I always get a little sentimental around times of change. I think most of us grow attached to routines and stability and comfort, but as a young person with a career in mind, comfort is the enemy of growth, and growth is the capitalist imperative that we’ve all internalized to determine our self worth, so I’m very excited to grow. But before I go about growing, I’d like to chew on these last months and consider how they’ve been.
I’ve spent the last 11 months working at an AMC dine-in theatre. I took the job for money. I chose a job that was outwardly unrelated to my desired career path so that I could focus on Sealed and maintain a separation of work and work. AMC never followed me home nor demanded unreasonable overtime, and it generally provided a steady income that was earned through tolerable work that ultimately proved to be generally worthwhile. I suppose I’m using a lot of qualifiers — “tolerable”, “ultimately”, “generally” — and that’s because it wasn’t a perfect solution and I did have frustrations. But that’s less interesting to talk about than what I gained from the experience, which ultimately proved to be quite a lot.
I think this will work best as a list. OK Buzzfeed, I’ll comply:
1. I learned how to talk about food.
Those of you who know me know that I am not a “foodie”. It’s not that I don’t enjoy eating, because I often do. And it’s not that I don’t respect the institution of eating, because it can be a fabulous art and is often an excellent facilitator of friendships and shared experience. But I tend to tire quickly of foodie conversation — I think it’s low on Maslow’s hierarchy of conversation — and I don’t have particularly acute senses of smell or taste. AMC, however, has shown me some light. Good food makes people happy, and happy people tip well. Hmm, is that the takeaway? Nah, it’s more than that. Food is simultaneously an intimate and personal preference and also a need that is shared by literally everyone. Presenting a food option, replete with colorful language and confidence in the product, and then witnessing the payoff as people leave happy, has actually provided a level of base satisfaction that I didn’t imagine I would value. There have been dozens of picky kids and finicky old folks that I have proudly schlepped orders of crispy brussels sprouts and oreo shakes that have left their consumers happier. I don’t sneer at happiness. That shit’s important.
2. I met a crew of generally wonderful people.
Of course there’s a qualifier there, as saying ‘most people are wonderful’ is infinitely easier to defend than ‘everyone is wonderful’. But part of the reason I chose to work in Framingham was to meet different people. I grew up in Whitebread, MA, and went to college in Privilegeton, CT, and frankly never had much of a chance to get to know people with different ethnic and class backgrounds. To my AMC friends reading this, that’s not why I value you, because now I know you, but it was at least part of why I chose not to work in my hometown.
I like to pride myself in my ability to empathize and listen. I have a persistent curiosity for life stories, and I have visceral respect for people who are true to themselves. I felt lucky hundreds of times through my time at AMC to share small conversations with my coworkers who I saw achieve, struggle, rally, succeed, laugh, cry, recover, and continue. The array of life circumstances among the 30+ coworkers I’ve had the pleasure of knowing is vast. My admiration for many of them grew consistently as I learned more about their situations. Many of them display outstanding characteristics that I have absolutely learned from. I wish I felt comfortable naming names, because the sensitivity, charisma, resilience, and competence I witnessed from this random group of humans impressed me regularly and I did not always share how it affected me. I am grateful for many micro-lessons in humanity and respect, and I take comfort in the idea that ‘life is long’ and perhaps we’ll know each other again.
3. I grew my non-dominant outgoing side.
I served according to a simple mantra. I’d walk into a theatre and think, “Time to be friendly!” It’s so simple that it reliably cut through any noise or anxiety or frustration that I might have felt. To be outwardly friendly is to prescribe to a well-defined set of norms that put people at ease, keep conversations light and playful, and keep my own mindset calm and focused. Perhaps it’s a symptom of youth, but I think that so often, we’re focused on appearing smart or competent or profound that the comfort of the people we’re talking to goes entirely unconsidered. Friendliness is potent. For me, it requires effort — an elevated but restrained energy, a dedication to clear communication and eye contact — and it results in, again, happiness. My guests see the effort I put into making them feel comfortable and they smile and sit back, relaxing in pamperedness and ease of situation. And then, for me, anyways, the reptile-human in me mirrors their emotion and suddenly I’m happy too, smiling at their happiness and basking in the simplicity of the exchange. Customer service is rewarding on a micro-scale like few other activities, up there with board games and beer pong and sex. I get a thrill out of it, and refining those careful cues has been reliably rewarding for me.
4. I gained an intimate understanding of a carefully engineered guest experience.
I am a designer, which means that I enjoy considering the design decisions that lead people to a desired outcome. In my opinion, AMC does a really, really good job. Most every aspect of the AMC experience is carefully engineered, from the box office to the recliner seats to the managerial hierarchy.
Every decision is aimed at giving the guests power over their experience. They reserve their seats, which are then theirs. They have a button attached to their seat, which gives them the power to summon (me) whenever they choose. They have a menu at each seat that is broad enough to satisfy whatever categorical urge they feel: concession, appetizer, full meal, dessert, full bar. They get free refills and prompt service. Managers swoop in and fix problems as efficiently as possible. Ordering and payment is accomplished with a handheld device that gets the details squared away before the show even begins. I never had the privilege of sitting in on a high level AMC corporate strategy session, but my hypothesis is that people who feel like they are in control will worry less, relax more, and therefore enjoy the moviegoing experience that much more. Noticing the details of how AMC strives to empower its guests helped me to understand why I took the actions I took, why I followed the guidelines set by corporate, and gave me renewed respect for the importance of institutional design.
I loved many aspects of working at AMC. I’ve de facto memorized a hundred ads and previews that are often incredibly artful. I’ve eaten my body weight in free popcorn and seen more than my share of free movies. Serving Deadpool and Zootopia and The Revenant was an absolute blast, and I have more respect for Bad Moms and its overworked Chardonnay-swigging clientele than I ever thought I would. So for all of the benefits I’ve derived, thanks AMC, it’s been real.
I’m not quite ready to announce my next step, but I’m thrilled to announce that a next-step does in fact exist and will be beginning in the next few weeks.