In early November, news came that Blockbuster would be shutting its doors for good. All but a handful of stores were scheduled to close shop, officially signaling the end of an era.
And while I’m not distraught over Blockbuster going out of business, I am saddened by what it represents. With the rise of streaming video services, this day has been a long time coming. I can’t argue against the convenience of these services, but to quote a friend, I won’t have any fond memories of browsing my Netflix queue.
I suppose that at the age of 25, stepping into a video store now wouldn’t fill me the same type of glee it once did, but there’s a lot I miss about that weekly expedition — walking in on a Friday night, at the outset of the weekend, and seeing shelves full of possibilities. Like anyone else, I loved finding a good movie on VHS or DVD, but that wasn’t my first priority. I always dashed straight for the games and began rummaging for what I wanted to take home with me.
Once I’d made a selection, I’d grab the box and take it to the front counter. The clerk would search the drawers and cabinets for what I’d chosen, and then put the cartridge into the plastic clamshell rental case. For a short time, that game belonged to me. And it was always exciting. There is no way to replicate the feeling of riding home in the back seat of your parents’ car, with a warm pizza box on your lap, and a weekend’s worth of fun and adventure in a cartridge in your hands.
My family didn’t frequent Blockbuster. Most of the time we’d simply stop by our local mom-n-pop video store instead. Rentals, both movies and games, were a dollar a day, but new releases were two bucks. The owners knew us by name, often setting aside movies they thought we might like to rent. Occasionally, they’d even give me a movie poster they knew I wanted. They were great, and were around for a long, long time. Their store was a neighborhood institution, but unfortunately, they, too, were done in by Netflix.
It’s a sad thought, knowing that kids now and in the future will never know the joy of going to the video store on a Friday night. Whether it was with my parents, or when I was sleeping over at a friend’s house, it was often the highlight of my week.
For as much as we love the accessibility that modern technology affords us, there’s something to be said about delayed gratification and the build-up of anticipation. I always looked forward to visiting the video store, whether it was to rent something new, or to take home the same game or movie for the hundredth time. Sometimes you’d run into one of your friends and show off what you were both renting. It’s the little things we sacrifice for the sake of convenience.
Like I said, we didn’t venture into Blockbuster often, but on those rare occasions, it was just a little more exciting than the mom-n-pop place. Blockbuster was flashier, and would sometimes have games or movies the local place didn’t. That said, they forced you to keep your rental for like a week, and at a much steeper rate. Of course, that didn’t really come into my thinking until years later.
I seem to remember that they rented game consoles, which I always thought was cool. I never got to do that, mind you, but it was still a novel concept. My fondest Blockbuster memory comes from taking my Pokémon Snap cartridge to the N64 kiosk in the store and printing out my pictures as stickers. I still have them somewhere.
The older I get, the more nostalgic I seem to become. It’s always an emotional gut punch every time I realize I’m closer to 30 than I am 18. My nieces and nephew often say things that make me feel ancient. “How do you not know about ______?!” I exclaim. Some of their slang confuses me, too. Of course I realize I’m not old old, but teenagers annoy the hell out of me now, even though it seems like it was just yesterday that I was one of them.
I’m still a kid at heart, though, and I always will be — even if I have a 5 o’clock shadow from not having shaved in three days (yes, my facial hair is sloth-like). I mean, do you really think an adult would be sitting here writing this in a Simpsons t-shirt and King of the Hill pajama pants at 3:30 in the afternoon? Still, though, there’s nothing like waking up to see a BuzzFeed list posted in your Facebook feed, detailing the ages of your favorite childhood cartoons to make you feel like a geezer.
It’s not that we aren’t looking forward to the future, but childhood is special. Only, you don’t really appreciate it until years later. It’s like the ‘Nard Dog, Andy Bernard once said, “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.”