Remember Renting Movies At the Video Store?

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.

17 thoughts on “Remember Renting Movies At the Video Store?

      1. Yes we did! It’s when videos first came out. No one owned a VCR. They would have cost $800 to buy! And you wouldn’t have been alone in figuring out how to hook them up. Many struggled with this. Microwaves had just come out as well and they were huge and loud and didn’t really heat or cook anything faster than an oven!

  1. I have a Netflix copy of “avatar” that I could have bought by now, I’ve had it so long. I can’t sit through the whole thing (I have major attention span problems) but I feel like I SHOULD. Maybe today I’ll send the damn thing back…or not.

    1. You definitely should watch it. The Navi are counting on you. Don’t you know that Avatar is the most important movie out there right now? It’s just so relevant to our times. The symbolism was so strong I had to chop down a tree just to take my mind off of it. But don’t worry – the tree wasn’t growing straight anyway, and I made sure to thank Eywa.

  2. We have one mom-and-pop video store left in my town, and they started back in the 80s. They survived the onslaught of the Blockbusters, the Rogers videos, the Movie Galleries, all of the big chains, and are now the only one left. And they still have the best popcorn.

  3. There’s no store, just a big red box, as tall as a very tall person. That’s the beauty of the thing. It has a touch screen where you select, a slot where you swipe your credit card, and a larger slot through which your DVD or Blu-Ray disc is dispensed. And that’s it. Return it to any other Redbox and you’re good. You can probably see pictures at Redbox(dot)com.

  4. Oh, I remember Blockbuster rentals. Haven’t done it in 10 years, but even though they’re bankrupt, I still get computer calls that I owe them $10 for a late charge. Go figure. I skipped NetFlix, and am all about Redbox. I love that you made a spreadsheet, by the way. That is so…ME. I do everything in Excel. 🙂

    1. Great minds think alike. You’re lucky the calls aren’t from a bankruptcy trustee. Although they probably sound like computers, so you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference anyway.

  5. In 1981 we represented a fellow involved in a business dispute. Our client and his estranged partner owned a video store. Our client had to explain to me from beginning to end what a videotape was, what a VCR was, and what a video store was. I then explained it to the judge in an affidavit. At that point in time, hardly anyone (including me, and including the judge) had ever heard of such a thing.

      1. Unfortunately, I don’t have the affidavit (typed on an IBM Selectric). I vividly remember, however, that I began it with something like “This is a new kind of business based on new technology . . .”

        You can probably get hard copy off microfilm at Suffolk Supreme the next time you’re there. I’ll give you the litigants’ names when I see you.

  6. Oh the wonders of the video store! Like my mom wondering how on earth we managed to lose “I Know What You Did Last Summer” and get charged 30.00 to replace it. I’m all about Redbox. Genius. Pure Genius.

    1. Maybe that’s what they did last summer – lose “I Know What You Did Last Summer” and get charged $30. Yes, Redbox is a gift. I just hope they have enough sense to leave it the way it is. Except get more Woody Allen movies.

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