We first met in 1997 when I moved to the Elmwood. Coming from Boston, by way of San Francisco, I was accustomed to neighborhoods where funky and fashionable apartment buildings jockey for frontage along bustling, always-entertaining sidewalk scenes. So when my husband and I moved our two-year-old marriage to this tree-lined district of Berkeley, with single-family homes cowering behind front yards of foliage, I was out of my element.
Luckily, I could walk through four blocks of cognitively-dissonant domestic bliss to get a mini-fix of urbanity in Elmwood’s postage-stamp-size “main street” style shopping district on College Avenue. I noticed Videots before we made an offer on the house. I was heartened to see their display window featured art films like Ang Lee’s Eat Drink Man Woman, and Eric Rohmer’s Conte d’Ete (Tale of Summer). Even amidst the stately hush of single family homes where personal drama hides discretely behind manicured facades of happy households – I had found my people.
The walk to Videots became a highlight of my weekend. In the early, symbiotic phase of our marriage, Roger and I walked hand-in-hand, returning home with bags of free Videots popcorn and romantic favorites like When Harry Met Sally and Room with a View. Then, as our dewy eyes slowly came to focus on our differences, and we staked out battle lines over vacation and home improvement budgets, I sometimes walked to Videots alone – selecting films with strong female leads like How to Make an American Quilt (Winona Ryder) and Pride and Prejudice (Jennifer Ehle). During my walks I mentally rehearsed whole scenes of Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennett, to practice expressing strong feelings in a high stakes setting without collapsing in capitulation or launching into all-out rage.
Our marriage survived, and in time we were happily reliving our honeymoon on the Italian Riviera by renting Il Postino (The Postman). When we began pushing a baby stroller to Videots, Eric, the first stroller occupant, quickly learned to favor watching Tarzan and Peter Pan above virtually any other activity. Trips to eat Videots popcorn and choose a movie became a special treat for Eric, and then his younger brother Jason. Earning one of those trips proved a great motivator to win cooperation on all sorts of tasks they initially found burdensome – from doing the dishes to refraining from talking during class. In fact, we had just negotiated a fresh deal for earning a trip to Videots – with visions of Ben Ten and Harry Potter powering them through their homework – when we learned Videots had shut its doors forever. We were all sad, but Eric took it the hardest. We hadn’t even had a chance to say goodbye.
So Eric wrote a note, expressing how much Videots meant to him, and walked with his Dad to slip it through the video return slot. It turned out the owner was inside. He accepted the note in person, and let Eric and Roger come in for one last goodbye. He seemed just as sad as Eric.
Even though Eric is saving coins in hopes of helping Videots reopen its doors, there may be few alternatives to joining the NetFlix generation. But receiving DVDs in the mail will make us miss our walks of anticipation, savoring the adventures that might await in rows upon rows of DVDs at our favorite video store, being out on the town, feeling the pulse of an (admittedly small) urban setting. We’ll miss those tantalizing glimpses of whatever film Videots might be playing on its screen – and of course we’ll miss the free popcorn.
Today Eric put 36 cents in an envelope for Videots, and again we said thanks. Thanks for over a decade of stoking our imaginations with stories and fantasy, for helping solidify my marriage and motivate my kids. Goodbye Videots.