There is something just so incalculably joyful about watching the Millennium Falcon speed through the universe in “Star Wars The Force Awakens” then tilting your head ever so slightly upward to count the real stars in the heavens.
Yes, the stars — and “Star Wars” — really were out last night on Ambergris Caye in Belize.
Outside, that is.
Since its opening last November, the Truck Stop has steadily become the social center of life “north of the bridge” on Ambergris Caye. Besides its two fine restaurants, the complex has an ice cream shop, a cheerful bar, a Sunday pig roast and corn-hole tournament, live music, a horseshoes pit, a sunset-friendly dock, hammocks, picnic tables and chairs — lots and lots of clam-shell chairs in which to just sit and visit or gaze out on the tranquility of the lagoon.
Recently, Ben and Joanna Popik introduced Wednesday night movies on the lagoon.
For last night’s island debut of “Star Wars,” the joint was jumping. Families came out, yoga retreaters from nearby Ak’Bol, expats, locals and tourists, too.
Ben wisely encouraged people to bring their own chairs and fortunately a lot of folks listened. It was SRO all night long, even in the dining area far removed from the movie screening.
It wasn’t just about the movie. Or the great food from Adam and Jackie Feldman’s Rasa and Arepa restaurants. As I said, the Truck Stop is now a neighborhood hangout.
No. Check that.
It is an island hangout.
A lot of its success has to do with the generosity of spirit of the complex’s founders. It is the feeling, simply put from the moment you arrive, that you are welcome. Welcome to play games by the lagoon, welcome to hang out on the dock, welcome to sit and visit with friends, welcome to come listen to the music, welcome to watch a movie, welcome to gather around the fire pit while the pig turns on the spit.
You are just welcome.
If you wish to buy an ice cream cone, a meal or a drink, well, that’s fine too. And you won’t be disappointed if you do. But the Truck Stop won’t be disappointed if you don’t.
The movies are a recent development. Ben and Joanna are filmmakers by profession and film buffs by passion. Their picks have been varied and mainstream — “Three Amigos,” “Creed,” “The Princess Bride.” Most recently, they screened the “Blue Planet” documentary.
The movie screen was originally built right into the dock. You could watch the sun set over then lagoon and then catch a flick on the pop-up screen. That was fine, as long as the crowd was small.
But a curious thing happened a few weeks ago that changed everything, during the screening of the original “Ghostbusters.”
I was there so I can assure you that this is true.
It was a classic Ambergris evening — comfortable with the slightest hint of a breeze, clear skies above and flat lagoon waters below.
The move was playing well. In other words, holding up against its 1984 origins. A little dated but still entertaining in all its silliness.
At the movie’s climactic moment, when Gozer The Destructor, is unleashed and all hell breaks out in New York City. (No, that is a literal statement . . . all hell does break out in New York. Check it out. It’s in the movie.)
At this very moment, a wind rears up like a demonic freight train from hell and rips across the lagoon, smack into the dock filled with people. The movie screen folds in half, and reopens like a crazy accordion, over and over, warping the movie into a postage stamp and then back to full size. Hats and plates and cups fly into the water as the fierce blow surprises the bejezzus out of everyone.
The screen untethers from the dock and sails into the lagoon as a pelting rain begins to fall.
We jump up and lash the screen frame to the dock before grabbing audio and projector equipment and head for dry ground and shelter.
As far as movie special effects go, this had to be the best ever.
We never did get to see if the Ghostbusters were able to subdue Gozer and his minions and save New York City and the world. (And I will make no Donald Trump jokes here.)
I was thinking of this moment as I sat last night with Rose and friends watching “Star Wars” on the new screen, positioned safely on land.
As much as I enjoyed the movie, I was soaking up the feeling of celebration and camaraderie that enveloped the outdoors audience.
And as I looked up to the real stars above, I thought: “Wouldn’t it be freaking awesome if a meteor crashed through the atmosphere and landed in the lagoon, just behind the movie screen? Like, at this very moment?”