The Blockbuster Total Access Saga, Part I: Wait, what?!

posted 3/27/09 on 2009: A Blog Odyssey

I realize most of my posts on this blog so far have been about films recently released on DVD (The Wackness, Hamlet 2, etc.), the remaining few being classics I recently watched for the first time and just couldn’t not review (like Vertigo and Catch-22). While I plan to continue in that vein for the most part until I graduate in May (or however long the producer of the217 lets me keep writing), I thought it might be worthwhile to dip into a different but related matter that’s captured my attention in the last couple weeks.

If you do all your DVD rental business with That’s Rentertainment, Schnucks Video Rental, or Family Video, this saga may not be relevant to you. After all, you’re probably making a wise consumer choice to support local businesses — or at least corporations not as gargantuan as Blockbuster and Netflix.

If you’re like me, however, and are too poor to rent new releases from Rentertainment, prefer to receive rentals in the mail, and sure as hell don’t want to drive all the way out to Mattis just to return a disc, the story ahead may be of interest to you.

Or maybe you just like reading a bit of creative nonfiction, in which case, read on.


ONCE UPON A TIME, ON THE NIGHT OF FRIDAY, MARCH 13, 2009 . . .

Ah, University Avenue, you ironically named east-west artery that most University students rarely use, I know you well. I know your bike shop with overpriced tune-ups, your Mexican restaurant with tasteless yet addictive chips and salsa, your degenerate haven train station, your record swap store no one has ever been in. I, like many others, have fallen victim to the poor service of your Taco Bell, yet keep coming back — a fool for your tacky charm — because the Neil Street location charges more for a Crunch Wrap Supreme combo.

And now as I pass your Circle K — the unofficial landmark demarcating the border between Champaign and Urbana — in my former police cruiser Chevy Impala (complete with spotlight and black rims), I clutch the steering wheel in my left hand and the sealed envelope containing The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990) in my right, intent on exchanging it for Gonzo at the Urbana Blockbuster.

Half a block in the distance, I spot Lil Porgy’s Bar-B-Q — another University Avenue business no student visits, but managed to win a Best of CU award nonetheless — and know it’s almost time to make that right turn onto Broadway and left into Blockbuster’s parking lot.

The Impala roars over the bumps and potholes and, unaware of the shady dealings to come, yawns to a stop in front of the store. I step out and sneer at the Nights in Rodanthe poster plastered on the window. Having completely forgotten about it being Friday the 13th, a night anything can happen, I march confidently into Blockbuster with the De Palma DVD in hand and head straight for the “G” section of new releases.

I snatch the last copy from the shelf and amble toward the front desk, ready for business as usual: a simple exchange of one item for another with the promise of another movie (Synecdoche, New York) to arrive in my mailbox a couple business days later. There’s a pretty good deal on Coke six-packs, so I grab one, and hell, why not, reach for a box of Twilight Sweethearts leftover from Valentine’s Day.

For my girlfriend, not for myself.

Meanwhile, I hear the manager explaining something to a customer — another Blockbuster Total Access subscriber two or three positions ahead in line — before completing the transaction.

“Did you hear about our new policy change?”

The customer shakes her head, and I begin to worry for a moment. I try to make out their conversation, but under the racket of the constantly looping Blockbuster “TV channel,” I just hear him say something to the extent of:

“There’s no due date on your DVDs anymore. You can keep them as long as you want without overdue charges.”

Blockbuster’s policy on fines and due dates was already pretty liberal, but this change can’t hurt. Sweet!

A couple minutes pass, and I move up in line. He asks me the same question.

“So did you overhear what I was talking about with the other customer, about our policy change?”

“Yeah,” I say. “We can keep rentals as long as we want.”

He nods, but his eyebrows betray an inner turmoil at the same time.

“Yeah, that’s part of it.”

Uh oh.

“You can keep the DVD as long as you want,” he continues, “but you have to return it before we mail you the next one.”

This doesn’t register the first time.

“So wait . . . What? Explain that again.”

He does.

“Seriously?”

“Yep,” he says.

“Wow. That’s bull.”

“I know,” he says. “I don’t like it either, and I’ve had to tell people all day.”

Time pauses for a long moment as the evil forces behind all Friday the 13th shenanigans join together in one big belly laugh, and the record of my DVD renting life scratches.


STAY TUNED FOR PART II OF THE SAGA, WHEN . . .

I take a step back and explain a little history before describing my transition from the shock and denial portion of grief to the second stage: pain. And then quickly enter the third stage of anger.

I’m also waiting for Synecdoche, New York to come in the mail because I just returned Gonzo last night. A review of that will go up soon as well.