This was originally written in May, 2016.
Wichita, Kansas was never my first choice to move to when considering my wife’s post-collegiate options.
As an educator, she applied to, and had several options to choose from regarding her first year as a educator. While Wichita held the best options at the time, we considered all of them. I was biased to what I felt was the best option: staying in my home-away-from-home town, enjoying and flourishing in a small city with big city aspirations. Manhattan was perfect; my father was there, everyone I knew since Middle School was there, and a strong sense of being a ‘townie’ was a badge of pride for such a city.
However, as clever wives do, she used her charms and cunning to trick me and bend my will to her desires. This is one I forgive: She introduced me to the Wichita movie theater scene.
I was on the fence until that second trip to find a suitable house. It was a Saturday morning when, standing in her sister’s living room, she handed me keys to the car, absolving me of any parenting duties, and simply smiled, saying: “Go see a movie.”
I’d like to tell you I remember what I saw. I went through my old movie stubs, and nothing is resonating as to the film that was playing that day. I cannot. I simply remember the feeling being unlike anything I had experienced previously. She introduced me to Wichita’s Warren Theaters, and, knowingly, swayed my opinion towards a move south simply because of the theater.
I remember being amazed at the art-deco, the pillars, the 30’s motif so grand and unexpected. The uniforms, the decorations, the pomp and circumstance. I was hooked.
So we moved to Wichita. We bought a house. A nice little 3 bedroom with a big backyard, a big front yard, and a dead-end street to keep the riff-raft at bay. We bought it on the South side, right off the highway for easy access to our respective careers.
I remember the first time we looked at it. As we turned off the highway, heading south, I noticed two monoliths towering as we approached.
“What is that?” I asked to our realtor/wife’s old college roommate.
“Oh, Wichita has a Drive-In.”
So we bought the house closest to to Wichita’s only remaining Drive-In.
For a few years after that, we attended with our child, then children. Parents to young children, we were afforded the opportunity to see a movie while still being able to bring young children. My four-year-old could see the latest animated feature, in her pajamas, while her sister slept in the back of the van with us, propped up against pillows and blankets and bodies. I could simply look across the way, if I wanted, and watch the latest adult-centric film using a small radio, while my little movie fanatic padawn enjoyed the latest Pixar, Dreamworks, or Disney fare. Should the littlest among us grow grumpy, we but needed to start the van, kill the lights until the exit, and sneak away to tuck them into their beds a short ride away.
It was perfect. As a movie fan and a family man, they are memories I’ll cherish a lifetime.
Early Last year, an opportunity to give back arose. I followed the Drive-In’s social media for movie titles and start times, and saw a post in need of parking attendants. A brief conversation with the wife, and I applied, imagining I was but another face in the pile of applicants. I hoped for a call, but kept my expectations tempered.
Then I received a message via social media, asking if I wanted to come in for an interview. I was elated.
I shook hands with Chuck, then manager. At the time, I didn’t realize it was his first year, replacing the previous manager of over 25 years. Our conversation weaved in and out, and ultimately, I simply made it clear I needed to make time for the family, but I’d love to be a part of the history that is the Starlite.
Initially, Chuck was hesitant to bring me on, as he didn’t want to take away from my family time. A few weeks later, I was in a golf cart, zooming about and harassing the patrons to park closer to their respective green or yellow poles. I was helping people figure out how to set their cars into ‘Accessory’ mode, tie down their hatchbacks, and jump-starting the all the GM vehicles left on longer than fourty five minutes. It was fun; tiring, but absolutely the most fun I’ve had in my adult life working a job.
That is, until this year.
In my first season, I simply made an effort to make sure I didn’t screw up, either with patrons or their experience. There were some mistakes made, but what are mistakes but an opportunity to learn? I took those opportunities and applied them all to this season with much success.
Family is key to the Drive-In experience, and as the man responsible for the parking lot, I employ that in everything interaction I have with the public. Any given Friday or Saturday, you’ll find me in the parking lot, high-fiving children and parents alike, zooming about in my golf cart, looking to make the experience as seemless and easy as possible. My teammate and I are bouncing between Screen 1 and Screen 2, directing cars, dealing with hatches, and if I see it, catching footballs and frisbys with abandon. If a kiddo is stuck in the back of a truck or van and can’t get to me, you better believe I’m out of that cart and reaching into that vehicle for a fist pound. You too, Grandma.