Saturday, April 04, 2009

Cineplex Odeon. Working for minimum wage in the 80's.

Ahh, the cinema. I worked there for 4 years in the late 80's and early 90's. I had a job at a Wendy's hamburger joint for 3 months (don't eat the chili) before I got a job at Cineplex . I quit to work at the theatre for a number of reasons. Less work for the same pay, less grease(not as hard on the complexion). I didn't have to cut my hair. No 14 year old crew chief's telling you (at 17 years old) how to do your job different from the way the other 14 year old crew chief told you to do it, and slightly less stupider clothing. Better fringe benefits! Although I had learned how to eat a stray fully prepared hamburger while on grill in 4 seconds flat at Wendys (you cut it in 4 with the spatula), the prospect of free movies and all you can drink carbonated beverages was all the more better. The good looking female co-worker quotient was the same (if you can believe it! Those were lucky times with superficial male manager hiring practices), so why not take the opportunity and change jobs!

At a food place, you're stuck slaving away in the back, wearing a stupid uniform (I had a Wendy's "jazz" cap at the time. It was a promo to make the employees look "kewl"), hoping no one from your high school saw you working there, apart from the people from your high school already working there. Some of the in-store managers are cool, the district or regional ones who pop by to make them nervous and turn them into pricks are frickin cyborgs impersonating humans who would have been more at home in Nazi Germany.

At the Cinema working as an usher, you're out there in front, interacting with cute women and other members of the public. You're not too embarrassed to be there in your purple sports coat and bow tie, and it's pretty laid back, and you work for an hour getting people inside the movies and then you're on break sipping a free $4 overpriced coke. This impressed me greatly! Then when you went back to work it was your job to slip into each theater and watch the movie for awhile and make sure the temperature was set to slightly above freezing. When they let out you tried to herd the people like cattle outside and then you picked up between the aisles. Only the big stuff, cokes and popcorn bags so people could shuffle in or the next show. Many of my co-workers used to snack during this procedure, on the things they picked up off the floor, which I personally found a bit gross. "It's a bag of half-eaten M&M's, what's unsanitary about that!" was a refrain I'd heard more than once. The time my friend Darryl took a swig from a stranger's Coke in front of me was just for shock value I'm sure(grin).

Not much more to it than that. Moving stock around, kicking people out who tried to sneak in. Dealing with drunks and street people. Refunding angry people's tickets, sweeping the popcorn on the lobby floor. Not too much to worry about. There was always something interesting going on.

There were a lot of scams the staff were into to make extra money that I can honestly say I was never a part of, just because I'd feel too guilty. One of the more lucrative and slightly gross scams I found out about by accident was the re-selling of drink cups. All the inventory was kept track of negatively. That is to say, if they handed out 3 sleeves of large drinks, that was 300 cups. If you had 50 cups at the end of the night, then you must have sold 250 large drinks, so there should be $1000 in the till from that. So the vulnerability there is the re-addition of outside cups into the candy bar stock. Management made a big deal of locking up these big sleeves of cups so this would never ever happen. Where would enterprising staff get a handy supply of extra cups? Why they're lying on the floor of every cinema after the first showing. There was one guy who used to grab cups and stuff them into a separate garbage bag, and he'd rinse them out in the mop room (if he had time. ever wonder why your Sprite tastes a bit like Orange Crush?) and pass them back into the candy bar and they'd split the difference. If you chucked 25 cups back there, that was $100, $50 for your share. Not bad back then when you made like $25 a shift. The first time I stumbled onto this scam was the first week I was working there. I found a garbage bag of cups in the mop room and I started to hoof them in the garbage when the guy who was running the scam that night came running up to me hissing under his breath "WTF are you doing! GIVE me that!!" and he disappeared behind the candy bar without explanation. Ohhh. Gotcha.. That's not for me though. I never turned my co-workers in. It's like prison, no one likes a snitch. Someone in management might catch on one day, that's their job. Later I found out that management were running an even more lucrative scam, so WTF?

They'd let us take free drinks from the fountains for break which was cool. Some people abused it though. There was one guy who used to bring in empty 3 litre pop containers when management wasn't looking and re-fill them every few days with Orange and Coke and everything to drink back at his apartment.

Another scam was strip tickets. These were emergency tickets you handed out if the theatre had a power failure and you had to cancel the showing. If you had no power the cash registers and stuff didn't work so it was hard to do refunds, so these tickets could be used to get into any Cineplex theatre at any time free. Ushers would find rolls of these and distribute them to their Friends. Some guys would accept cash in the box office and hand out a strip ticket (bypassing the cash register) and just keep the money. You kinda knew when this was going on but it was hard to prove because you never knew if the patron had received the ticket long ago from a cancelled showing. Some guys used to refund tickets belonging to the Friends once they had already paid. They would let the buddies pay and seat them, grab the ticket, go to the box office and say "These guys bought these tickets for some Friends but it turns out they had arrived earlier and bought tickets already, can you do a refund?" Ok, no questions. They'd hand the money back to their buddies or keep it if they were especially dishonest. I got no problem letting the odd person in for free (we could do it legally if we went through the trouble of getting them a pass, it was just easier to let them in through the door) but option 2 is stealing from your Friends.

Ticket reselling was another scam some guys would run, similar to the cup thing. The patron comes in, hands you a ticket, you're supposed to rip it and point them on their way, telling them to keep it. Some ushers would just keep ticket, pointing the patron to their theatre and then they'd hand the unripped ticket back to the box office and the cashier would re-sell it again, bypassing the cash register, keeping the money.

I often wondered if all these people I worked with became criminals later on in life. Although it should be self-evident to anyone who has ever worked anywhere remotely like this, some people asked me, why didn't you ever tell your bosses about stuff like that? Did I mention some of the crooked managers? (that's another blog post). I guess that stuff starts at the top. Especially if you go all the way to the top.

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