jorgo photography

Lessons Learned as a Movie Theatre Popcorn Slinger
by Melissa Ford Thornton

I landed my first job at a movie theatre when I was 16 years old. I thought I was cool standing behind the concession counter, taking orders from cute guys I’d never dare speak to at school. But, with a glass counter separating us, I confidently smiled while filling their cups with Dr. Pepper. I blushed and my hands shook when I turned away to make change.

But, that job was more than secret flirtation and free candy. I learned to artfully balance speed and patience to keep up with Disney matinee crowds, slinging popcorn and counting sticky pennies while kids with gap-toothed grins selected chocolate-covered peanuts or raisins. I sold tickets and restocked toilet paper between shows. My fingernails were stained orange from that popcorn seasoning stuff and my hair smelled like grease.

Movie theaters don’t close for holidays. My first Christmas on the job, I met customers who didn’t come for entertainment as much as escape. There was the painfully thin woman who burst into tears when I wished her a Merry Christmas. She confided she just signed divorce papers. There was the man with the white-tipped cane. He told me in a conspiratorial whisper that he bought his sister’s ticket and popcorn so she would describe the actresses eye color and hairstyles to him.

I met many holiday moviegoers whose lives bore little resemblance to a Norman Rockwell illustration. These folks taught me the deeper lessons of my first job, sharing tales of life’s twists and turns, then thanking me for just for listening. I’m richer and wiser for having done so. Today, when my life seems hard, I know I can escape into the world of a big screen and step into someone else’s story, if only for a little while.

IMAGE: “Movie Nostalgia” by Jorgo Photography. Prints available at


NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: It was poignant to return to memories of my first job, when idealism was untainted and life’s infinite possibilities stretched out ahead of my teenaged self. I suppose it fitting for my starry eyes to have lost a bit of their shine in a movie theater setting between long hours, aching feet, and the occasional grumpy customer. But my interest in others’ stories, first gleaned from my post at the concession stand counter from those customers who ventured out of their loneliness on holidays, laid a foundation for my writing career.

PHOTO: The author, around the time of her first job.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Melissa Ford Thornton, was born in Redondo Beach, California. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English Literature from the University of Alabama Huntsville. She is a published author, poet, and publicist for musicians Ricky j Taylor & the Live Roots Ensemble. Melissa’s blog “A Slice of Life: Observations from the Periphery,” challenges readers in a poignant, honest — sometimes quirkily humorous manner–  to embrace life’s little moments with an eye toward discovering or rediscovering hope. You can connect with her at and Twitter @mthorn626 and check out her website at to read more of her work.