that one time at the movies

An incident happened two weeks ago that bothered me for a while, and I just got reminded about it again today. Even though this experience was small, it made me very introspective.

Context: we were celebrating my friend’s birthday and had booked out our student housing’s theatre for the night. We were in the middle of the movie when three guys came in and said that they had booked out the theatre. What was going on?

I’ll spare you the (un)pleasantries and get to the point. Through a long conversation, it turned out that this is what happened: our student housing website had been under renovation for a while. During this time, they had shut down the function on the website where you could book various amenities in the building. Instead, the front desk had a sign-up sheet where you could sign up for permissions to use the amenities. The afternoon of, we had gone to the front desk to sign up. It looked like the theatre was free so we were able to book it. However, it turned out that at some point the website’s sign-up function had been unblocked and you could now book rooms through there as well. The housing company simply hadn’t communicated this fact to the front desk, so both sign-up methods were still operating, which caused a double-booking this particular night.

No one was willing to give up the theatre. From our end, we were in the middle of the movie and were celebrating our friend’s birthday. From their end, the guy who lived in the building had invited his two friends over. This kind of incident had already occurred to him once, and he didn’t want to lose face in front of his friends again. The front desk was closed so there was no one to mediate the discussion. We thought it was reasonable for us to finish the movie first, because we had gotten to the theatre first. They thought it was reasonable to let them finish using the theatre and for us to come back because they weren’t convinced that we had booked the theatre in the first place.

The conversation became very heated and threats started to be thrown around. Both sides were threatening to call the police. One of my friends actually burst into tears, so we let them take the theatre and left. Everyone was in a pretty sour mood afterwards.

I don’t think any of us really cared about giving the theatre up for them. We had a pretty big TV in our living room that we could use to finish the movie. It’s more about the perceived unfairness of the situation that irked everyone. (Imagine a small child shrieking “but… but that’s not FAAAAAAIR!” and you’d be perfectly visualizing what several young adults were doing in that theatre.) If we had signed up to use the space, how was it fair for us to give it up? I kept thinking back to who was right – there doesn’t seem to be a┬áright answer. If we had to put blame on anybody, this mix-up was the housing company’s fault. But could we have handled the situation any better? I don’t have an answer.

For my part, I’m just glad no fights broke out. Towards the end, I was seriously concerned that fists were going to be thrown. And as empowering as vocalizing your rights is, getting someone’s nose broken would not have been a good ending for anybody.