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Ten minutes before show time on a recent Sunday afternoon at the Regal Cinemas in Abingdon and the lines at the snack counter are heavy. A few people have bought their tickets and headed straight into the theater, passing on the concessions, but the majority are cued up to place their orders. My son, Adam, and I are here to see “Avatar” and we still have time to find some good seats, I think to myself.

Not that we wouldn’t stop to buy popcorn if we were late — it’s one of the few snack foods I allow myself so going to the movies is an occasion when I indulge myself.

Still, as I wait in line, it occurs to me that no matter how many times I have gone to the movies and made a popcorn/snack purchase, I still feel somewhat as though I have been through an ordeal — albeit a self-inflicted one.

These days, there are so many choices in the whole concessions experience. When I was a kid, it was popcorn, a box of Sno-Caps or Milk Duds and a drink. These days, instead of dinner and a movie you can have dinner at the movie. There are hot dogs and pizza, with toppings, and some places even offer chicken strips, burgers and fries and other hot sandwiches. Plus, there are nachos and ice cream.

By the time we reach the cashier, my fourth-grader and I have long ago finalized negotiations — we share a popcorn and pretzel bites, and we each get a soda. That’s it.

Nonetheless, his eyes linger on the chocolate selections and settle on the Dibs freezer.

“I can buy you a pack of Reese’s cups on the way home,” I lie.

“Can I get some popcorn seasoning,” Adam presses.

“No-ooo,” I sing in a low voice. We’ve already discussed this, I think in frustration.

After about five minutes in line, the cashier finally takes our order. She asks whether we would care to buy the tub-size bucket of popcorn and the gallon container of soda for just 50 cents more?

Sure, I say to the bucket of popcorn. As Adam is always quick to point out, with the bucket you get free refills. Never mind the fact that we almost never finish the first one between the two of us. Adam says we can get the refill on the way out — he assures me his friend’s dad has done this before and it’s allowed. But at 2,000 calories or more with the first helping, plus all that saturated fat in the butter, we don’t have any business going back for more.

I do stand firm on the sodas, requesting a “small” Sprite and Coke Zero (they’re called small, but there’s nothing small about them).

“That’ll be $23.25,” the cashier says.

Fine. It’s a fortune, but I knew what I was getting into.

I hand over my debit card and ask for a carrying tray. There’s no way we’re going to make it from the lobby all the way to our seats with this load without one. I get our straws, gather a bunch of napkins and hand Adam the movie tickets.

Next, I hand him the popcorn. “Do you have it?” I ask before letting it go. We definitely don’t want a spill.

Then I lift the tray, careful to maintain a delicate balance as we make our way to the ticket-taker. Next we get our ticket stubs and we navigate the aisles as our eyes adjust to the dark all the while maintaining a solid grip on our snack items. There are still some good seats left in the center of the upper section, so luckily we don’t have to maneuver through a crowded row.

Finally, we sit down. I place our sodas in the cupholders, help Adam get his coat off and hand him the pretzel bites. I take the popcorn.

Next, we put on our 3-D glasses (“Avatar” had amazing special effects, by the way) and settle in.

The film hasn’t started yet. I breathe a sigh of relief. We made it.

I munch on a handful of popcorn as Adam watches me.

“Can we get a refill on the popcorn?” he asks.

“I don’t knooow,” I say. “Let’s just watch the movie.”

I guess the refills are a pretty good deal.


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