Sorry, Out on Rental
by David Armand
I still own a VCR. And I still have a collection of tapes to go with it. So when I read last month that the final video cassette recorders were going into production, thus officially marking the end of home entertainment as I once knew it, a part of me grew very sad.
Coming up in the early-to-mid nineteen eighties, video rental stores were a huge part of my childhood experience. I can still remember, for example, “National Video” in Covington, which was next to Winn-Dixie, and the tan plastic cases with orange lettering on them that they kept their movies in. It was a small store, though, and their prices were high.
Not far down the road from there, and even better, was “Video Co-op” (which later became “Pat’s Video”), where you had to bring the box of the movie that you wanted up to the guy at the counter. Then he would pull the rental case from a number-lined shelf behind him. This was before computers, of course, so he would have to write down your name and the number that corresponded to the movie that you were renting on a little blue index card, which he then filed away in a plastic box under the counter until you returned the tape the next day. The last step was for him to put a yellow band around the movie, which said, “Out on Rent,” or some variation thereof, before returning the movie case to its spot on the shelf.
As a kid, this was all very magical to me. Not just the movies themselves, of course, but the experience of going to the store, browsing the shelves, reading the summaries on the back of each box, then finally taking my selections up to the counter. Nothing can replace that. With Redbox, Netflix, video onDemand, and other online streaming services, part of that magic is definitely gone. But seeing people’s recent nostalgia over the Netflix series, Stranger Things, it makes me wonder how needed a local, mom-and-pop video rental store might be in our communities.
In the 90s, a small video store called “Movie World” opened up in Folsom, the little one-red-light village where I grew up. It was a thrill to not have to drive twenty-five minutes to Covington anymore to rent movies or Nintendo games, or to have to choose from the very limited selections in Folsom’s many, seemingly ubiquitous convenience stores: Jr. Food Mart, John’s Curb Market, or another one that was known only as “the blue store.” That’s not to say that those places didn’t have their perks: Jr. Food Mart, for example, sold fried chicken and potato wedges, cheeseburgers wrapped in tin foil, which were kept under a heat lamp for God knows how long; John’s Curb Market sold Slush Puppies, the alternate version of the ICEE (and which was far superior, in my opinion, with its little pebbles of ice swimming in all that nectar-flavored juice); and, of course, “the blue store,” which had oily cement floors and sold Barq’s root beer in sweaty brown bottles. These amenities made up for those places’ lack of movie rental selections when you didn’t feel like driving all the way to Covington.
But Movie World, right in the center of Folsom, was a great development and, dare I say, cultural addition to our little town. We went there practically every weekend, and even sometimes on the weekdays after school. My older sister got a job there. It was like heaven. I remember the owner, Bob, and his impromptu movie reviews based on your selections. He would tell you before you forked over your two bucks if the movie you picked out was any good or not. (You eventually learned to trust his opinion based on mutual taste.)
Another development of that time was that the Sega Genesis had replaced Nintendo in popularity (at least in my mind, since I had a Genesis) by then and I can remember receiving unsolicited game reviews from one of Mr. Bob’s employees—an older guy with a brown mullet named Deuce (for the record, I thought Deuce was pretty cool back then, as he not only knew a lot about Sega games, but he also had a vast knowledge of horror movies, which I was really into at the time).
I also remember that grainy quality of the tapes we rented, and how some of the movies that were shelved near the large window at the front of the store were often sun-faded so that it was hard to read the text on the box.
Now, despite all of that charm, if you did still make the drive to Covington to what was then Pat’s Video, a very effeminate man with glossy fingernails would often comment on your selection. His reaction was always that of surprise (or disdain) at your rental choices. One time, when my brother and I rented Uncle Buck, he looked at us with a suspicious grin on his face, then asked, “Uncle Buck? Come on, what are you two up to?” It was as though renting that particular movie carried with it some secret stigma, but it didn’t matter. The point is that it was that everyday human interaction—that personal conversation that came with renting movies—that mattered. That’s what it seems we are losing more and more of every day, and in almost every aspect of our lives.
But all of this was great back then—like I said, magical—so much so that my family had by this point amassed quite a large collection of VHS tapes. We had hundreds of movies stacked on shelves under our TV, and my grandparents had a library of BetaMax tapes in their house in New Orleans. Watching movies and quoting from those movies was a family tradition that seems to have died along with the stores themselves.
Now I’m not trying to sound like someone resentfully lamenting the “good ole days,” even though I do miss that particular aspect of my past—renting and watching movies—and it does make me sad that my children won’t get to experience that, but I guess I just want to remember, kind of like a eulogy, the good things about something that has passed on, in hopes that others will remember it, too.
And, as a lagniappe, here is a list of my #Top7Films from that time:
The Shining, by Stanley Kubrick
Born on the Fourth of July, by Oliver Stone
Carrie, by Brian De Palma
Fargo, by the Coen brothers
The Silence of the Lambs, by Jonathan Demme
A Clockwork Orange, by Stanley Kubrick
Platoon, by Oliver Stone