Drive-In Nightmare

What a dreadful night. This one takes a while to get going because I first need to set the stage, as it were…..

Since the adoption of Daniel into our family, 5 years ago, my husband and I haven’t been out to one, single solitary dinner together, without children. We also haven’t been out to a movie alone together. Then again, I’m “picky” about restaurants, and if we’re going to go through the hassle of a babysitter, the only good restaurants are over an hours drive away, “down” in Boston. As far as movies, “G” and “PG” are fine with me. But at the core of the issue is Daniel’s Autism. I’m simply not comfortable leaving him with babysitters – even with friends.

I’m not complaining. When we were childless, we had ample romantic dinners and movies. Now’s the time for the children, to create memories for them.

We make “going-out” into a family event, finding kid-friendly places. There’s the usual zoo visits, children’s science museums, the beach, camping and parks. Of all those, going to the local Milford Drive-In Theater has been their favorite.

Throughout the long New England winters, they talk about looking forward to the “first drive-in of the summer – how many weeks away is that?”

The drive-in has been perfect for us, the past few years. Movie theaters are too overwhelming for Daniel. His sensory issues make it difficult to tolerate the bigger-than-life images and sound which easily overload his brain.

At the Milford drive-in, we can control his environment – lowering the volume, or letting him chatter away with his teddy bear, “blankie” and pillow. It’s been a wonderful way to bring “normal fun” into our lives.

Given the amount of rain the last few weeks, the drive-in has been deluged from the overflowing river abutting its property. They’ve kept everybody up-to-date through their friendly, chatty emailed newsletter that finally announced “Open This Weekend”. My husband proclaimed “Tonight is our First Drive-In Movie night! Let’s go!”. Cheers! Applause!

The drive-in theater’s newsletter promotes, “Bring Your Own Food! Make a Family Picnic!”. This has been great for us because Daniel has a restricted diet which forbids “normal” food – especially processed or junk food. I basically make everything from “scratch”.

We knew there was nothing we could eat at the drive-in concession stand – not the healthiest, by any standards. But, hey! For those who can handle it, and don’t have Leaky Gut Syndrome like my little son, one night of pure junk won’t a heart or intestinal tract destroy!

It was already late afternoon – enough time for me to throw together a basic cooler with low-sugar organic root beer and some watermelon, while my husband phoned in an order for Sal’s Pizza, located less than 5-minutes from the drive-in.

If there was an “Autism Seal of Approval”, Sal’s Pizza would win – the crust is a slow-rise, long-ferment, reducing the glutens which are a problem for Daniel. Sal’s uses only 100% olive oil – no nasty vegetable oils – and no sugar or corn syrup.

The pizza was ready when we pulled up. Ten minutes later, we were happily parked at the drive-in, mid-screen, handing out paper plates and napkins I’d brought from home. Plenty of time to eat, let the kids play at the playground, and settle in before the movie!

Even good plans sometimes have glitches. We opened up the pizza box. It smelled divine. We took out the first piece. Out-of-habit I flipped it over, checking the bottom crust. Black. Flipped it again. Black. I don’t mean dark brown like some people like it. I mean black. Reality hit. Our dinner was dust, garbage, inedible.

After discussing what we could possibly find to eat at the concession stand (nothing!) to “hold us over” (nothing!), I came up with A Plan:

1. The Obvious: Call Sal’s. Ask for replacement. Ask if they can deliver a new one. (No, they have no delivery service. “Come get it yourself!”)

2. Leave husband and kids at the playground while I made a pizza-run.

A few minutes later, I drove away, watching my little family in the rear view mirror waving goodbye to me.

Stopping at the ticket booth, I waited to speak to the attendant, a pleasant-enough woman who had taken our money when we first arrived. She was now nervous-looking. There were two teen boys standing outside the ticket booth, asking her a question. A middle-aged Italian-looking guy appeared, walked up the boys, barking, “What are you standing here?”.

They look surprised, hung their shoulders, dug their hands deep into pockets, explaining they were waiting for friends to arrive, so they could show them where to park.

He listened, growled something, and motioned them towards the woods yelling, ” stand over there….get outta the traffic…you can’t just stand anywhere you want…get over to the side….you got no business standing here”.

My shoulders stiffened. This, clearly, wasn’t a nice guy. I was next on his scowling-faced radar. I tried to smile, flipping open the pizza box on the seat next to me, showing him the burnt crust, filling him in on The Problem and The Plan.

He raged, “No way you’re leaving. What do you think I’m running here, a food delivery service? Go buy my food at the concession stand.” I blinked. I pleaded, telling him I couldn’t in all good conscience feed the concession food to my son. I showed him my receipt stub I’d received when we paid our admission fee, asking him if I could be re-admitted with it.

“No”, he bellowed. “Nobody is crossing the line with food”, he motioned, pointing at some line he seemed to see, and thinks I can see. “I’m not running a food delivery business. Buy my food if you want to eat. That’s why I got food. People buy my food. People don’t bring no food in! Get outta here!”

I drove back to my husband and kids. New Plan!

1. Husband called Sal’s Pizza. Sal’s owner whined, “pizza is done – it’s done! You gotta get it!”. Husband said, “They won’t let us leave so I guess the drive-in is screwing you and us”.

2. Sal’s owner says, “We don’t normally do this. I’m getting in my van and bringing it to you. Look for a beat-up white van in ten minutes. Let me help you out. I can’t believe they won’t let you come get it”. Wow. Now that’s the way I’m used to a small business owner responding! Hope courses through my veins.

3. Husband and kids go to the playground.

This time, leaving the car back in our mid-screen spot, ready for the movie, I walked up to the booth carrying the charred pizza remains. The belligerent, barking man sees me from the other side of the double-screen lot and races me there. He waited, arms crossed, legs expanded into a military position – it’s not looking good. He demanded, “What do you think you’re doing”.

“Waiting for Sal’s to deliver my pizza”. As if on trial, I presented, him, once again, with my Burnt Crust Evidence, flipping open my pizza box.

He bellowed for the benefit of everyone in the paying entry line, “I told you, no food delivery. There’s no way Sal’s is delivering across my line.” I was thinking, “Is he maybe delusional and thinking I’m a pizza delivery person? How is getting my own food classified as ‘food delivery’”.

He raged on, having a good time with himself. “I don’t want nobody, nobody delivering food. You want food, you buy my food. You leave to get that pizza – you cross that line, you’re OUT of here and you’re not coming back in. No Sal’s delivery gonna happen here”, he rages.

The eternal there’s-got-to-be-a-solution thinker that I am, I lapse into Massachusetts-sports-guy talk, thinking maybe a switch in venue, from food to football might help him think. “How’z about Sal drop-kicks the pizza over the line. Show me the line and I’ll intercept”.

He yelled, “I sell food. You can buy my food”.

I said calmly, “So, even if you show me the line, and I don’t cross it, but Sal’s Pizza HANDS the pizza OVER wherever this line is, you still won’t let me get my pizza? Is that right?”

He locks his arms even harder across his chest and says, “that’s right lady”.

I replied, “I’m a subscriber to your email newsletter and your website INVITES people to bring food. I can quote from the page”:

It is also appropriate to mention that we do not prohibit you from bringing your own food and beverages to the Drive-In. This being the case, we are sure that you realize that condiments, cups, ice, napkins, etc., provided by the Drive-In, have a cost attributed to them.http://www.milforddrivein.com/FAQ.htm

“NO! If I make an exception for you, I’ll have to do it for everyone”, he yells. I felt like I was watching a tall version of the Terrible Two’s.

Calmly, as if talking to a tantruming toddler, I held up my hand signaling retreat. “Okay, fine. The movie hasn’t started so I want a refund”.

“If you have your ticket that we gave you when you entered, you get a refund”, he hissed.

“Refund it is”, I said to him.

I walked back to the car, worn, defeated, exhausted with absolutely no more plans – just a deep desire to escape from my encounters with Mr. Rude, which had left me feeling as if I should swing by the hospital, on the way home, for a rabies-exposure test.

I rounded up the kids, trying to ignore poor little Daniel’s pleas of, “Mommy, please tell me where we’re going”.

“We’re just changing movie spots.”, I said, “We have a better one at home where we’ll eat our new pizza. And tonight, I’ll give you ice cream”. I hate bribing, but even with ice cream, I can control what goes into it, unlike concession stand garbage.

Autistic children don’t excel in their ability to roll with unexpected changes. Even something as mundane as me having to turn the car around, at the foot of the driveway because I’ve forgotten something back at the house, risks him having a “meltdown”, on occasion resulting in him smashing his face into the car window, or self-mutilating – pulling chunks of flesh out of his face. My job is to plan life from an offensive, not defensive position.

I drove to the entry booth while my husband got a head start, walking out past the booth to meet Sal’s for the pizza delivery. I saw Mr. Rude yelling something over to my husband who was ‘safe’, outside the limits of the drive-in.

Later, my husband told me Mr. Rude bellowed, “You’re not coming back in! You left! You ain’t coming back in. And Sal’s ain’t deliverin’ no pizza either. I own the road. I own the whole damn road and Sal’s ain’t driving down my road, neither!”

My husband calmly said to him, “Don’t worry – I’m not coming back – ever”. For my gentle, sweet-natured husband, that was really telling the guy off.

Still trying to ignore Daniel’s screaming plea of “Where are we going? No, Mommy, I don’t want to leave!”, I saved my what little energy remained to deal with the other behavioral problem – Mr. Rude – who had resumed his military-combat stance, waiting to see what my next pathetic plea would be.

I stuck my hand out the window, jubilantly waving the receipt stub. Mr. Rude grabbed the receipt from my grip, glaring at me, not batting an eye. We were, evidently, now in the stare-down part of his little game plan. He won. I knew a bully when I saw one. I broke the silence tiredly saying, “Money. I want my money. You said you’d give me a refund.”

Sneering, he made a big display of taking out his bulging billfold, digging around until he found a $20 that he slapped into my outstretched hand. “I’m blogging you”, I said. “I’m blogging you big time”.

He said, “Great! Send me a copy”.

So here it is Mr. Rude. I know other mothers of special needs children will be interested in receiving a copy, too. And come to think about it, I’ll bet mothers in general, who don’t want to feed their children your concession garbage, will like to read it. And maybe people who actually thought you MEANT it when you said we could bring food in, but it turns out you really want people to buy your food.

Here’s the deal, Mr. Rude. There are ways of telling people “no” which can convince them, that even though the situation stinks, there’s simply no other choice. But to belittle, embarrass, rant and rave, putting on your Big Tough Guy act to a defenseless mother of two, is simply uncivilized, and inappropriate.

I imagine it isn’t fun throwing a party for a few hundred people every night. I’m sure you’ve become quite cynical with human nature, seeing how they can quickly trash your place up with discarded garbage, or tailgates lifted too high, or not parking close enough to the poles, or any number of other offenses which I’m sure eat at you night and day. But if you’re really going to treat people in the manner you treated the teens who were simply waiting for friends, or for me, who simply wanted to feed my family, is any of it really worth it? I suppose, if money and supereme control is your god, then it just may be worth it for you. Enjoy. Ciao.


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