Lee and I have a movie night about once a week. We’re probably among the few folks who haven’t started Netflixing yet. We simply pick something from our cable “on demand” menu, or run down the street and check out our options at the convenience store Redbox.
We never plan ahead. Half the time we don’t even decide it will be movie night until an hour or so before we plant our butts on the couch. Why would we, when we don’t have to – there’s horror, comedy, drama and romance (not that I ever try to get him to go for those) right there with the click of a remote or a trip down the street. No worrying about whether or not the video store is open. No worrying about everything we want to see being unavailable.
Umm … so what? That sounds like us and pretty much anyone reading this. Writing about how easy it is to get a movie now is sort of like blogging about having a computer or a cell phone. If I wasn’t the one writing this, I’d be saying “okay, and your point is? Bet you wipe yourself with toilet paper, too. Will you put up a blog post about that next?”
Never say never, but I’m not planning on it.
The movie thing just fascinates me because it puts me in an odd category. At 15, I got a work permit from my guidance counselor and landed an after-school job at a local video store. I worked there part-time until I was 19.
The store was less than a mile from where I now own a home. The building it was in sits empty now. It wasn’t a Blockbuster or any of the other big-time video store chains that had their day in the sun. It was a small business run by two guys who rented videos and did VCR repair on one side of the building, and ran a barber shop on the other.
Two other girls from my high school worked there with me. We stood behind a counter, with rows and rows of VCR tapes lined up in numerical order behind us. Out in front of us, the covers for the movies sat on shelves arranged under “comedy,” “romance,” “suspense,” “horror,” “thriller,” documentary,” etc. And of course, there was the inevitable “new release” shelf.
Customers would browse and bring the covers to us. We’d look at the number hand-written in black marker on the cover and swap it out for the VCR tape that matched it. We’d put the cover in the slot on our shelf where the tape had been – that was how the customers knew the movie wasn’t available anymore. We’d ring up the rentals on a clanky old cash register – $1.00 for old movies and $2.00 for new releases. The movies were due back the next day, or the customer would be charged an extra dollar. We kept tabs on who owed what on little paper receipts in a small file cabinet that looked like a recipe box. When the videos came back, we put the covers back out on the browsing shelves.
In the back of the store, there was a dark room no bigger than a closet. It was what we all jokingly called “the perv room,” which of course meant it was where the X-rated movies were kept. I don’t think everyone who watches pornos is a perv now. But when you’re 16 or 17 and your beer-bellied neighbor who has a terminal case of plumber’s crack rents “Bad Mamma Jamma” or “Hung Guns” from you …let’s just say you kinda wanna go home and take a long hot shower.
The perv room worked the same way as the main area. Customers went in, browsed the jackets, and selected their movies. When they returned them, we had to go back there and re-shelve the jackets. We weren’t allowed to do that until we turned 18. That meant that on the workday closest to your 18th birthday, the others saved the perv jackets for you all day, and you had a stack bigger than you could carry in one trip to shelve when your shift started. It was a video store clerk’s rite of passage.
I learned a lot working in the video store. Some of it was stuff I’d rather not have known. I probably could have grown old happily without ever realizing that one of my friend’s dads had a serious foot fetish, or that there were 4 or 5 guys in the neighborhood who came in and rented 2 or 3 pornos EVERY single night, and extra ones on Saturdays because we were closed on Sundays.
There was a couple who came in every weekend and stocked up on “love stories,” as they were sometimes jokingly called. About two years before I left the video store, my father left his job and went into business running his first bar/restaurant. The place he bought needed a ton of work, and he had a crew of friends who were in various trades to help him do everything from build the roof to wire the electricity.
One day when the new bar was close to opening, I came by to check it out. The parking lot was alive with the clanging of hammers and the laughter of men at work. One of the guys who had been up on the roof climbed down so that my dad could introduce him to his daughter. It was the male half of the weekend “love story” couple.
“Hey, that’s my porno girl,” he grinned broadly.
Luckily my dad knew the ins and outs of my part-time job. I imagine most fathers would be a little flipped out by having someone greet their daughter that way.
So yes, there was that. But I learned a lot of other things about my neighborhood from that little job too. I learned that the elderly couple who always bitched about kids cutting across their yard came in hand-and-hand and rented old movies with excited smiles on their faces. I learned that the single mom who lived around the corner rented kid’s movies so that her children would be occupied while she studied for her nursing degree at night. I learned that the police officer who came in a few times a week only rented comedies because he saw enough blood and horror in real life, and that women in their 50’s loved “chick flick nights” as much as me and my girlfriends did. I met an elderly widower who rented all his wife’s favorite movies and watched them each year on her birthday.
I’d always make sure his wife’s movies were available for him, and I’d hide the best new funny flicks until the cop came in. I knew the waitress who worked across the street liked to watch something with Mel Gibson in it on Saturday nights, so I’d set aside one I was pretty sure she hadn’t seen.
Every now and then, a harried family would bring in a broken VCR. The repairman came in a few days a week, and worked from the basement. Once, he called us downstairs to have a look at what he’d found. He’d opened up a VCR to find it crawling with roaches. They oozed out and scuttled across his worktable.
After that, the latest Jason Voorhees in a hockey mask I’d been planning to spook myself with that night didn’t seem so scary.
The video store closed down a few years after I quit. It was eaten alive by a Blockbuster opening close by. The video store chains killed most of the little local shops years before Netflix and On Demand would have done so anyway.
As a busy woman who would rather pick up her remote than try her luck at a mom-and-pop video shop, I am as in love with the conveniences of today as anyone else. But it makes me a little sad to know that I had a “teen job” that taught me so much about my little corner of humanity that no college-bound girl would be able to experience today.
I learned so much about my neck of the woods working in that video store. Somehow, I just don’t think you get the same insider’s look working at McDonald’s. Everyone either does or doesn’t want fries with that. But as a small-town video store clerk, I saw a thousand quirks and oddities. Some were ugly, but many were beautiful. You discover so much about people when your job is to help them find the movies that suit their lives.
I’m just barely dipping my toes into middle age, and I once had a job that pretty much doesn’t exist anymore. The only little video stores I see around here now are pretty much one big “perv room.” I don’t think the experience of working in them would be quite the same.
What about you? Did you have a job somewhere along the way that doesn’t exist anymore because of all the changes in our world? Do our gains with change outweigh our losses?
Note: I wasn’t sure what made me want to write this post at first. But in reflecting, I think it may have been a reaction of sorts to the news of Borders going out of business. After all, this is just an older example of technology and convenience changing the tides and the way we do business …