Tuesday, September 7, 2010


My first regular job was as a concessionaire at the Neptune Theater. We sold over priced candy, popcorn and pop. The popcorn was manufactured in Eastern Washington, died yellow and salted, and sent to us in huge plastic bags. Nasty stuff. We kept a "butter" dispenser with this nasty greasy partially hydrogenated soybean oil in it for "buttering" the "popcorn."
The Neptune wasn't part of a local chain - the operators had a few screens tucked away here and there, but nothing within 100 miles of the Neptune. That meant we never bid enough to get the high demand movies, so we'd get the lesser films, the horror films and thrillers, and some soft core porn. Business wasn't great, but 2 people making barely over $2 an hour could run the place when the crowds were small, so they managed to stay in business.
I worked my way up to assistant manager pretty quickly - I had a key and the combination of the safe memorized and would open and close, do the paperwork and make the deposit. I also got trained as a projectionist, and even did a stint as a janitor. I even got to put the letters into the Neptune's sign above 45th there in the U-District.
In an uncharacteristically brilliant move the management decided to show "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" at Midnight on Friday and Saturday. I think Pam Sprowl, the Neptune’s manager, promoted the idea to Rayleh Burns and the head office. There had been an earlier run at a local theater but it ended pretty quickly. The amount of business that was too small for them to bother with looked good to the Neptune's management, so we started showing it.
I remember Pam nervously hoping for a reasonable amount of business as we got ready for the first show. People were showing up outside by 11:15, so we told them to wait until 11:30 and we’d sell tickets. There were already a dozen or more people at 11:30 and by the time we closed the booth and shut the doors we sold well over one hundred tickets. In those days we were making the $2.35 minimum wage with the projectionist and manager making a bit more so staff cost maybe $50-$75 for the movie so we were making money. On top of that we sold another $2 or $3 on concessions per person and that was 85% profit too. That first crowd was fairly quiet, but within 2 or 3 weeks the crowd size tripled and the crowd got much louder and rowdier.
We got more business each night than we normally got in a week or two. It was crowded, loud, and happening. The crowd would smuggle beer, booze, pot, and other drugs in and get hammered. The crowds kept increasing quickly and we started selling the venue out - in the neighborhood of 800 tickets, at up to $2.50 each, for a huge $2,000 haul. Concessions and the regular show added another $1-2,000. It was huge to us at the time, anyway. I remember being fascinated by the challenge of getting some of the bigger deposits into the little locking deposit bag.
I became the primary ticket seller for the Rocky Horror Picture Show. I got very fast - I sold 800 tickets in 40 minutes, that's 20 tickets per minute. Things got crazy and out of control as the crowd got bigger and more drunk and stoned. After a particularly bad weekend with fights breaking out, repeated vandalism including toilet and sink destruction and drug addled customers threatening to get their guns and come back and kill us the staff decided that we needed a change.
We met with the management and they agreed to hire a rent-a-cop for security. Officer Bob Franzen joined us and things never got as out of control again, thank goodness. On the rare occasion that some idiot couldn't be convinced to leave then Bob dealt with them, efficiently and with a minimum of brutality. I felt my whole teenage cop hate (those bozos want to bust me and my friends just because we want to party) going away, and I came to appreciate having the man around to deal with hassles so we didn't have to. Much.

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