Saturday, October 16, 2021

Still Life with Robin: Back to the Uptown

Photo by Bill Adler

by Peggy Robin

It’s welcome news that the Landmark Theater chain has expressed interest in the Uptown – and I earnestly hope the deal goes through. If it does, the Uptown will reemerge as one of those luxury theaters with a liquor license and a bar. Probably some nice but pricy food options too. I have no objection to any of that. Hey, if you’re going to pay $14 for a movie ticket, why should your choice of drink be limited to some kind of cola in a ginormous plastic cup for seven bucks? As for the snacks – there was nothing to be said for a warmed-over box of popcorn for eight bucks, and even less for the choice between the Sno-caps or the Twizzlers for five. Did anyone ever actually like that menu? No matter what the new Uptown charges for the drinks and the bar food, it will be an improvement.

If the deal goes through, I’d bet one other thing will be different from the old days is the way you get your seats. I’m betting Landmark will put an end to the old system of open seating. Just look at their theater in Bethesda Row. They’ve got the fancy bar, and they’ve got the upgraded food menu -- and they’ve got the everyone-choose-your own-seat reservations system. If you buy your tickets online in advance (highly recommended to be sure the show is not sold out), you will spend time on the website studying the seating chart, considering what’s available, and making your best choice. It’s no different from choosing seats for a Broadway show. And just like buying those $200-a- seat Broadway tickets, you’ll have to hope you can fill out all the required information before the little icon of the ticking clock times out on you!

Now, if you don’t buy your tickets online in advance, you will still be able to stand in line at the box office, but it won’t be as simple as it used to be. No longer can you walk up to the ticket window, say “two please,” hand over your cash or a credit card, grab your tickets, go in, and plunk yourself down in the first empty seat you like. Under the new regime, you -- and each person in line in front of you – must first identify which show and showtime you want within the multi-plex, to be handed the right seating chart showing the occupied and available seats for that show. You may need a minute or so to figure out which color or symbol stands for which seat status. If you’ve arrived on the late side and/or it’s a popular new movie, there might not be much of a choice left. Since virtually everyone else has already booked online by the time you see the chart, you could well be stuck in the front row or far off to the side. If you’ve come with a group, you may need to split up. What you will learn from this experience is that the $2.50 “convenience fee” does, in fact, spare you some fairly annoying inconvenience. 

That’s not the worst of it, either. Here are just a few of the downsides to reserved seating at movie theaters:

* You have no chance to avoid sitting behind very tall people.

* You have no chance to judge who are likely to be noisy movie-goers. Under the old, open seating system, you could go in, survey the theater for a while, and then pick the seats farthest from any large group of teens. If you saw people sitting with large boxes of candy, the kind that come wrapped in crinkly cellophane, you could steer clear of them, as well. And if you heard someone popping their gum, you could seat yourself as far from the sound as possible. 

* Now, assuming you’ve made your choice behind what you assumed would be a nice, quiet old couple, but as soon as the movie starts, one begins repeating the lines of dialog to the other in a loud whisper (no, that's not an oxymoron, it's a real thing) -- will you be able to move? Not necessarily. Even when you see seats available elsewhere in the theatre, you can’t be sure they haven’t been reserved by a latecomer.

* There can be booking errors. Ever been on an airplane and found someone in your assigned seat? Then you already know how difficult it can be to sort out the conflict. You produce your ticket print-out and hope there hasn’t been a double-booking. A flight attendant can arbitrate, if necessary, on a plane. On a flight there are federal rules governing the situation, and the airline must take responsibility. Not so when the matter is something trivial like a movie theater seat. You won’t find any help from the ushers. Ushers….what’s an usher? the GenZ’ers ask. You will have to get the manager. It can take some time to sort things out. I’m not speaking theoretically here. This has happened to me. I’m assuming it’s not uncommon.

* If you need to cancel at the last minute, yes, you can usually exchange the tickets for a later time – but you are always out the “convenience fee.” It’s a small amount of money, sure, but that doesn’t mean you should have to pay it twice.

I’m not saying the system is without its upsides. Once you’ve reserved online, you won’t be turned away if the show sells out. If the theater is set up with “stadium seating” -- as tends to be the case these days – the rise between seats will allow you to see perfectly well over the heads of all but the tallest movie-goers in the row ahead. And finally, once you’ve had a few glasses of wine from that fancy theater bar, you may be feeling relaxed and ready to be entertained, wherever your seat may be.

Is this better for the Uptown than having it sit abandoned and derelict – a vast but historic art deco rat trap? You bet it is!


Still Life with Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

No comments:

Post a Comment