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I guess I just like liking things

I'll never forget you because I can't fully remove the sticker residue from these used movies I bought

I’ll never forget you because I can’t fully remove the sticker residue from these used movies I bought

For five summers I traveled with a singing and drama group representing the college I attended. We generally had appearances every day except Mondays and Saturdays, with Mondays being our official “day off” (Saturdays were for traveling). We were in Canada on one particular Monday and the ladies in the group were off doing “high tea” on an island at somewhere fancy. We had voted to let them use the entertainment fund for this, so there wasn’t much else for the guys to do. I suggested we pool some of our personal money and rent a system and some games for the day, so we nipped off to the local Blockbuster to see what was what.

It wasn’t an option the whole time Blockbuster was in business, but for a time your account was a “nationwide” account, so if you were registered, you could rent from any Blockbuster without creating a new account at each store. Since Canada is so nice, they let Blockbuster include them in the nationwide plan, and I was able to rent a Sega Saturn and a couple of games with no trouble at all (I don’t remember what games). The next day, we returned the stuff and went on our way to the next concert.

And now, 14+ years later, Blockbuster is out of business. They had a good run, but technology bested them (as it does many things), and they couldn’t adapt. They were a shared cultural experience most of us had, and it’s a little strange that we won’t feel its absence much. We’ve got Netflix now, and Redbox, and Amazon Instant, and Xbox Video, and Hulu, and bittorrent (if you’re nasty), and however many other things. We can dial stuff up on our phones during our commute, if we don’t mind not having any battery left for the day. We’ve got movies all over the place.

None of that really captures that feel, though, of walking up and down the aisles and asking the teenager behind the counter “what’s good” as if they somehow had special knowledge just because they worked there. Now we ask the Internet and it answers “Everything is good” and “Nothing is good” at the same time about everything, so really, the Internet is a surly Blockbuster employee, another way Blockbuster will live on. We can flip through Netflix’s offerings, stopping every so often to read descriptions, and sometimes just the act of flipping through satisfies our entertainment needs for the evening and we run out of time to watch two hours of something, so we just put on the next episode of Scrubs again, but it’s fine, we can watch a movie some other day. We’ve got all these options, see, so it’ll be fine.

But it’s kind of like McDonald’s a little, I think.  I like going to McDonald’s. I’m there once a week or so. But a McDonald’s hamburger isn’t near as good as something my wife makes. (Please note: I am not being sexist here, I just have a wife who not only loves to cook, she’s wonderful at it. If you want me to make you something you’re getting Kraft Mac and Cheese, a frozen pizza, or some cookies.) If my wife tells me ahead of time that she’s making something awesome, I’m not going to get home after work and say, “Let’s just go to McDonald’s.” If I was headed to Blockbuster, I was going to get something with the intent to watch it that night. If I didn’t watch it that night, not only have I wasted my time, I’ve wasted the money to rent it. The monthly fee for Netflix means I might or I might not. The $1.20 for a Redbox movie doesn’t represent a firm commitment, either. But, man, that $3 at Blockbuster better not got to waste!

Please don’t take this to mean I think too many choices and too much availability is a bad thing – I think it’s way better! I just know that Blockbuster served a specific purpose and it did its job pretty well for being an unstoppable behemoth for a while. There are still smaller video rental places (like this one!) and I hope there always will be. The people running smaller stores are the ones passionate about movies – it’s their life, after all, not just their profession. Ask these folk for suggestions and you’re way more likely to get worthwhile ones. Just, you know, don’t pester them.

So I’ve kind of lost my way here. It started as a “memories of Blockbuster” and then turned into “Blockbuster did some good” mixed with “but they also did some bad” and now it’s a “make sure to support your local video place.” I think I’ll just say “Goodbye, Blockbuster” and end with some modified Shakespeare:

I come to bury Blockbuster, not to praise him.

The evil that men do lives after them;

The good is oft interred with their bones;

So let it be with Blockbuster.

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