Hungry patrons jack up economy

June 16, 2008

Friends, good news from the financial front.

Remember that pesky economic downturn we keep hearing about?

Believe it or not, there's a place where people seem totally unaffected by job loss, stagnant wages and soaring fuel costs.

A place where people don't obsess about paying bills or do a lot of hand-wringing about how to make ends meet.

And do you know where this place is?

The concession stand at your local movie theater.

Oh, I wish you could have been there the other night at the Regal theater in Hunt Valley to see the great American economic engine roar to life.

Everywhere you looked, people walked around with big, expensive tubs of popcorn and giant 32-ounce sodas.

Entire families took their seats toting $6 Cinnapretzels and $5 pizzas and heaping orders of $6 nachos like it was nothing.

Little kids ripped excitedly into $4 bags of Skittles and Twizzlers and boxes of Milk Duds the size of UPS parcels.

It was a beautiful thing to see.

Here at last was a place - maybe the last place in this great country - where people were fat and happy and still spending money the way God and the Bush administration intended: vigorously, joyfully, purposefully.

Why, it nearly moved me to tears.

I was there to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - can the movie titles get any longer? But it was this gleeful, unbridled consumption that seemed to energize us the most.

(OK, can I bring up one point about the Indiana Jones movie before we move on? Harrison Ford is now, what, 78 years old? Isn't it a stretch for him to play this hotshot archaeologist/adventurer guy who punches out commies and gets tossed from speeding Jeeps and gets swept over 400-foot waterfalls?

(Sure, I know Ford looks way better than I ever looked on my best day. But the man is geezer-like in some of these scenes. He should be playing golf instead of traipsing around Mayan ruins looking for crystal skulls.)

When we took our seats in the darkened theater as the obligatory 47 previews began, the communal eating frenzy had begun in earnest.

All around us was the reaffirming noise of munching and crunching and slurping, as if in Dolby surround-sound.

People held out huge tubs of popcorn to one another and whispered urgently: "Please. Take some. Otherwise I'll eat the whole thing."

They gulped their giant sodas, the ice rattling noisily like dice.

They tore open Kit Kat bars the size of patio bricks and devoured them, licking the melted chocolate off their fat little fingers with tiny whimpers of ecstasy.

Even when the movie began and Indy was bullwhipping machine guns out of the hands of startled Russkie bad guys and getting blown up by nuclear bombs in the middle of the desert, people continued to eat.

Some even made another trip to the concession stand, returning with more Pepsi, more popcorn, more nachos smothered in Day-Glo-orange cheese.

The concession stand was the communal bazaar, where the neon lights shone brightly, the din never lessened and the action never seemed to slow.

I went out to the lobby at one point and watched as people streamed into the theater, handed their tickets to the ticket-ripper person and moved directly to buy food, as if drawn by some mystical outside force.

They thrust crumpled $20 bills and credit cards at the kids working behind the cash register and shouted out their orders for $4 hot dogs, $6 ice creams, $4.25 bottles of spring water.

I hadn't seen such bustling commerce in months.

Was that a federal stimulus check one man waved in exchange for Peanut M&M's?

I couldn't tell.

But somebody should have been on the phone to Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke to let him know how well the economy was doing here.

When the movie ended and Indy had thwarted the Red Menace once and for all, the theater emptied slowly. People don't move quickly after they've been anesthetized with junk food.

We stepped over crumpled soda cups and popcorn tubs. Empty boxes of Junior Mints skittered down the aisles. Sticky ice cream wrappers stuck to our shoes.

We were lighter in our wallets, but happier in our hearts.

No one spoke about the economy.

Some talked about getting something to eat at the mall.

Bernanke would have loved that.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

ONLINE

Read recent columns by Kevin Cowherd at baltimoresun .com/cowherd

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