I’d characterize myself as a nostalgic person. I have every ticket stub from every sporting event, concert, theater performance, and even movie that I’ve attended going all the way back to the 1984 World Series. Every once in a while, I like to go through these tickets, recall the friends and family members I went with and see what I can recall from our experience together.
I also have a hard time throwing out things like membership cards. That would explain why many years after all Blockbuster video stores in the State of Michigan closed their doors, I still have my Blockbuster membership card. For years, this Blockbuster card was just sitting in my desk drawer with no purpose. If only I had an opportunity to use it one last time.
Over the summer, I was scrolling through the virtually endless options on Netflix when I found perhaps the most delightful and ironic choice among the 36,000 hours of content available: The Last Blockbuster. The documentary tells of the meteoric rise and rapid decline of Blockbuster Video, as symbolized by the very last Blockbuster Video, in Bend, Oregon.
Then — like a copy of The Matrix in the return bin just before closing time — it struck me. I realized why the place sounded so familiar. I had begun working with a bar mitzvah student in Bend and would be heading to Oregon in just a few months to officiate his service at Smith Rock, about 30 minutes from there. I immediately put a reminder on my calendar for my brief trip: Visit the last Blockbuster Video on Earth.
So, a couple of weeks ago I grabbed my Blockbuster card and headed for Central Oregon. After the bar mitzvah ceremony (he did great), I looked up the Blockbuster in Google Maps — the first and last time I ever put a Blockbuster location into GPS — and excitedly hurried over to see (Wow) what a difference there was about this lonely outpost and its departed family of franchisees.
When I arrived, there were a dozen tourists standing outside the store taking photos. It would have never occurred to me 25 years ago that a Blockbuster in a strip mall in Oregon would become a popular tourist destination. I offered to take a photo for a group that had driven for hours just to see the last Blockbuster and someone from the group reciprocated, taking a photo of me in front of the store proudly holding the membership card I’d refused to discard.
When I walked into the store, I felt a wave of nostalgia wash over me. There was something about the smell of the place, the Blockbuster blue under neon lights, that brought me back to those Saturday nights walking the aisles with friends as we tried to find a newly released movie on VHS tape we could all agree to watch. Admittedly, we’d spend an hour reading each synopsis on the back of the plastic case only to once again rent Major League so we could continue our attempt at memorizing every line from the movie.
Being at Blockbuster once again made me appreciate the advances in how we watch movies, and even how we select which movie to watch. We used to wander around a store scanning the titles of the white Blockbuster VHS or DVD boxes. Now we scroll through the streaming lineup on the TV in our homes. We used to defer to the giant wall of “guaranteed in stock” new releases or rely on that section in the store of employee-recommended movies. Now, the Netflix algorithm recommends titles for us based on our prior movie-watching history and how we rated past movies.
After my half-hour rewinding through time and space, I made my way to the exit. As far as I know, my membership card would have worked, if I wanted to check out a Mission Impossible sequel, but I think I still have some late fees from the copy of Major League that fell behind my TV. I couldn’t help but wonder about the couple browsing for a DVD. What would they rent? Something they’d never seen or Love Actually for the eighth time? Would they watch on a TV that could have streamed the very same movie? Maybe, I thought, they have Netflix and Hulu and Amazon Prime and Disney+ and Paramount+ and Apple TV and Peacock, but tonight — tonight they decided to make it a Blockbuster Night.