It seems like only yesterday when I raced my buddies down the red-carpeted ramp of the Pix Theater in Hoxie trying to nail down those good seats. You know the ones I’m talking about — those in the front row where tennis shoes could be heard latching into congealed soda from the earlier matinee.
Back in those days, “the guys and me” could watch “Davey Crockett,” “Old Yeller” or “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” for only a quarter and a seal from a milk carton produced at Ada’s, our hometown dairy.
Outside as we waited in line for our tickets, you could smell the popcorn and glimpse at the soda machine as it dropped a cup from its innards and spewed forth an overly sweet combination of syrup, carbonated water and ice. Sometimes the cup turned sideways and the liquid missed and sprayed the hand of the kid expecting a tasty treat.
My money, a shiny new nickel, nestled in my right hand ready to be plunked down on the counter for my favorite candy bar, a Denver Sandwich. All the time I waited for my candy bar I couldn’t keep my eyes off a life-sized cutout of Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe advertising the upcoming feature “Gentlemen Prefer Blonds.”
What terrific times. Our little theater was a central gathering place in our town of Hoxie, and as kids, we couldn’t wait to see one another and catch up.
The point of all this, I guess, is they don’t make movie theaters like that anymore. The multi-screened mazes and cinema complexes that thrive today are designed for volume and efficiency. Forget cozy, close and jam-packed. This only happens occasionally when a blockbuster is released and lasts for usually the first day.
And sneaking into one of these new theaters in our high security world is also a thing of the past, not that I ever tried such a prank as a youngster.
I have nothing against these modern, chain theaters of today. I guess it is just good business in this age of streaming video, palm-entertainment systems and satellite television. They must compete, and who doesn’t like to watch some of the latest Hollywood offerings on the giant screen?
Still, whenever I travel in rural communities across Kansas, I keep an eye out for the little movie houses that might have survived in small towns. I can name a few on one hand.
Owners of such small operations lament the price to be paid for keeping up with new technology, the fewer number of movie-goers in their shrinking communities. They wait forever for new releases like “Wonder Woman,” “Guardians of the Galaxy” or parts for their old tired projectors.
Several have managed to hang on, and their battered neon lights still attract the summertime moth brigade and sweaty-handed kids on first dates.
Most of these operators have outside jobs or operate the theater for free out of love for their home town. They cannot make it by running a theater in a rural community alone.
One operator I ran across many years ago in south-central Kansas told me he runs a small printing operation and dons the robes of a municipal judge.
“I keep the theater open,” he said, “to give the kids something to do and keep them out of my courtroom.”
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwest Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.