was behind them. Those wouldn’t do at all. Ian went left down some stairs that looked like they continued 300 feet or so. Eric went forward to zigzag through the seats up over the backwards hump. Ron and I would go up to the right and try to circumvent it. At the top there was a path going left down towards the center of the theatre and Ron took it. I didn’t want to give up a higher position so I kept ascending to see if I could out flank the seemingly thousands of people also pouring down there from several angles.
I got up so high I couldn’t see the screen anymore. I looked back down and saw that Ian was still descending. From my vantage point I could tell that if he were to find any available seats they would be too low to see the screen even if we stood up on the seats. That area didn’t make any sense, yet people were filling it up so I tried waving at Ian whenever he turned to look down a row to see if there might be four empty adjacent seats, but he never bothered to look up to see where any of us might be.
Eric was lost in a herd. After going over the hump he found his way to another aisle that lead to another section carved into the wall to the left that might have had a good view of the screen, but I could see from my position that due to the volume of people also in there his search would be fruitless. I tried to wave him over to the wall perpendicular to the cavern he was about to endeavor. It was so far away I couldn’t tell for sure whether it had any empty seats, but it’s distance gave me some confidence that if there were an available section of this bizarre labyrinth it would likely be it. Unlike Ian, Eric saw me, but headed straight up the stairs of his gut anyway. I shrugged then continued back up. Maybe I could see where Ron headed down, and I thought I still could have a decent shot of finding us safe haven.
As I went up I looked across each row. People were standing with their backs to the screen, yakking at their sitting friends as the movie rolled on in the background, for lack of a better word. No one really seemed interested in what was happening in the movie but maybe that was because the screen was almost impossible to see from every seat. I was starting to wonder who designed this place. People from the Midwest are weird. I eventually hit the peak of my stairs that formed an arc with a massive sloping segment of more seats that sank into what looked like oblivion. There were some kids without parents running around, but the vast majority of these seats were empty. And instead of facing the screen they faced literally nothing. A void of excess and loneliness was all there was to see here. Yeah, not these seats either.
I turned back around. From where I was now I could see deep into the center of the theatre. I was so far up it was hard to be certain what was down there, but it looked like the seats began to spiral in on one another. I could see Ron’s massive blonde hair on top of his Viking frame moving down pass all the civilians as he scoured the rows for our seats. I got a text from Eric: “I can’t find shit.” I couldn’t see Ian anymore and hoped he didn’t fall into another void. I looked back toward the center for Ron. He found a solitary open seat, ripped it out of the ground, smashed it back on the floor, and threw it into the center of the spiral where it spun like a top in a blender for a moment before being sucked into the floor. We needed to get out of this M.C. Escher painting before gravity sucked us all into its eventuality. I had tried desperately to steer us toward an agreeable conclusion, but it seemed like none of us could pull ourselves from the bowels of our individualism to arrive anywhere together. I decided to go back down the stairs from whence I came and hoped to meet the rest on the other side.
As my left foot was about to touch the stair the theatre began to shake violently. I maintained my balance and slowly scanned from left to right to see everyone grabbing at each other’s garments to brace themselves as others tumbled down stairs, over seats beneath them, or clinging to their armrests like epileptics having a bad episode. The ceiling started crumbling around us. The screen folded up on itself and fire shot out from behind it scorching whomever chose the ridiculous upside-down seats in front of it. Then chairs started hurtling up into the air smashing their occupiers into large slabs of falling sky. “I need to get the fuck out of here.” Where are the guys?? I Saw Ian come dashing up the stairs in a crimson streak of survival. Eric bounded down from his cavern over chunks of ceiling and under geysers of moviegoers. I turned towards Ron. He looked up and saw the ceiling starting to cave in above him so he grabbed a kid and threw him up into the air to break the descending boulder, its crumbles falling around him like rain. He then leapt like The Incredible Hulk clear up over the hump, the ground buckling beneath his landing. I thundered down the stairs tossing aside any obstacle with legs and met the other three down at the entrance. We stared wide-eyed at each other, all of us desperate for breath. “RUN!!!” one or some or all of us screamed. We bolted at top speed pushing over anything in our path. The earth was cracking behind us. People unable to match our speed were being sucked into the depths of this hell. There was no time to validate our parking ticket. We broke through the front doors, leapt over bushes and bike racks, and knocked over mothers with their babes, invalids in wheelchairs, and even some retard kid on crutches. We sweated in pain as the muscles in our legs gripped our femurs with the intensity of a steamroller. I reached for the van keys clipped to my belt buckle and hit the button to unlock it. Ian threw open the door and we all dove in. The crack in the earth was still hot on our tail. “Andrew, get us out of here!” I slammed the key into the ignition, throttled the engine, and left exhaust and tire smoke in our wake. I looked back at the band. Everyone was packed into the front bench. Sweat drenched our hair like a scalding shower. We immediately ripped off all leather and denim smothering our torsos. I cranked the AC. In my rearview I could see the crack still growing at our heels, but the width was starting to diminish. “Hold on, boys. We still got a long way to go before we’re safe.”