I just walked up to the jukebox at the bar around the corner from my house and found sixteen free credits on it. That would would count as a sign from God if I could find a way to attach deeper significance to it beyond saving me a few bucks. The Replacements’ “Alex Chilton” that’s playing as I type this–that’s me. Two tables away is a voice I recognize though it takes me a minute to place it. It belongs to a woman who works at On 15th Video who I don’t know by name but have interacted with a fair amount over the years. Just now I had to Google a general description of the place to find the official name “On 15th Video” since I think of it as Firehouse Video because it is housed in an old brick firehouse. Architecturally the building is not striking, but it sneaks up on you–miniaturized utilitarianism that the years have rendered lovely. Inside–well, inside it’s a video store. A video store with an incomprehensible shelf layout: after living for nearly a decade down the street I still have to ask for help finding things. But that’s fine. Also, navigating the narrow wire-shelf aisles while bowing amiably to couples who are searching for tonight’s movie while sub-rosa negotiating the boundaries of their relationship–that’s fine too. The manager of the place is the husband of an old friend who used to work at Slate and who sometimes is in the back of my mind as I compose these things because she was a real writer, i.e. she got paid to do it. He’s cut me a break on innumerable late fees. Bonus points to anyone who can identify another ex-employee who appears elsewhere on this blog. Sometimes I’d wander in with no intention of renting anything and just watch whatever was playing on the monitor hung above the door, ameliorating my boredom with whatever the employees had picked out to ameliorate their boredom. The shortest path from my front door to the place was through an alley that ran behind a grocery store, so I never had to walk on a fully public street to get there. I thought of the place as an annex of my house filled with people I vaguely knew.
Why the past tense? Because a year ago we got a Roku box, and though Netflix’s selection can’t compete with that of the Firehouse it comes pretty close, and an essential aspect of the latter’s charm was it’s slovenly convenience, so staying home and mashing a button is now the the only non-affected thing to do. Since I don’t rent from Firehouse Video anymore I’ve gotten out of the habit of just wandering in. The wave has moved on and I am now waiting for the day not so far in the future when this place, like all video stores, closes. I am an inveterate optimist and contributor to the advance of communication technology, but in this particular case there’s no two ways about it. Something is being lost. This is bad.