Bob Bonner, in addition to owning an epic dirtstache and Hefty bag warmup jacket, was born in 1956. That's the same year that Bengies Drive-In Movie Theatre opened for business. Fifty-three years later it's still open, and is the last drive-in left standing in Maryland. A decade ago, it was also the place where I had my first summer job.
I found a listing in the classified ads of the newspaper - do they even still have those? - for a snack bar attendant. I dropped by for an interview, and was hired on the spot. I guess I could have taken that as an ominous sign, but that's hindsight. The first thing I had to do was shave my goatee; the boss believed that facial hair gave the appearance of uncleanliness. That was the least of his quirks. He was a small, shrill guy who liked to make his presence felt. Every evening before we opened, he would stroll into the snack bar area and bellow, "Where's my damn coffee?", and then start cackling. He was a pretty demanding guy, but he absolutely loved me. I imagine that it had something to do with the fact that I was quiet and reasonably competent.
Unfortunately, competence was a rare quality among my teenage peers at Bengie's. I remember one guy named Mike who was the absolute worst of the worst. One night, my supervisor pulled me aside and asked me to take over the popcorn machine because he didn't want Mike interacting with the customers. So between schmucks like that who were eventually fired and inexperienced kids who were ill-equipped to deal with the boss and quit, there was constant turnover. All of which meant that I was called upon to work a heavier schedule. Also, I was too much of a sucker to say no. So as many as five nights a week, you could find me at the drive-in from 7 PM to 1 AM. It sure didn't leave much time for a social life.
You might be thinking, "hey, at least you got to watch movies". Not so. No matter how slow things got at the snack bar, turning around and scoping out the flicks was verboten. It's just as well, because 1998 was a particularly lousy year for movies. During the two months I worked there, we showed such gems as The Avengers, Paulie (a movie about a freaking parrot), Small Soldiers, and Dr. Doolittle. Just having to overhear the irritating dialogue for that movie night after night ignited what has been to date a decade-long hate affair between myself and one Eddie Murphy. The best movie we had that summer was Saving Private Ryan. It was indeed a fine film, but I appreciated it primarily because it was so long that we couldn't run a double feature. I was home by 10:30 every night during its run. Bless you, Tom Hanks.
I hadn't really thought of a way to wrap this up, so I'll leave you an anecdote. One night I was working the cash register, and a guy came through and asked me if we served beer.
At a DRIVE-IN movie theatre.
If I were quicker on my feet, I would've told him that we did, but he'd missed last call.