There were even dedicated machines for rewinding tapes! And there were stickers on the tapes that read, "Be kind, please rewind." With a smiley face. Even the process of bringing the movie back and handing it over, or of missing closing time and having to go to that metal bin stationed outside, sticking it through the slot and hearing it clatter in the digestive system of the video rental system.
The worst was when somebody else in the family rented a movie, brought it back late, and then when you went to get yours, there was a bill due that you had to pay if you wanted to rent something else. Although one of the glories of life was when someone behind the counter, maybe because he or she thought you were cute, would bypass the system and let you rent anyway, without paying the piper. That was their privilege to bestow. They could wave away the past just like that. Jubilee! At least for a while.
There are so many things to remember about a process that our kids will never know. The medium has died and so has the second-growth forest that grew up around it. Pulling on my best shorts and speeding along the backroads to the store, I never imagined that the rental store was built on the husk of a previous industry, and on back and on back. That it had been a scavenger industry first and only later the apex predator I encountered. And that later, it would fail to grow and therefore die because the next generation of hormonal teenagers would choose to do something else. It all felt so normal back then, just how it was.
During a time when there was precious little public space in the 'burbs, when we made friends at malls, before social media layered new connectivity over these landscapes, the video store was exactly what we needed it to be: a place to go.
I can almost imagine Fellini's daydreams, the ones that coalesced into Amarcord. The glories of the past, seasons passing, everything always ending, humans desperately trying to fill in the beginning and middle.
To get that movie, or any Fellini, we had to go to a different place: Movie Madness in Portland, which stocked all the great directors, and organized their store according to their last names. They Respect the Auteur! None of this genre crap. And they will survive. They will survive.
Then I'll look up and we'll be standing in the parking lot across from Izzy's pizza and it will be raining. My son will be like, "Yeah, whatever, Dad. You're old."
But maybe he'll remember one of the movies I mentioned, and when we get home, he'll bring up Netflix3000 and say, "Let's watch Mallrats." And then I'll realize I've said too much.