In Bend, Oregon, Blockbuster Rewinds the Past

Cartoon by Isabella Bannerman (2002)

Once as common as Starbucks with over 9,000 U.S. outlets, Blockbuster is down to one. The two other remaining stores closed this past weekend in Alaska. Even John Oliver couldn’t keep them in business, gifting Russell Crowe’s “Cinderella Man” jockstrap to the Anchorage location as a way of enticing people into the store.

One would think that had as good a chance as any to hold back the tide of Netflix and Prime Video destroying their business.

I could no more find a movie I wanted to rent at Blockbuster than I can find one online today. I would wander the aisles forever, like today I click through the choices on my Apple TV, with nothing sparking much interest. If I had wanted to see it, I would have already.

The lone exception has proven to be a curse to my family, and a comfort to me. On a Blockbuster store’s monitor, I noticed a gripping scene from the first “Lord of the Rings” movie, which I had skipped in theaters, reckoning it couldn’t be worthy of the books I loved so much. Just a glance and I knew I had made a dreadful mistake. I rented the first film, went to see the next two in the theater, and eventually bought the DVD versions, the extended DVD versions, and the digital versions with their indispensable extra content. So for me, Blockbuster had become an educational, if not spiritual place for me. The fount of my LOTR adoration.

And, as my wife and kids will tell you, it made it unnecessary for me to try new films, when I had the standbys. When they overhear Gandalf cry, “Fly, you fools,” they fly, too, as far away from the TV as they can get.

Do not mourn the loss of Blockbuster too much. Experiencing lost moments from our youth can turn ugly fast, as I learned recently when a record store opened in our little town. As I flipped through the bins looking for Clash records, I felt like I was 17 again, like a long lost friend had miraculously returned into my life. Then I asked the store manager if he bought LPs, as well as sold them, since I had some I’d like to bring by. I was thinking my Blue Öyster Cult collection. He said they did, but then brusquely informed me that they weren’t interested in any Barbra Streisand records. “No Barbra,” he repeated, in case I missed his point.

What was it about me that this guy assumed I would even possess such an album? Was it the hair? The clothes? The fact that I was humming the title song from “The Main Event”? I just turned around and walked out, shaken, my inflated self-image as a Led Zeppelin-loving Dad punctured. I wasn’t even seen as a classic rock guy! I mean, I’ve heard Babs on the radio, she’s fine, but…

Don’t revisit the good old days. They’re just misty, water-colored memories.

So goodbye, Blockbuster. All at-best-okay things must come to an end, unless you live in Bend, Oregon, where the last one is still hanging on. Maybe you’ll see a movie on the monitor that makes all other movies unnecessary, as I did. Maybe you’ll see a “Be Kind, Rewind” sign, and recall your old VCR, which once seemed so miraculous, until you tried to work it. Maybe you’ll pay a late fee, and feel nostalgic. Maybe there’s a Barbra section, where Kris Kristofferson is still not wearing his shirt.

But you won’t see the Russell Crowe jockstrap. The Anchorage store manager is returning it to John Oliver.

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