Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Passing of an ERA (Ever Rapid Anachronism)

So I'm sitting there in the parking lot of a mall late last evening because my wife wanted ice cream. She went into the super market to make her selections and I waited in the car. Most of the smaller stores along the wings were closed, only a few of the bigger stores were open. The super market, obviously, a Borders Bookstore, a drug store and an Office Depot.

That Office Depot is the newest store there, less than a year old.

But it wasn't the newest store that caught my attention.

It was the ones that were missing in the wing behind me. I could see this stretch of stores in my rear view mirror. They were all closed for the night, but their signs sill were lit and a few overnight lambs dimly shown somewhere beyond the display windows. In the middle, though, it was completely dark. It was like looking at a smile with the two front teeth missing. Those two stores weren't just closed, they were kaput, out of business.

The one had been so almost a year. It had just opened a couple of years ago on the cusp of cutting edge. It was being readied at the time my son was out of work and he applied there without success. He was disappointed. He thought it would be a good opportunity. The place was called Theater XTreme. It sold and installed home theater systems. As it turned out, he landed a job elsewhere about a month later where he has done well ever since and Theater Xtreme tanked, along with the housing bubble and the economy, a few months later.

The black hole next door was different. That store had been in there since the mall had opened several years ago. It use to be swarming with people with long lines at the checkout and long hours every day.
I was there many times when my kids were in their teens. Now it was dark. It closed about three weeks ago. It took me back thirty years to a war

No, not the Vietnam conflict, that was over by this time. I was thinking of the outcome of the Video Home System (VHS) and BetaMax war. There is probably a lesson for nations in that war, for everything I've ever heard, BetaMax was the superior product, but VHS won.

I had an early VHS player-recorder. It was a monster, kind of bulky and not very pretty, with too many dials and buttons. It didn't have user-friendly anywhere in the thick instruction booklet. It had a long row of little dip-switches in the back. You had to flick each of these in certain patterns to receive the TV shows in your area through this box. It was a time consuming and frustrating exercise until you got all the switches correctly aligned.

Once setup, it was exciting. Now I could record films off the TV.

It had been a dream of mine as a teen and young man to own my favorite movies. I knew it would never be possible. I bought a movie projector and some films. These were 8-mm. The average movie in those days ran 90 minutes. There reels ran perhaps twenty. Obviously you were getting the Reader's Digest version of the film. This was true theater xtreme.

And they were silent. There was no room on an 8-mm for a sound track. Editors had inserted some snippets of dialogue written on signs here and there in the film. Actually, most weren't even dialogue; they were cues, like "Later..." or "Back in the laboratory..."

But this is what I could afford. You could buy actual full length 35-mm sound movies if you were wealthy and could afford them. occasionally you'd read about kings and potentates and tycoons who enjoyed their own home theaters. It was rare, though, until after the VHS and BetaMax war.

Now you too could enjoy real hollywood films at home. Buying them was still too rich for my blood. A VHS film cost about $100 at first. That was when the video store was born.

It was as if there had been an orgy of entrepreneurs and they all got pregnant. Video stores popped up like Starbucks did years later. Every mall with more than three shops seemed to have a video store. Most were mom & pop enterprises. Two miles from my house were four such places. I joined two of them.

Yes, I said joined.  Those first stores required memberships. You filled out an application, gave them your credit card number and paid a yearly dues, about $35 to $60. Some places offered a lifetime membership that only cost a few dollars more, so I had a lifetime membership in my favorite one.

You got a couple videos for that and for every ten you rented, you would get one free. I got a lot of free videos early on.

Of course,  seeing the success of these places brought out the big boys and chain stores appeared on the horizon. Over the years the mom & pop ones gradually thinned out as large coat-to-coast franchises slipped into the malls. Some smaller shops survived by specializing. I use to frequent one that had a ton of old movies you just couldn't find at the super stores. As big as places like West Coast Video and such were, they didn't have room for more than recent releases and bestsellers.

On the heels of this rental boom, the purchase price of videos dropped. In a few years you could actually afford to own your very own movies. The price had sunk from $100 to under $20. Things were to change rapidly ever after. BetaMax was completely gone from any shelves. VHS eventually had competition from DVDs and tape began getting less and less shelf space. (The last big distributor of VHS tape closed down in December 2008.)

Now you could view new films on your TV or download them to the computer. A place called Netflix came into existence and the late fee disappeared. Ah, the late fee. You could only rent over night once upon a time, except on the weekend. You could rent on Saturday and not have to bring it back until Monday. But if you didn't return your video by a certain time of day, you got hit with a late fee, which equaled one day's rental cost.  You could also be charged a fee if you returned the thing without rewinding. And if you ever lost the cassette, oh boy. You had to pay for the video and even when the prices of buying a film in the retail stores got down to $14.95, the video stores still charged a hundred bucks for a lost copy.

But that era is over. I sat on a parking lot last night looking at a dark hole where Blockbuster used to be. It dawned on me they are all gone around here. Blockbuster had been the last man standing. If I wanted to go rent a video...sorry, a DVD, I wouldn't know where to do so. All those video stores are gone. I don't know a mall anywhere around me now that has such a place. That Blockbuster was the last oasis.

And that Office Depot that opened up on the other end of that mall used to be a CompUSA. There use to be The Computer Store in the mall across the highway, but it closed almost a decade ago. Circuit City went down the other year and stores like Sears and Radio Shack got out of the computer business, too, at least the software end.  Office Depot sells some software for the PC, but only has a thin row of choices. Best Buy use to be full of computers and software, but it has shrunk that department down to a small section along one side.  Another era coming to a end. Hey, times change ever quicker now.

Think about all the obsolete junk that might be laying about your home. And think about this: For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. 1 John:2:16-18 (NIV)

Everything you get in this world has a shelf life and that shelf life is ever rapidly moving to being an anachronism. Your present life will be an anachronism someday, too, and you'll move on to somewhere else. Forget all this junk you surround yourself with here, which is going to be a moment and then trash. Think about what you really need to treasure before all your treasure is taken away and you spend forever in a black hole where the light of God never reaches. Put your desire in God before God assigns you to the trash heap.


Gigi said...

Oh I remember the days! We had a BetaMax! The eight track tape went the way of the dinosaur as well. So many of the "latest and greatest" are no more. Our area still has Blockbuster stores, even though I don't frequent them...but then, I never really did. I wonder how much longer they'll keep the physical stores because they also offer an online service like Netflix.

I think culturally we are a nation of "stuff." Even our poor are wealthy by third world standards.

Truly better to store up our treasures in heaven...

Ron Tipton said...

I enjoyed reading your post. Ah yes, the VHS/Betamax wars. Same thing is happening with TIVO (which is clearly the better system) and the non-user friendly systems satellite and cable now have on their DVR recorders to record programs. TIVO is much more user friendly but I fear that company will soon be history too.
My opinion on VHS rental stores was always poor. Like you I joined one (which went out of business in less than a year) and always frequented others. Rarely did I get the tape I went into the store for. I usually had to settle for something. Then there were the lines, the drive to the store for parking, and the late fees. Ah, the late fees.
Now I used Netflix. I have 500 DVD's in my queue with Netflix. I watch a movie on my schedule almost every night. Last night I watch "Up in the Air" with George Clooney, an excellent movie that was up for several Academy Awards this year. By the way, see that movie. You can identify as I did. Part of it was about job elimination (or whatever the current euphemism is for firing longtime employees.)

No late fees with Netflix, no getting in my car and taking my life into my hands driving out on highways then parking in a mall and dealing with the Great Unwashed at the video store.

There may be vacant storefronts in your mall but they are there for a reason. They didn't provide the service. Competition, it is a good thing. Now if we can get the health care industry out of the monopoly/thievery business and get some competition in that area this country will be really doing something.


thekingpin68 said...

'Once setup, it was exciting. Now I could record films off the TV.'

Technology increases but sometimes product quality does not.

My DVD player also records, but it will not record properly auto, as in set to record by itself.

Chucky had the same fairly new model and tossed it in the trash.


satire and theology said...

'Put your desire in God before God assigns you to the trash heap.'

Well, I always want to be useful to God in obedience.