The Flames Weren’t In The Theater

The Ideal

We act well to be treated well. I have always worked hard not to do things wrong simply so I would not have to face the consequences. Being yelled at or even being near someone being yelled at has always made me uncomfortable. Everyone makes mistakes so trying not to make any mistakes really does take some effort. After all the work I put into being a good kid, somehow, people always manage to find a reason to get angry at me. When this occurs, it really makes me want to give up on being good. Why should I do what’s right when I am going to be treated like I did something wrong anyways? Why don’t I always do the bad thing since I am going to get treated like a bad kid anyways?

The Sadly True Story

It is a little past four, customers are filling the theaters enjoying shows, and my manager and I have just finished making our last batch of popcorn for the afternoon. The normal amount of smoke from the popcorn machine is being seeped up into a fan on the ceiling. This years fathers day seems to be going well. The rush of people was a little overwhelming, but once everyone is settled into the cool air-conditioned theaters, everything calms down. I am about to start a new task when a blaring alarm begins to go off in the theaters and in the lobby. Red lights are flashing above little boxes with the word fire written on them. My manager sighs, shouts a few tasks at me, and heads up stairs into his office.

It’s a bad alarm. The smoke produced by the machine is of normal quantities and there is absolutely no fire anywhere. I rush down to the theaters and yell out to everyone,

“We are very sorry for the delay. Please, do not worry. It was a false alarm and we would like to make up for the inconvenience with free refills on drinks and popcorn.”

Some worried and frustrated faces turn into relaxed smiles and I head back to the counter ready to fill up many, many drinks and popcorn bags. Soon enough everyone is out in the lobby. Some people are taking advantage of the concessions and others are lining up on the sidewalk annoyed by the obnoxious alarm. I try to keep everyone calm, but the situation only seems to be escalating.

Soon enough, fire trucks are pulling up to the curb roaring their sirens. A big fat man with a unattractively figured mustache walks up behind the counter and yells in my face at an uncomfortably close range,

“WHY IS EVERYONE STILL INSIDE?”

I am boggled by this mans unjust tone of voice and by the many people who are wandering aimlessly around the lobby.

“I, I, I need to get my manager,”

I stutter out just as the fireman begins yelling more questions I don’t know the answers to into my now ringing ears. I push past the man, worried about how the customers are feeling and how many tickets I am going to have to refund, and run upstairs to get my boss. I find him pacing while speaking calmly on the telephone with the alarm company. I over hear them telling him that the alarms need to be put in a better location and that we probably need new alarms even though we have already replaced them once this month. I signal some hand gestures at my manager signaling my distress and to show that we needed to be downstairs immediately.

Only a few moments later and we were back downstairs face to face with a pair of firemen, one of them, the large man who had spoken harshly into my face, holding some sort of sharp device that instead of being used to cut away debris in case of fire was being used to show his authority over us.

“Why is the alarm off! Who cut off the alarm,”

asks the larger man as though his questions were rhetorical and not to be answered.

“I’m very sorry,”

my manager replies,

“We needed to get that alarm off as soon as possible. We have customers. I apologize for..”

Before my manager can even finish an explanation the large man is once again yelling at us,

“What did you say? You are NEVER to touch that alarm! You are to get out of the building and keep every one safe. DO YOU HEAR ME?”

At this point I am taken aback in disgust. If anyone had have been in any danger, if there had been a real fire, we would have had everyone out of that building in a split second. My manager had tried to explain and apologize about the situation and these firemen had done nothing to help. If anything they were causing an even larger ruckus. Again, my manager tried to apologize.

“It won’t happen again. I am very sorry. Please, try to understand that we…”

Just as before, my manager was given only a few seconds before rude commands were barked at us.

“We did not give the clear. Under no circumstances do you touch that alarm. If you back talk me again I am calling the fire marshal.”

At this point, I must stop giving such detailed discussion because all that continued was my manager apologizing and Mr. “Hero” the fireman screaming back at us with threats and commands worse than before. I feared his big head and reddening cheeks might explode under his loud spoken abuse of authority. Eventually, both firemen got a copy of my managers card and stormed off, taking their shining red trucks with them. It seemed like everything might calm down, until I looked up, and the line of people waiting for concessions extended from beyond where I could see. My manager and I had just began taking orders when a man, focusing on making his expression a scowl, stepped in front of everyone.

“I demand free tickets, free concessions, and refunds on what I have already bought. My wife had to leave because she had to be somewhere and now she doesn’t get to see the rest of the movie because of all this,”

He said. This was interesting because the movie only got out about ten minutes late in the end meaning his wife was going to have had to leave early anyways. Nonetheless, we still gave him a refund on his wife’s ticket. We had paused the movie and he continued to demand us to the play the movie even though everyone else was in the lobby getting concessions. He just couldn’t wrap his little head around why we wouldn’t start the movie yet when he was the only person in the theater and everyone else was getting concessions. Once he calmed down, he took advantage of the free concessions and ordered three bags of popcorn and three drinks. He did have two kids with him, but considering the circumstances I wasn’t looking for anything good to say about that man.

So, we continued on taking orders, making popcorn, serving popcorn, taking off lids, adding ice, filling drinks, and all the such. As I took orders my hands began shaking and it just wouldn’t stop. Soon enough the long line of people, the yelling firemen, and the self-obsessed customer caught up with me and I was holding in emotions that shouldn’t be held in. Finally, we were down to three customers when I lost it. The tears were coming and the gasps were speeding up and there was no stopping it. The last three customers gave me a little bit more hope in humanity. They tried consoling me, telling me everything was okay, and telling me about how much  of a douche bag, idiot, jerk bad guy that one customer was. They told me it wasn’t my fault. I was so thankful for those people and I wish I knew them by name because they could never understand the amount of pressure they helped to lift off of my shoulders.

Once the line of customers had dissipated, I ran to the bathroom and realized I was having an anxiety attack. I googled what was happening and searched for answers as I began to feel light-headed. The room was going dark when I saw one post online that told me to just relax. I took the advice and began to take deep breaths. I tried to think positive. My manager let me go outside for a bit and gave me a hug. Honestly, all the advice helped. It was one of those days that made me happy to have the people I work with and the internet.

I am trying to look back on the situation as a learning experience. It certainly helped us all gain team building skills. If the alarms ever go off again I now know to get everyone out of the building, including myself, and to just wait it out. The firemen didn’t even give us a chance. They walked in and paraded around so high and mighty before taking their grand leave. Anyone who is on any fire squad or police force please understand that not every alarm and that not every complaint is an emergency. Please understand that while you may have been worrying only about getting your job done we also had to worry about our customers, our business, and our jobs too. I thank you for your services and for your heartfelt care of everyone’s safety, but I despise you for your common abuse of power and maddening over reactions to everything. Find a balance. I am searching for peace and equality not fear to call out for help. Next time I have an emergency I’m not sure who I’ll call first, someone for help or an attorney.

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