The video rental store near my home had a room in the back that you entered through a pair of saloon-style swinging half-doors. The room was low-lit with a reddish tint and greeted customers with a sign, set at eye-level for the average 11-year-old boy, that read, “Must Be 18 or Older to Enter This Room.” My under-18 friends and I would pretend to be really interested in the titles adjacent to this room.
“Oh, wow, I didn’t know that this, uh, French film was available already,” I would say, studying the cover of the movie and glancing sideways every few seconds like I’d been electrocuted.
My friend would mosey on over to me. “Ah,” he would say, touching the side of a different movie while he looked over the swinging doors to our neighborhood’s slice of Bourbon Street. “This is supposed to be really…uh…interesting. Isn’t it starring someone famous?”
“Yes,” I would answer, pointing to yet a different movie while I peered through the slats in the swinging doors. “I think this is supposed to be John Candy’s best work.”
But physical video stores started to die long before Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy. When Netflix hit the market, I was one of the first to sign up. I remember creating a spreadsheet that would show me how to maximize the number of movies I could see in a month. After a well-spent hour of my employer’s time setting up the queue of movies I wanted to see, the only step left to execute was to watch the movie the moment I saw that red envelope in my mailbox. It was perfect.
Perfect, that is, until a movie arrived that I did not want to watch at that particular moment. When I was choosing the movies, I always had very high standards, and chose movies that close friends had informed me that I absolutely had to see if we were going to continue being friends. But sometimes, after a hard day in the cubicles, I did not feel like digging in to “Breaking the Waves” or “Mulholland Drive,” but instead wanted to watch a few hours of people on television yelling at each other.
So I would go one day without watching the Netflix movies, and then another day, and another, until I was so depressed about not watching it the moment it came in that I couldn’t even think about the movie without getting sick. Why, you ask, did I not just return the movie without watching it? Because that would have been a waste of money.
All that Netflix dysfunctionality is behind me, however. These days I use Redbox. Just go to my local supermarket, approach the giant red box, select my movie, and swipe my card. The movies cost between $1 and $2, and even if I’m late I’m charged only another dollar per day. I get the instant gratification of Blockbuster, with the low prices of Netflix. It’s so ideal that I’m wondering how long it will last.
Because history teaches us that convenient and inexpensive sources of movies don’t last. The price of a Redbox movie will start to climb, or the selection will get worse, or there will be stories of people being swallowed alive by the giant red boxes, and I’ll have to go off in search of another source of movies.
And as I drive around the neighborhood, maybe I’ll come to stop in front of my local movie theater. As if under a spell, I’ll get out of my car and walk in and pay the exorbitant sum for an adult ticket. And I’ll sit in the theater, and let the movie envelop me, and I’ll forget all my worries about where to get movies.