Sunday, January 08, 2006

Thrills And Adventure In the New Century

Last night, after our usual glamorous brush with celebrity, we headed for one of our local malls, the Century City Westfield Shoppingtown. This has always been a rather pleasant mall. Conveniently located, upscale, happening but not too crowded. The first three hours of parking are free so with good planning and movies of a reasonable length, you can even escape without paying for parking.

The Century City Westfield Shoppingtown used to be home to the AMC Century 14, a fine theater whose ample screens offered pretty much any major current release you might be looking for. The lobby area was pleasant yet modest, and it was a perfectly nice, if slightly bland, place to see a movie.

The AMC Century 14 is no more. It has been replaced by the AMC Century 15, a theater with an additional screen and a massive dose of ostentatiousness. Yes, there is stadium seating--hooray. The tickets also cost about fifty cents more (or is it a dollar? Already I'm forgetting what they used to cost). Like the previous theater, you enter on the second floor of the mall. Unlike the previous version, some of the theaters are on yet another floor, and you ascend a massive escalator, from which you may gaze down upon the sparkly new lobby floor adorned with "classic" movie quotes which are alternately trite with overexposure or painful in their undeserved classic status. Above, you have your sprawling mural of classic movie stars, with your odd figures from Shrek, Die Hard 3, or Rush Hour mixed in to represent the modern age. This is of course visible through the theater's spectacular two-story glass facade. The concession stand menu is displayed on a series of flat screens, so that we can watch video clips of hot dogs and think about how the expense gets passed on to us.

Next to the new theater is a new food court. The previous food court didn't look more than ten years old, but it had cheesy design elements like wood and tile, which didn't announce the mall's luxury with quite enough volume. Some stuck-up Beverly Hills trophy wife might mistake herself for being someplace ordinary, and who wants that? Now that old dump of a food court is in the process of being gutted. In its place, we have a sparkling new food court, with glass walls, polished metal counters, strategically placed wood elements, display platters of each dish, yet more flatscreen menus, frosted glass tables, and all sorts of intimidating hallmarks of luxury. Now you can order Baja Fresh or Panda Express in the highest of style. Truly this is the food court of the future.

All this has me worried, because if we want a place that is very fancy looking but crowded, unaffordable and an incredible pain in the ass to get to, there is already The Grove. The Century City Westfield Shoppingtown seemed like it was doing all right. Did it really need revitalizing? And if we get some new stuff, fine, but if that means that the place is going to be a mob-ridden headache when all we want to do is see a simple movie, the trade-off is not worth it.

Last night did not bode well. We drove around for a frustrating length of time looking for parking, along with so many other cars that stumbling upon an open space would clearly be a matter of timing and luck. I don't remember ever having such a hard time finding parking there before, but then again, it's been a long time since we went to a movie there on a Saturday night. We wanted to get there early to make sure we'd get tickets and avoid waiting in line at the last minute.

Unfortunately, it's hard to kill time browsing while you wait for a 9:35 show, because all the stores in the mall close at 9:00. Getting there early also meant that we would have to pay for parking. Now, with AMC validation, parking is only $3.00, but it's still frustrating when you don't time it right. And with parking as unpredictable as it is, who knows what might happen if you arrive too close to showtime?

The parking garage has a new system where, instead of paying attendants at the exits, you pay a machine before you get in your car. It's one of those changeovers where they take great pains to explain it to people, and for a long time they were paying attendants to help you with the machines, which seemed pointless.

After the movie I went to put my card in the machine. And couldn't find the card, which I had validated before the movie. I searched my pockets again. Stephanie came over as I patted myself down.

I checked my wallet, more as a show than anything, since it didn't even make sense that it would be there. I had a ticket stub, but no parking card.

"I don't have it," I said, not quite believing it. "I lost it."

I reviewed the possibilities. "I must have put it in my wallet pocket and it fell out when I moved my wallet when we sat down."

The phrase Lost ticket pays maximum flashed through my head.

"Should I go back and look for it?" I said. I wasn't sure of my explanation, and it seemed silly to go back and paw around on the theater floor, but on the other hand--

I looked at the machine. All day maximum: twenty-one dollars.


"Do you want to wait--?" I asked.

"Just go," Stephanie said.

I ran up the escalators, back to the theater. I caught the door as other patrons made their way out.

In the theater, out of breath, I found our seats, fell to my knees and peeked underneath--the ticket! I grabbed it. Marked with something in the 19:00 hour--that looked familiar. Next to it, another ticket stub--student rate. Of course! I'd held both stubs but downstairs, I'd only had one. This was it.

Giddy with adrenaline, I rode the escalator back down to Stephanie, waving the parking card in triumph. The stakes had been high--twenty one dollars!--but now I was saved, and exhilarated. I paid our $3.00 parking fee and we returned to the car.

I had entered the mall as just another patron. But I drove out a hero.