When we decided to go offsite to see a movie a few weekends ago, my wife and I estimated it had been nearly three years since we had visited a movie theater.

Perhaps we went to one or two in late 2019 before the pandemic lockdowns, as it was not uncommon for us to see some of the new releases during the holiday season. We cannot remember, though. We know that would have been the last time we would have gone to see one.

We decided it was time. There were two we wanted to see – Top Gun: Maverick and the new Downton Abbey movie. Wild and crazy kids that we are, we decided to see both on the same weekend – a rare one in which we had not much planned.

We learned going to a movie is more complicated than it used to be.

To begin with, seats are reserved and tickets purchased in advance. This can still be achieved upon arrival at the theater, but if it’s a popular movie, as these were, I would think that is not advised. You might arrive at the theater and find the movie you want to see is sold out, or you’ll be sitting on the front two rows (a nonstarter for me).

The process now is to go online, pick the movie you want to see, the theater in which you want to see it and your preferred time. You can then pull up a seating chart and see what seats are available.

If you already have an account with the company that provides the booking service and your payment information is saved, you simply hit OK and you are all set. The virtual tickets are emailed to you. (If you don’t have an account, you can set one up or sign in as a guest.)

I say all this as if I breezed right through it, which is not the case. As it is with anything in my marriage that requires advance planning, my spouse did it all.

We planned to see Downton Abbey Saturday and Top Gun Sunday, but good seats for Sunday’s Top Gun showings were already gone. We decided to wait until after work Monday to see Top Gun.

(In the meantime, I found a way to watch the original Top Gun on a streaming service, which helped refresh my memory of the storyline.)

I must say it was nice to be in a movie theater again. I appreciate how theaters always keep it nice and cool, which is welcome relief from the summer heat.

I spotted an area where a person without advance-purchased tickets could select seats and purchase tickets on the spot. There were about a half-dozen people gathered there and from what I could surmise, these were uninformed folks who had no idea they could not walk in and see a movie like the old days, with seats first-come, first-serve.

I saw one couple who looked to be around my age, both of whom looked dazed and confused as a theater employee showed them a screen with available seats and tried to explain the process. Because it made me uncomfortable, I looked away.

But believe me, I am not judging. Were I not married to someone who takes care of these things, I could have been right there with them.

At the theater in Cool Springs, there are many options for refreshments. You can even order something and have it delivered to your seat.

Because of the frugality gene with which I have always been blessed and which I still nurture, I opted out. (Ask my adult children how often they were permitted to buy popcorn when they went to movies while growing up.)

Before my hiatus, the theaters had already installed the plush, comfortable seats. I am happy to say that feature remains. Being in a climate-controlled venue in a seat I could sink into was just what I needed on a hot day.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Finding a reserved seat in this setup is not as easy as one might think.

Seats are arranged in typical fashion, with each row having a letter and seats having numbers. Accordingly, the first order of business is to find your row.

Simple enough, right?

Not exactly.

For whatever reason, the design of the carpet on the theater rows is like “Magic Eye,” the series of books popular in the '90s. Each book featured drawings or pictures containing hidden images that could only be seen by focusing one’s eyes a certain way.

At the movie theater, it is similar. The carpet is multi-colored and the letter is hidden among the colors. I know the designer would deny that, but I am relating my personal experience.

For the Downton Abbey movie, I never saw the letter for our row. I simply followed my wife to the seat.

When we went to see Top Gun, she pointed it out to me, and I finally saw it.

I was not alone in my bewilderment. We had end seats for both movies, and my wife helped several groups figure out how to see the letters hidden in the carpet indicating their row.

Returning to the movie theater after a long absence, my reviews would be mostly positive. The temperature is still comfortable, as are the seats.

Selecting seats and paying in advance is certainly a plus, eliminating long lines. I can’t speak to the food and drink options because I declined those, but I saw plenty of folks munching and drinking and seeming to enjoy themselves. Maybe at my advanced age I should now indulge myself.

My only suggestion would be to upgrade the carpet so it is only two different colors, allowing the letters on the rows to be more easily seen. I am not interested in playing "Magic Eye" when I go to a movie.

Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, happy husband and proud father, father-in-law and grandfather. Email him at [email protected].

Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, happy husband and proud father, father-in-law and grandfather.