It's fairly unusual to be handed a wooden paddle as you walk into the cinema. Yet this isn't any regular cinema. This is the Alamo Drafthouse, one of a chain of boutique-style theatres that regularly holds sing-alongs, quote-alongs and dance-alongs. We're in Austin, Texas (though the cashier assures us we can experience the Alamo in Denver, San Antonio, Winchester and New York as well).
My three friends and I have been in Austin a few days and have grown accustomed to the wide highways, dry heat and large meals. Innocently, we think to have a quiet night in to counteract the previous night's mechanical bull riding. So with aching muscles and yellowing bruises, we wander in to watch the cult classic Dazed and Confused by Richard Linklater. Little do we know it's a quote-along.
After being handed a paddle and coloured Textas to decorate aforementioned bats, we are shuffled into the darkening cinema and ushered to seats in the front row. Each pair of seats has a table between them and while some 1970s tunes play, a waiter comes and takes our order for water. The energetic, chatter-filled ambience gives me the sneaking suspicion this is not going to be the sedate night we were expecting.
Suddenly, a spotlight beams onto a door on the other side of the room and a stocky man in a Texas Longhorns baseball cap stands in front of the screen with a microphone. He explains the rules of the quote-along - only quote as the words on screen turn yellow and no chatting in between. The paddles are never explained.
The emcee quotes some choice lines from the movie and the four of us laugh nervously, having never seen it before. Everyone else chortles.
He then makes two volunteers stand up and haze the rest of the audience with high school-style haranguing. They are rewarded with applause for their efforts.
We learn this film was made in Austin, making it a bit of a cultural staple around here. On that note, the emcee exits stage right and the movie starts rolling.
As the film starts, our waiter returns with two bucket-size portions of icy water and we mentally strap in for whatever is about to happen. Luckily, the movie isn't a quote-along in its entirety as I had initially feared. It merely highlights certain iconic lines and memorable rants. Instead of being trying, the quote-along adds to the movie's enthusiastic, adolescent energy.
Maybe it's the uncanny audience impersonations, the comically timed paddle slaps on the tables or the film itself, but when it finishes, my friends and I step out into the crisp Texan winter night and can't stop laughing. It wasn't exactly the respite we had planned but it was a lot more memorable.
And as we hop into our vehicle and pull away from the car park, it's hard not to wonder what the locals would make of the hundreds of people walking out of the one building – each with a paddle, but no canoe.