They say true American theater is dead; while the plotlines suffer, evidentially so does the audience. The days of cheap entertainment, traditionally fueled by raging hormones and summertime adrenaline, has also seen their best days. In 1950, there were over four thousand drive-ins across the United States, each one unique in their clientele and film selection. Sixty years later, the number is less than two hundred, but these two hundred are thriving with more and more demands put on them everyday. Why? Because people seem to want to get back to a time when things made more sense than they do today. In addition to the desire to go back into time, the brutal reality of the awareness that true events rarely happen anymore; people don't look forward to a certain thing because, thanks to the 24x7 media, things are happening all the time. No one sits down anymore to watch their favorite show because they can watch it online when they want, they can use a DVR and scan through the show in half the time while the literal calavacade of commericals fly by like so many moving pictures with no purpose or context.
Andrew Dennison looked out over his drive-in. Built in 1950 and purchased and renovated by him four years ago, the large acreage and fairly remote location suited him just fine. The land was not really farmable, which removed the constant complain of land usage quickly from any conversation and suited him just fine. He had retired early, bought the land purely for the purpose of showing classic movies in a genuine and old-school fashion to the nearby residents. He didn't care if he made money, he didn't care if anyone showed any appreciation for his efforts and most of all, he didn't care if you had ideas to further advance his hobby; he did it for himself. When asked questions or forced into listening to opinions, he would wait patiently and say, "Just shut up and watch the movie. It will be starting soon" and he walked away. The land was zoned for this express purpose, he paid for the place with cash and as far as he saw it, if you came to his place, you came on his terms. Pursuing one's dreams is a pure endevor: you do what you want and if someone comes along, all the better. The desire of placing his dream of showing wonderful movies took precedence over everything else and if he made money, that was just some lucky residue from his daily efforts.
When he walked away from Wall Street, he had absolutely no ambition and approximately eighty million dollars. During his career, he learned the art and science of buying low and selling high, but he never got the rush of the great deal. Computer buy/sell models are all fairly standard and the days of cornering the market through individual guile and determination was long gone. The SEC had made sure that every transaction or proposed transaction was categorized and time/date stamped so any success was captured for the tax boys while every failure was placed in a database for the inevitable lawsuit from someone. Andrew came into work one day, took a glance at his recent quarterly bonus and then took a glance at his savings accounts and quickly wrote his letter of resignation. Eighty million for a widowed father with grown kids was almost impolite; his ex-wife was long paid off, his kids too busy to spend quality time with him and once Andrew realized he was financially solvent years past his death, he knew it was time to make a move.
A few friends told him about a town in Minnesota but that was not his style. The brutal winters and the equally oppressive summers of the North Star state were too much of a hurdle to overcome at his age. He didn't want to think about the weather or worry about some weather-related issue when he got up. He wanted a place where he could do whatever he wished and a place that had enough social flexibilty to allow him to be as eccentric, versus crazy. He looked for a long time, with special focus on college towns, until he found a large plot of land which included a working drive-in. Located about ten miles south of Columbia, Missouri in an rural area, this real estate opportunity was perfect for him. The drive-in was located just off State Road HH and this main house and rest of the estate was quietly tucked in the nearby hills, far from anyone curious or lost. The drive-in was a bit of a relic but many Columbians had visited it during their formative years and once the community heard someone had bought the property with the intend of returning the drive-in to its earlier condition, Andrew began to receive letters of encouragement from his soon-to-be neighbors.
It is commonplace when others hear of another's initiative, many of them feel compelled to offer their opinions, many of them worthless. Andrew was happy to go to the Drive-In each day to repair the projector, mow the common area, clean the snack bar and take his time deciding what movies to show. He wanted to show classic movies that may have been overlooked by the general public. While there were many great older movies ranging from The Thin Man to Adam's Rib to Arsenic and Old Lace, he wanted to find others which had never gotten their celluloid due. There was no hard opening date established; it would open when it opened but Andrew had neither the interest or the motivation to rush these decisions. The only thing he knew for sure was this was not a nostalgia thing; it was a nice movie thing. His desires were fairly linear these days; keep himself busy with honorable pursuits, wondering if he should spend anytime impressing his ex-girlfriend (more about her later) and trying to add more to the world than what he was taking out.
Wall Street was a part of his life which rarely was re-visited. He stayed legal, told the truth and delivered on all his promises but the whole business left him feeling dirty and always in need of some manner of a moral shower. It seemed odd that, just by punching numbers into computer models, that he could make more money than his entire family made in one hundred years with just a few key strokes and infinitely far less effort. When he resigned, the corporate HR representative broke from the standard exit script and asked why.
"If I don't do something fairly soon with all this money, it will look impolite."
With his entire financial situation easily resolved, Andrew Dennison took it upon himself to disappear and try to come up with something that would keep him moving forward as he decided what the next phase was going to entail. Many people wanted things from him but his only desire was the add some positive karma to his life; he wasn't that religious and he sensed a small spiritual pull way down deep inside him and felt it was a good idea to see where it took him. Although he meditated and spent a fair amount time in quiet, contemplative thought, nothing was further presented except to allow himself an opportunity to find something that people wanted, something he could do with his time and somewhere will allowed the two wants to peacefully co-exist.
His ex-girlfriend, Mai (prounounced "May") Robertson-Monette clearly was not interested in a move from mid-town Manhattan and while, somewhat supportive initially of his need to put something back into his personal life, made it fairly clear that any lifestyle changes of that significance would likely be done as a solo act. She was not vindictive nor that dependent on Andrew's money to compromise her own journey. Mai had married well and placed two wealthy men into early graves with no specific pattern, motive or evidence. She enjoyed Andrew's company but had no interest in saving his life, no matter how noble the purpose. When Andrew formally made the land purchase, they met at an exclusive restuarent and had a wonderful night but Andrew knew before the first drink showed up, that this was the final chapter in the relationship. Mai did not make it too easy on him; she looked more beautiful and powerful than ever and while she truly wanted him happy, she also wanted this last meeting to be firmly burned into his hypothalumus as the one mistake Andrew Dennison made in his life. She was a widower when she met him and while she had him in the dead spouse count two to zero, this was not the time to keep score; it was time to move on for both of them. His last memory of Mai was watching her walk away; the kotsu-kotsu sounds of her heels providing a rhythmic soundtrack to go along with the stunning image of her walking away; representing an almost-frightening combination power and perfection.
As part of his escape, Andrew kept his Manhattan address and thanks to modern communication tools and techniques was only physically missing during his drive-in theatre ramp up. People still called him and if he knew them, he answered and conversations ensued. He didn't withhold any information but didn't elaborate on his activites or specific location unless specifically asked. These people, while technically friends, usually called when they wanted something and he was moving into a new era of trying to add positivity to something new while trying to determine what was going to help, but ideally save, his life. His corporation, Bildungsroman, allowed him to keep most attempts at engagement at a workable arm's length transaction. Only after a pile of necessary requests were assembled, would his attorney convince him to fly in and out of New York on the same day to quickly chat on some issues and add a few quick signatures. He knew he couldn't live anywhere near anything anymore: he wanted to zip in, sign what he had to sign and get the hell out as soon as possible. He had a drive-in to run.
Telling or assigning a potential girlfriend the task of saving one's life was heady stuff; he wanted someone to come into his life and add a positive energy but not from a zero/sum position. He wanted to find someone to help him self-generate his own positive energy; not pull it from their Vinnana, inner core or whatever resided in their general consciousness. He didn't want to take anything from anyone anymore, the movies and his journey were his only reminder that the first half of his life was focused on taking and accumulating and now, as he moved into his second phase, it was full-on give time. The trouble was to select the gift; money is always accepted without consquence or responsibility. He wanted to fund his ideas indirectly and at the same time, provide a cultural service to people who were likely unaware of their need to gain appreciation for things and ideas not related to carbonated beverages, boner pills, food porn or the insidious power of infomericals ranging from cheap unsecured loans to bankruptcy mall attorneys.
The first two years between acquiring the property and the looming opening of his drive-in movie project went quickly; Andrew took him time retrofitting and repairing all the areas of the operation. He realized that speakers were old fashioned so he learned about short-throw radio broadcasts, built himself a small FM transmitter one megahertz smaller than the minimum requirement for FCC approval, and learned how to patch the movie's soundtrack directly into the channel which would be shot directly onto the FM band of any car within 300 yards. He decided to make the location completely power neutral and placed solar panels anywhere worthwhile to run the healthy food snack bar and the projectionist area. Finally, he created and strategically placed a wide variety of recycle containers around the grounds to encourage effective trash management; the innovations of munching hippos and burping rhinos eventually had little children pouring full buckets of low-fat, high-fiber popcorn into their yaws purely to hear the sound and see the animations. While each of these pursuits took real time, his desire not to move too fast was the root cause why one year of effort, at best, was squeezed into two plus years of down time.
His first act of rebellion was to not carry his cellphone. For many years, he dutifully answered it at all hours of the day and night. While part of his obligation was centered around his job, he also grew quietly addicted to the adreneline rush of a new call or new email and the opportunity to suceed that always comes along. When he escaped the East Coast, he realized the unhealthy dependence and pulled out the SIMM chip in the back and ceremoniously dumped it into an electronics recycle box. He was done being at the back and call of others; he also felt that the truly great were always hard to get ahold of so he was heading in the correct direction as he walked away from the receptacle. He now used the phone at the drive-in or the one at his new house without a significant drop in his personal effectiveness. When someone called, it was usually important enough for him to answer, even though no more than five people had the number. The phone at the drive-in was another matter but a majority of those calls were blissfully simple to resolve. He left it around for the sake of old friends but he noticed one day that it was actually getting dusty. The image served as a silent, visual metaphor to where he had evolved and it brough a quick smile to his face as he rolled the quarters.
One Monday morning, as Andrew was counting up the take from his Ernst Lubitsch film festival weekend. He showed his four favorite Lubitsch movies, The Marriage Circle, Ninotchka, The Love Parade and The Smiling Lieutenant and was pleased to have made a profit of sixty dollars. In his previous life, he wouldn't have stopped to pick up sixty dollars because it wasn't worth his time but today, the money plus the satisfaction of presenting quality films to a growing group of pleasant people was almost exhilarating. The movies were donated from the UC Berkeley film archive and was a wonderful foundation for his planned Billy Wilder September movie month. September was the end of the season and he felt the town was ready to fully appreciate his work. The Lubitsch films were an appetizer and served as a critical foundational learning experience when they were finally presented with Billy Wilder's genius. The sun was warm, he was providing a specific service to his adopted town and things were moving along nicely. Just as he stuffed the money into his pocket, his cell phone rang for the first time in about two weeks. He looked at it and saw it was Mia calling him.
"Hello Mai." His voice was polite and even. There was no noticable excitement or scorn; it was a positive response with no expectations behind it.
"I am calling to see how you are since you have seemed to have forgotten my number."
He laughed and recited her number. He didn't know what recesses held that information but she smiled when she heard his fast response. Her emotions tempered a few moments later when she realized that he had held that information for two years and never once called, even as a drunk dial.
"I am well, Mai. And how is the world treating you?"
"I have no major compliants but wanted to see how your re-location experiment was going. Are you happy? Or at least happier than you were?"
"Yes, things are going well and I hope you are also enjoying your life."
"Do you ever get back to New York?"
"Yes, I have to fly in about once a quarter but I strive to get in and out in the same day. It is tough at times but it can be done."
Mai wasn't happy that he was in her town at least ten times since they broke up and never once attempted to meet for a drink. She had never had a relationship that dropped off the radar like Andrew Dennsion. When she broke it off with him, he never chased her or changed his ways and that realization had made him more and more attractive as the time went on. She didn't know if she wanted to see him again, and long-distance dating was currently out of the question, but she was curious if his plan was working for him because she was growing more and more weary of Manhattan. Not enough to move away but enough to entertain some time somewhere else.
"I was thinking of visiting you..." said Mai with a practiced tone. "I got some time to kill and I was curious about your cinematic utopia you were concocting out there." Andrew had never communicated the fact of his drive-in venture to any old friends so he was curious how she knew but dismissed that effort as a waste of energy. He simply didn't care how she found out.
"You are always welcome out here but there neither the Ritz or the Waldorf have branches out here."
"I assumed I could stay with you."
"I am flattered as can be but that wouldn't be a good idea. I would like to see you for all the right reasons but adding that variable would be asking for trouble."
In her entire life, she had never been denied her request for lodging hospitality. As one of the most beautiful people on the planet, her looks alone opened numerous doors and after many years of watching people, especially men, fawn and literally fall at her feet, she began accustomed to not hearing the word "no." While she was assuming he would have at least one open wing in his house, she was very surprised he didn't offer his house and extremely surprised that her request was denied. As they talked, she actually heard her heel tapping on the marble floor. Andrew was one of the most curious men she had ever met and his lack of interest over the years still stuck with her as a challenge yet resolved.
"I understand," said Mai as she tried to understand what was happening. "Book me a room anywhere you wish and I will see you on Monday."
Andrew called the local hotel, per her instructions knowing full well it would be viewed as wholly unsatisfactory within two minutes of her arrival but he did what was instructed. One of the recurring benefits of NOT being in a relationship was not worrying or factoring in other's opinions outside of common courtesy. Mia has invited herself and while her motive(s) were not yet apparent, they did exist and lay dormant right beneath the surface. Once the task was completed, Andrew returned to his number one priority: the preparation of the Billy Wilder film festival and whether or not to add one more Lubitsch film, the A Royal Scandal to act as a bridge to Wilder's work. The town had become impressively engaged with his cause and it did him good to make a positive impact, albeit a fairly narrow one, to the cultural care and feeding of his friends and neighbors. He decided to screen A Royal Scandal that night and if satisfied, place it into the number two slot, after The Apartment and well before Sabrina, Sunset Boulevard, Some Like It Hot, The Lost Weekend, Stalag17 and A Foreign Affair.
The rest of the week was filled with priority tasks: general maintenance on the highway sign to add a completely useless QR code, completing research on converting both the movies and projecton system to digital and to meet with a few local artisans who were requesting the use of his land for daytime art fairs. He was excited to allow them to use the land and was planning to ask them if anyone had an interest in accepting a commission to complete several larger works of art for the drive-in. The works had to meet two criteria: celebrating movies as art forms and to be completely maintenance free. He wanted more things in his life but nothing which required upkeep or concentrated effort. If Mai was coming in a few days, he would have to prepare himself to get pulled into that crazy world, whether he liked it or not.
The arrival of his ex-girlfriend came quickly, almost too quickly, for Andrew's liking. She showed up at the drive-in with a flourish of electronic devices while providing a poor illusion of being interested in his life since the break-up. Mai was still shockingly beautiful but had aged noticably since the last time he saw her. She stood there in front of him, completely dressed in black, with the latest Iphone in her hand and reached out for a hug.
"Andrew!" Her enthusiasm was powerful and louder than he remembered with a piercing edge to her attempt at mutual interaction. He returned an appropriate second embrace and welcomed her into his office at the drive-in property annex. Offices were one of Andrew's weaknesses and while the outside of the drive-in appeared worn and genuine, his office was stunning, with state-of-the-art communications and amenities. While nothing in this office was justified as the owner/operator of the drive-in, Mai assumed that the drive-in was his hobby and that he had a variety of pursuits underway around the globe. He was completely at peace with the juxtaposition because his love of offices superceded any concerns of consistency.
"It is good to see you, Mai" said Andrew as he offered her a chair in the corner of his office. The coffee machine was already turned on and with a flip of a few buttons, it was just be a few moments before they both would be sipping expresso or some other grown-up coffee concoction. A moment later, Andrew slid a small cup of expresso, complete with sugar cube and silver spoon in front of Mai. She took the drink appreciately and made a loud slurpping sound and knocked back the whole cup. Andrew did the same and flipped a few more switches to reload the machine; it appeared they were going to be there for awhile.
He had learned many years ago that Mai could not be rushed or pointed towards any doors; she arrived when she felt like it and departed the same way. There was never a pattern nor an opportunity to test her variables so Andrew took an approach of benign neglect and allowed her to usually grow bored with whatever situation versus making a decision from his standpoint. At the end of their relationship, she would literally do the opposite of any request of Andrew and this bizarro call and response was the only way he could leave an apartment, a restaurant or a taxicab. By doing nothing, she would usually fill the void and then do something else. She never knew about his strategy but today, he decided to slow play this surprise meeting and the only known impacts would be maximum caffination and a small amount of interia.
With all stunningly beautiful people, Mai Robertson-Monette always enjoyed the element of surprise when arriving on any scene. The combination of unbelievable beauty and her relatively small size made most people incapable of thinking clearly for the first fifteen minutes. People in show business have learned the lesson thanks to being constantly surrounded by celebrities. Most actors and actresses are about the size and stature of a eighth grade girl; small, slim and almost tiny in comparison to the calorie-consuming fandom which surrounds them. The stages were small, the interview rooms are tiny and their entire world, which looks so big on screen, are usually small and forgettable once outside of the camera's range. These tiny celebrities are managed like minature show ponies; strict exercise, diet, selected costumes and are covered by several patinas of industrial stage make-up in retaliation for high-definition cameras. Mai had embraced many of these stage theories; she rarely travelled without at least one make-up professional (also tiny) and two dozen large pieces of luggage wrangled by the best skycaps and hotel pros money could engage. While Andrew made some more coffee, he was wondered where she had stashed all her accoutrements, both human and container-related. It was obviious Mai had no interest in re-introducing her reality to him so he decided to get her all jacked up on caffiene and see where the conversation was going to go.
While he had to endure Mai's constant attempt to re-connect conversationally, Andrew thought about how far he had travelled in the last two years and was pleased with his choice. He sipped his fresh drink and waited for the show to start.
It what you see when you are not looking for anything in particular.
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