Sunday, April 30, 2006

Saturday Night Not at the Movies. Carol and I tried to go to the movies last evening. We thought we would go to the 4:45PM show at Dolphin Mall and see Akeeba and the Bee. (We are not quite ready for United 93). The Dolphin Mall is a huge, pretentiously post-modern mall about 15 minutes west of us, that purportedly specializes in outlets for with-it national retailers. It has a big, multiscreen cinema with stadium seating, etc. Cobb Theaters runs the Cinena with what appears to be a bunch of minimum wage teenagers who are poorly trained and mostly not interested.

I picked up that we were not in for a happy experience as we approached the ticket windows and saw serious line anarchy. Now that's not unusual in Miami, because line discipline bespeaks a certain level of civilization to which South Florida has not yet risen, nor really cares to rise. (If it cared, then the ruling elite, in this case the management, would assume the teaching function of managing its lines.) But what really gave me concern were the temporary signs posted everywhere that the theater was not taking credit cards. (I remember my astonishment the first time, years ago in Charlotte, when I learned that one could actually finance the purchase of a movie ticket.) The computer was "down".

As the ticket person completed her slow motion process of giving us our tickets and six dollars of change from a twenty-dollar bill, being careful never to look at us, but subjecting the bill to very close scrutunty (she probably had never seen one prior to the computer going down, given the take-over by plastic of the consumer exchange system), she finally wrote something on the ticket to indicate on which side of the huge lobby we would find the auditorium wing that housed our theater. When I walked into the lobby, I saw why: the electronic bill board, resembling nothing more than the sort of thing one sees at the airport indicating arriving and departing flights, was not working - part of the same computer that handled the credit cards, no doubt.

So the young man who took our tickets told us which of the 10 theaters was playing our movie. We went to the theater and sat for about 20 minutes watching commercials in Spanish and English, well beyond the starting time (which is never really the starting time, of course), before some of the other people in the theater, who had lost patience and then inquired, told us that the movie to be played at that particular place had been cancelled and that the next one was at 6.

We left the theater and in the hall way found an employee, who told us that the movie in the theater that had just cancelled was not our movie, but that our movie was playing at another theater in the wing we were in. We asked a second employee about this as we walked down the hallway, and he took us to a third theater in that wing where, after all, our movie was playing. In fact, it had been playing for about 15 minutes.

We decided to go to the "customer service" (hah!) desk. Line discipline was not good there either, but finally we talked to another young man (actually he looked like a pre-teen, but had a suit and tie on with a gold badge, which is how you know he was "management"). We learned that the computer had been out since Thursday. He had a handwritten list of which theaters were playing which movies, and told us where ours was playing. Yes, we knew that, we said, but none of his employees knew that, apparently, and he looked at us as if we had said something completely unintelligible. He offered to give us a ticket for the next movie, but we got our money back - after one of the other "managers" went to get change from the ticket booth.

It wasn't that the place did not have enough staff. It was that none of them had a clue about how to run the place without a computer directing the public here and there.

I read where cinema attendance is declining, and industry seems to blame it mostly on Hollywood, But this experience we had at the Dolphin Mall is not atypical in our wider experience. I would say that at least 15% of the time the "experience" of going to a movie in South Florida is unpleasant, and often it is bad cinema management, which is usually showing up in poorly trained staff.

So we went to Publix, got the makings of a home-made pizza (Boboli makes a whole wheat crust these days), went home and watched "The Barefoot Contessa" on Channel 2 (the Public TV station).

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