Fun and games in the movie-preview line

I recently wrote about the wonderful experience of the Harry Potter sneak preview, because nobody was allowed to have a cell phone in the theater. After that column came out, several people e-mailed me and said I should look into the whole sneak-preview phenomenon.

The Weekly, like other media outlets, sponsors sneak previews and gives away passes thereto. Often, there will be an ad in the paper with a notice that passes will be given away beginning at 10 a.m. at the paper's main office. Now, it's cool to see a movie before everybody else does, and it's extra cool to see it for free, but the lengths to which some people go to do so are pretty interesting. I was told that a Pavlovian crowd of people gathers outside the Weekly's office every Thursday morning, whether there's a sneak preview the following week or not.

Reportedly, there are a couple of dozen regulars who are there every Thursday. That's OK; it's good to have a hobby. Otherwise, they might be involved in dog fighting or Larry Craig's defense effort.

So, I finagled a couple of passes to The Bourne Ultimatum and decided to check things out. For the heck of it, I arrived a couple of minutes before 4 p.m. for a 7 p.m. showing. As it turns out, I was the first one there by exactly seven minutes.

The woman taking tickets said that they wouldn't be forming a line until 5, but that I was welcome to sit at one of the tables that they have out by the ticket window. I made sure I sat as close as possible to the ticket-taker's stand.

By 4:30, there had to be 100 people crowded in that area. Then this 40-something guy walked in and tried to squeeze between where I was sitting and the stand. Since he appeared to have the physical strength of the average Star Trek fan, I told him to go to the back of the line with all of the other people who weren't smart enough to get there three hours early.

About 15 minutes later, the ticket-taker lady leaned over and said, "You can go ahead and start the line over there against that wall." I had to have had a good 10-yard lead when I heard the sound of the stampede behind me. I knew better than to turn around and look. I reached the head of the line, by the velveteen rope, just ahead of Star Trek Guy, who was completely gassed from having sprinted the entire 30 yards. I turned to look at him, and he just glared at me.

I said, "Dude, you're kinda sad."

He replied, "I don't know what you mean."

And me, without my English-Klingon Dictionary.

The theater workers must be thrilled with these things: 500 people standing in line all over the lobby for hours, clogging up the works and then getting to see a movie for free. Of course, if even 3 percent of those people buy popcorn and a soda, the theater company's stock will tick up a notch.

The next hour passed rather uneventfully, except for a dozen or so older people who walked right past the line and went to sit on some benches down the hall. One man sat a couple of feet from where I had been standing for forever. I asked him why he wasn't in line. He said, "Oh, they always let us in early."

I said, "Why?! You're not handicapped. You're just old."

I've been working on my people skills.

I respect my elders, but there was no damn way any of those people were getting in that theater before I did.

At about 6, showing up and strutting on into the theater were the radio people. And the radio people's families. And the radio people's neighbors. And people who have heard the radio people on the radio. And, apparently, people who were once in a Wal-Mart with the radio people. There had to be 60 people, easily.

When they finally let us peasants in, I grabbed four pretty good seats in the upper level of the split-level theater. The place filled up fast, and the last people to get in (the suckers who had shown up at 5:30 or even later!) had to sit in the bottom level, with the two front rows filling up last.

Then the radio people gave their talks, and one said, "Hey, who wants a free Bourne Ultimatum T-shirt?" Everybody screamed as the radio people broke out big boxes full of shirts and began flinging the rolled-up shirts toward the crowd.

Remember the old sexist line about throwing like a girl? Well, the politically (and otherwise) correct phrase is, "You throw like a radio person." These people emptied box after box and chucked the shirts as hard as their atrophied muscles could muster. Everybody in the front two rows ended up with four T-shirts each.

The movie was the best of the summer, by a mile. However, I'm still trying to sort out whether standing in line for three hours to save $9.50 is worth it. I got to read a book, and the no-cell-phones-at-previews policy is a huge bonus.

I'm hoping that the blood clots in my legs will dissolve on their own.

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