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A Dark Night in Santa Barbara
by Leon Baxter
TheSyndicatedNews columnist

Let me just get it off my chest right here at the start: I’m all riled up! I’m ticked; I’m peeved; I’m pissed off. I’m ready to drum up signatures for a petition, to call my congressperson to pass a law, to march on some capital, to sit in public somewhere arm-in-arm with other protesters in silence until we’re dragged in our passiveness to the slammer to make the world aware of the weasels that have brought me to this state of upheaval. And, this all can be traced back to Six Flags, Socrates and Michael Keaton’s Batman.

See, I’m a huge Batman fan. I became a fan of the Caped Crusader post the sixties campy Eartha Kitt-enamored Adam West, but prior to the movie franchise. What I loved about the Bruce Wayne superhero was that he could kick some torture-inducing, havoc-creating, depths of Gotham-dwelling villain butt, without having an actual superpower bone in his billionaire body. Batman gave me hope; just a regular guy (who made Bill Gates look like a living-from-paycheck-to-paycheck, buying the Super Mega weekly lottery quick-picks, hoping to hit it big, regular Joe, grew up as an orphan after watching his parents murdered before his eyes, and pestered by flying rodents associated with Count Dracula and Bartok from the cartoon movie, Anastasia). Bruce Wayne gave me a sliver of hope that maybe I too could one day drive a tricked out car, have a belt full of toys and wear a cape in the evenings, like Liberace in his hey-day.

God’s honest truth, though, one summer when I was twelve, a friend and I tried to transform ourselves into vigilantes. We ordered all the little gimmicks from the back of the comic books: smoke bombs, itching powder, X-ray vision glasses, walkie-talkies, anything a good, non-super-powered superhero might need for his utility belt. To make a long story shortish, we couldn’t find any crimes before the police arrived. So, we stood on the side of the road with homemade cardboard signs reading, “Don’t Pollute” (our little contribution to save the world).

I remember that night in the summer of 1989 when Batman, the movie, was released. I stood there in a long line in front of the theater on Capitola Drive in Santa Cruz, California, with the rest of the freaks who had no idea where this night would take us. And, after the movie was done, as I left the theater, I had become even more enamored with the Dark Knight.

Since the release of that first film, I have vowed that I wouldn’t wait until the Batman films were released on video (now DVD) to see them. Although I only catch about three movies a year in the theater, I have ALWAYS seen the Batmans on the Big Screen, even when the superhero was teamed up with Robin and “headlights” on his chest plate. I’ve been there through thick and thin.

It’s harder to get myself to the theater nowadays, what with work and kids and just being an old man (“Should I go to the movies or take a nap today? Movies… Nap.”) But, I was thrilled when the sixth Batman was due to be released this summer, The Dark Knight. I was looking forward to this big screen appearance like no other. The previous, Batman Begins, was such a compelling story explaining the creation of the mal-adjusted Wayne, and the hype for the sequel just got my cape in bunches.

I couldn’t make it to opening night for one reason or another. The next two weekends were full with my kids’ swim meets and a family trip to the East Coast. Finally with the breaststroke and JFK International Airport behind me, I had real summer business to attend to, the battle between Ledger’s Joker and Nolan’s flying rodent.

My eldest daughter had a Sound of Music recital (what the heck is an Edelweiss anyway?) that would end at 5:30. The movie would start at 6:30. So, we had to rush the girls to the babysitter’s, grab dinner, and get to the movie all within sixty minutes, a difficult feat for most average men, but not for one with the head of Michael Keaton in a pointy-eared bat mask attached to a keychain, couldn’t handle.

So, we swing by a take-out place that served fresh Mexican cuisine. You could see them chop the cilantro. The salsa is made before your eyes. Quesadillas with lean chicken breast meat. And, an iced tea to top it off. There was no way to eat our dinner and make the movie. Therefore, we decided to take matters into our own hands.

I am very aware of the “No outside food” policy that theaters painstakingly hope patrons will heed to the letter. And, I am also quite aware of the reasoning behind said policy. The ticket prices cover the theater’s costs for the movies, and the concessions’ profits pay for staff, advertising, long strips of paper that will eventually become tickets, as well as many thousands of light bulbs for the marquees. Yeah, yeah, I got it. But, that doesn’t mean I agree with it.

See, the fact of the matter is that I’m not eating at the concession stand… period. (Saying “period” at the end of a sentence is supposed to emphasize the statement, but it’s just kind of weird, don’t you think? Here, watch) Why not?… question mark. (See?) Well, for one, I’m paying $9.75 a head for me and my wife just to be able to proudly announce to my co-workers on Monday morning as we stand next to the empty water cooler, because no one’s willing to pick up the new five-gallon container, that I’m not a complete recluse and actually got out of my house to see a movie current enough that can proclaim that neither Molly Ringwald nor Arsenio Hall’s names appear in the credits.

Two, the price of a large soda and a candy bar cost more than a couple tanks of gas. And, three, I’m a man going through his mid-life crisis, and instead of a concubine or a convertible (neither of which I can afford), I’ve opted for staying young via ridiculously fresh and sometimes taste-challenged, food.

Looking at the concession stand menu I tried to assemble the most nutritious meal I could, and here’s what I put together:

Protein and Carbs ($3.75)
Hot dog and bun (stored in a miniature glass heat room)

Fruit ($3.00)

Vegetables (free, if no one’s watching… but don’t count on that, as you will soon learn)
14 mini-bags of relish

Dairy ($5.75 for option #1/ $4.00 for option #2)
Option #1: cheese-like sauce squirted on “nachos” from a hand-pumped liquid-cheese-dispensing machine. (By the way, they won’t give you just the sauce if you don’t pay full price, nor will they verify that there’s any milk product in said squirted liquid).
Option #2: M&M’s (with milk chocolate)

Drink (free)
Water from fountain by bathroom with gum stuck to grating.

GRAND TOTAL – Heartburn and “the runs” for a week ($10.75 or $12.50)

My wife and I smuggle our contraband past the ticket collector and we are Scott-free. We’ve done our duties as parents listening to “My Favorite Things”, gotten the kids to the sitter’s, ordered a nutritious and reasonably priced meal, and have gotten to the theater in time to watch my favorite super-hero kick some Joker booty, when, before I can even say, “Pass the cilantro,” a young man, who’d not yet lost all of his baby fat, and could probably sing the theme song to Barney The Purple Dinosaur’s television show, repeats the theater’s no-outside-food policy, which I obviously am aware of, because I wouldn’t have snuck it in, if I didn’t think it was against the rules.

“You’ll either have to throw away your food or eat it in the lobby,” he tells me. Now, I understand he’s just doing his job, but are they really paying him enough to be so bold? For minimum wage, I’d let the folks eat their beans and rice, if I were him.

“Or, option number three,” I informed him, “get my money back and enjoy my meal in peace.” I stormed out of that theater and demanded a refund. I must have looked like a crazed man deprived of his super-hero and nearly deprived of his quesadilla, because the manager-on-duty didn’t dare ask the reason for our abrupt departure.
I know I had broken a rule. Therefore, I knew I had to pay the consequences. But, as Socrates, who accepted the consequences for “corrupting the morals of minors” (sounds worse than it really was), I knew that the rules shouldn’t have applied to me. “They were written for the masses,” as Socrates put it. “Rules are meant for the majority, but there are circumstances when they should not apply.” This was one of those circumstances.

Here’s the skinny, my friend: Mexican food in the Metro Theater or no Mexican food in the Metro Theater, with this patron, it would have made no difference to their bottom line. I wasn’t eating their Chunk Dog and cheddar juice. They would lose no money on me by bringing in my own grub! (exclamation mark.. See? Once again, kind of awkward, dontcha think?)
And, it was obvious that the theater’s policy, although attempting to give the impression that it’s about lost revenue, was really about punishment. The two options I was offered were punitive: throw your food away (which doesn’t help them), or eat it in the lobby and miss part of the film (which, again, doesn’t increase their bottom line… but it sure would have taught me a lesson). Instead, choice three did affect their money intake. I ate my food, but they lost two customers (one of whom tends to write scathing articles about incredibly poor business policies for all to see).

Granted, the Metro Theaters in the greater Santa Barbara region are not the only establishments that try to employ said policy. It’s rampant in the amusement park industry, also. Last year, I purchased Six Flags Magic Mountain season passes for my entire family (great deal… email me and I’ll give you the details). Admission was set for a year (we made nine trips altogether), but they get you on the parking ($15 a pop), as well as the souvenirs, games and food. So, I’m thinking, I’ll bring my own grub into the park.

Uh-uh! That’s a negative, good buddy. I call the Six Flags office in Valencia, and they explain to me that if I brought my own lunch, I’d be forced to either throw it away, or take it back to my vehicle (which transforms into a convection oven in the Valencia summer, baking my tuna sandwich at a comfortable 285 degrees Fahrenheit for three hours). Hmmm… sound familiar: toss it or leave the park and miss the midday parade, starring… you guessed it… Batman.

I asked them why the policy exists. “Because we do sell food at our parks,” a Magic Mountain rep informed me. “So that would be a conflict of interests for us. Part of our revenue comes from our restaurants and vending carts.”

Wait, wait, wait! I didn’t come to Magic Mountain for the cuisine. I came to scream my lungs out on rides like, “Scream” and “My Lung’s Out”. It just so happens that as a human being, I was created in such a way that my body craves sustenance every few hours so as to continue to scream its lungs out.

Is that even legal? If so, with that kind of logic, Magic Mountain should be able to keep me from wearing a hat into the park. “Sorry sir, you’ll need to remove the cap or wear it at your car and miss Batman’s parade because we sell caps for $42 in the park’s gift shop.”

And, what about sunscreen, flip-flops, sunglasses, and aspirin? Couldn’t they argue I leave these in my oven, er, uh, car, as well since they sell these items in the park, also? Where do we draw the line? If we let them push our tuna sandwiches around, what’s next? This needs to stop somewhere, and I’m starting with me (aren’t those the lyrics to Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror”? Google it.).

So… now what?.. What does a loud-mouth, finger-pointing, article-writing, fed-up-with-the-system, patron of the foul-policied-establishment do after writing a scathing piece about what’s wrong with the system? Where do I go from here? I may have a loud bark, but I need someone to help me with the bite.

If you’re with me on this, if you think that these so-called “rules” are unjust, maybe even unconstitutional, if you can see a future, as I can, where we can’t wear sport shoes into Footlocker, where we can’t enter a WalMart with a diaper bag, where we can’t board an airplane with four ounces of toothpaste (oops, already in that Brave New World), then tell me what to do next. Who do we contact? How many signatures do we need? What are the proper channels? Better yet, can you do it? Are you a law professor, an attorney, a Senator? I’ll back you 100%.

In The Dark Knight it was the businesses that took over Gotham. They ran the city, and the residents felt helpless to whatever policies were laid before them. I feel fortunate that Gotham is fictitious and not a part of my America. In my America, I should be able to eat my tuna sandwich before boarding The Riddler at Magic Mountain. In my America I should have the right to eat my quesadilla while enjoying The Joker’s psychosis on the big screen at my local Metro Theater. In my America, in our America, our voices should be heard and our concerns addressed. In Gotham you feel as though there is no hope. We should never have to feel that way in America.


Leon Scott Baxter is a West Coast writer who lives with his wife and two daughters in California. To see more of his work, go to

Published: Oct 10,2008 17:47
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