How I would love to be kind, and rewind to the bygone days of video rental stores

In 2022, we are absolutely spoilt for choice on a programming front.

Streaming services have put an embarrassment of riches at our fingertips, allowing us to take in as much of what we want, whenever we want, for however long we want.

Do I feel like marathoning JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure? Sweet, fire up Crunchyroll. Perhaps I’m in the mood for revisiting Death Becomes Her? No problem, it’s over on Netflix. What if I’m looking for a completely unbalanced algorithm that sabotages upcoming creators in favour of pushing the same garbage down my throat? Great, that would be YouTube!

Such convenience is an absolute blessing, though I must confess that I do have a soft spot for the brick-and-mortar rental stores of yesteryear.

When I was a kid, the trip to Blockbuster was an event unto itself. You’d probably have a rough idea what you were after, while still allowing fate to dictate what you would ultimately walk away with. Lacking the pressure of a longterm purchase, the stakes allowed you to be much bolder.

What was it about Ka-Blooey’s packaging that caught my eye? The isometric puzzler involved safely detonating bombs on a map, taking into consideration the various obstacles marring your progress. On surface value alone, that sounds like a very un-Tony game for my childhood interests, and yet, it has stuck with me ever since.

G-g-g-g-get ready, ready, g-g-g-g-g-get!

As I grew older and my friendship group flourished (a trend that would continue until I reached my 30s, at which point my social bubble popped into a life of spectacular solitude), we would begin to collaborate on our efforts for a full-blown movie night.

Someone brought Donnie Brasco? Fantastic! Someone else brought Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze? Even fucking better.

It was a melting pot of opportunity, intersecting our own particular interests with whatever happened to be available at the time. Every now and then, you’d encounter a dud where the video cassette was in such poor condition, the whole image would distort into a mess of static. Not coincidentally, this most often occurred whenever there were boobies onscreen.

When I first moved out of home, we had a rental store just down the road from our apartment, and I regret not having taken better advantage of this than I had. A particular highlight was the time we attempted to rent Baby Geniuses 2, only to find that the last remaining copy had been stolen.

Take a moment to consider that: someone committed a felony, solely so that they could claim possession of the cinematic classic that is SuperBabies: Baby Geniuses 2, a film that one critic outright declared as child abuse. I shudder to think what the late fee would be, almost a decade later.

The day that store had a closing down sale, disposing of all of their remaining stock, may have been exciting at the time (I bought The Care Bears Adventure in Wonderland). In hindsight, it was a true tragedy.

No longer could I saunter on down to the rental store, and end up with something weird or wonderful. The way technology had evolved had made it a foregone conclusion: there was no way this outdated retail service could compete against the immediacy that was present online.

Nowadays, I could not direct you to my nearest rental store. I’m not sure where they even exist. The Blockbuster of my youth is but a distant memory, with apparently only one Oregon outlet remaining in operation.

Courtesy of Blockbuster Bend Facebook page

This claim to fame has possibly helped to elevate it from the brink; “the last Blockbuster store in existence” has more appeal than “the last of several”, after all. Despite this, even its presence is likely ephemeral.

“I think we have a couple more years left,” general manager Sandi Harding said in an August interview with KTLA’s Rich DeMuro.

In much the same vein as Toys R Us or Zellers, we all longed to preserve these relics of the past, but were either too powerless or too invested in the competition to actively do anything about it.

And so, they died. A little piece of us died, too.

The only solace we can take is that, bit by bit, those above two examples appear to be creeping back into existence. The latter is especially cathartic to my fractured soul, as I have truly missed seeing Zeddy’s inviting smile.

Admittedly, their appeal is much more evergreen than something as archaic as video rental, so it’s little more than a pipe dream to assume that that industry could ever make a comeback. Beyond a pipe dream, in fact. It’s more of a dirty sock dream; the kind that falls behind the chest of drawers, never to be seen or thought of again.

But hey, if it ever did happen, I would be among the first to pay a visit, and see if I could finally track down Baby Geniuses 2 once and for all. I just need to know what makes those SuperBabies so gosh darn super!

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