I know the blog series titles don’t transfer to Facebook, but for those of you who visit my site (I like you more, by the way), let me mark this as the final Behind The Counter… for obvious reasons. I’m also posting this on a Tuesday, which is the same day I’d post my Behind The Counter weekly reviews – a touch of irony.
Ten years ago I began working at Blockbuster. Five years ago I left and went on to pursue and try different things. Two years ago, eight years to the month of when I started the first time, I went back. I was going back to school full-time and decided Blockbuster would be the perfect part-time job to have while I did. So, this time it was very different. Of course, it was very different for far more reasons than that ;).
I went to the store at Crown Valley/Golden Lantern, as my BFF Nick Reiber had ironically also had the same idea to return to our former company for some extra cash, and this is where he ended up. I had an interview with the store manager, Katrina, and obviously got in without a problem. Nick ended up leaving not too long after he started, but I stuck around for a while… that is, until the store shut down January 10 of this year.
A two-year tour on the front line of Blockbuster isn’t quite the same as a previous five-year stint, but you’d be surprised what a person can pack into that short time – even when he only worked one day a week :). So, though I may be a couple of weeks “late” I have my reasons, and for those of you who worked there (and those who didn’t, too) I wanted to take a little look back at final time at Blockbuster.
Then And Now:
First, I have to start with comparisons. I left my first store (Alicia and Pacific Park… I’ve always known stores by their location, not just store number) in the spring of 2005. By that time Blockbuster had begun to take a bit of a nosedive, though at that point it was nearly all self-induced. The company began making bad choices and implementing idiotic policies more and more, but when I left the place was still fine. Sort of as a soldier returning to a war-torn homeland, my coming back to Blockbuster the second time showed me a very different beast than when I left. The company was still as greedy and shabby as ever, but on a lower level, the management had become run by children… almost literally. When I first left, there were adults in store manager positions, people who had prior experience and had proven themselves good enough to handle the responsibilities of running a store. There are always a couple of exceptions, but Blockbuster Take #2, however, was infinitely different. I can’t necessarily fault the store managers themselves, it was whoever decided to put them in charge. My first manager at this new store, Katrina, may have been sorely lacking in gentle people skills, but it was her inexperience that really caused the most problems. A district manager in charge of store managers with little experience who will follow his every whim is bound to let it go to his head and become a bit of a bully – so my time in Blockbuster took on a new challenge. Blockbuster used to be about us versus them, in terms of employees against any unruly customers. This time around, though, it was still about us versus them, but in terms of employees against the company and it’s representation in our district manager. That’s where The Joker came in ;).
I’ll get to that, in a bit, though. I actually didn’t intend on a lengthy intro regarding the lousy state of the company upon my return, but it really set up a great deal of my experience that followed throughout the two years there. From my first five years with the company, my stories of rebellion or inciting coworkers to go against the grain are slim to none. In these measly two years, though, it’s the majority. More often than not I urged my fellow employees, as well as my store managers, to not concern themselves with fear of towing the corporate line or the sometimes asinine “goals” set by our lovable district manager. My point? Take care of your store, your fellow employees, and your customers – and that’s it. After all, it’s only Blockbuster! That’s why The Joker came to be. Obviously I love The Dark Knight, but as the movie’s DVD release drew closer, I had grown beyond tired of the constant downtrodden atmosphere in my store. Obsessed with “numbers” and sales, our district manager had badgered the store manager, assistant managers, and employees into caring too much about these inconsequential goals and tasks… and it was too much. So, maybe I went a little crazy, but in the face of oppression, sometimes a little chaos is necessary to even things out. So, I drew Joker faces. On posters in the back room, on random slips of paper. I tried to bring an atmosphere of fun into the store. I posted weekly pictures of beautiful women I found in magazines for that same reason. I remembered working at a Blockbuster store that was fun, but here everyone always seemed so anxious and scared – I tried to show them how to relax. I don’t know if I ever succeeded, but by golly… I tried.
You don’t want to read my tirade of revolutionary thoughts, though. Well, perhaps you do, but my intention here was to reminisce… so reminisce I shall.
Oh, customers, you are so wacky. I’ve worked with people long enough to have seen just about everything, and while I did get one surprise this time around (I’ll link to it below), it was pretty common fare. There were the regulars I liked and the ones I didn’t. The folks who were always happy and the ones who were forever grumpy. When I first started at the store, I was very adamant about checking ID if a person didn’t have their Blockbuster card. That used to be a very common practice, but the customers here weren’t used to it and I was usually surrounded by fellow employees who didn’t care – so I usually stuck out as the sole prick ;). We had a bar in the complex, so Friday and Saturday nights gave us our share of drunken idiots stopping in to rent a movie. One fella, wasted beyond reason, asked if he could lightly snap my suspenders… for no other reason than suspenders must’ve seemed like the most amazing thing in the world to him at that point. I had a lady (non-drunk) back up into my car, leaving a permanent dent in my rear left side. Regulars, and non-regulars, came to know me rather well – not only did I wear suspenders with my uniform, but for half of my time there I had the giant beard and long hair. I even brought back my well-loved pirate costume from the first store to this one for promotion of the last Pirates movie… and up until my last few weeks customers remember me for it. I even had regulars from my old store come into this new one and again strike up the relationship we had before. When you work in a place like this, it’s the customers that make the difference. Even if it’s a lady with a three-legged dog that bites people, or the daughter of one of the Real Housewives of Orange County women who thought she was pretty hot stuff.
I had some interesting regulars, myself. First, our big ol’ retarded guy who would come in almost every Monday afternoon and spend all of the cash he had on him. I was the only one there with the patience to deal with him, and he’d usually be there for a couple of hours… before AND after he made his purchases. And don’t every try to give him his coin change back. He’s very serious about that ;). Then there was another gal, retarded in some way but far more capable, who was always happy. She loved kid’s movies, smiled all of the time, and even when sad topics came up – she found a cheerful thing to look at. And people feel sorry for retarded folks. My ultimate customer, though, wasn’t even a customer at all.
A homeless lady, with a number of bags and a giant Saint Bernard-sized dog in tow, was a frequent visitor. When we had the laptop in our store, which was only there for online customers to choose new movies, she would sometimes laugh and fervently type on it as she talked to herself. She also had the funding and connections to turn Scott’s book into a feature-length, Hollywood-produced movie. She was a little off her rocker, if you can’t guess ;). Sometimes she would just come in and sit at our defunct Employment Center table and fall asleep inside where it was warm. Again, being the only one who was apparently able to deal with certain people, I was always sent to wake her up when we closed. One particularly rainy night, after we closed, I gave her and her giant dog a ride to a nearby church where she could stay for the night. It was POURING, so once we got there the inside of my car got soaked from leaving the doors open as we transferred her and all of her stuff from my car to an inside hallway. I was the one who took her gentle-giant dog out of the car, and he of course chose THEN to sniff the grass. A dog of that size isn’t moved by any pull of the leash, so I just laughed and jokingly cursed the dog. I always felt sort of bad for the guy, but he seemed well fed. She later told me that he had been taken from her for her inability to care for him and euthanized, and I never saw the big ol’ boy again, but one never knows how factual her stories are.
There were so many more customer stories than what I could even imagine to put here, so I don’t even want to try. Any of us who worked there never forget the best ones, or our favorite customers, and I know this from my time at the first store.
I love you all. Even if I couldn’t stand some… I loved them ;). You’ll be hard pressed to meet a more interesting, rag-tag group of outcasts, kids, and oddballs than the group of folks I’ve worked with at that company. There were different eras, usually set off by store managers. Katrina started things for me, with a time of yelling, threats, and obsessed ex-boyfriends. Trevor came in, a welcome breath of fresh air, and I love the guy… but we didn’t exactly worry too much about appearances during that reign. Sarah came in to take over after Trevor, and that was a sort of middle-ground time. She wasn’t as laid back as Trevor, but she wasn’t as harsh as Katrina. Of course, it all ended with us closing things out manager-less… fending for ourselves in a bit of fun anarchy.
The biggest highlight, for me, when I first started was a man named Tex. I had heard about him back when I first worked for Blockbuster, and he’d been there forever even THEN. Tex and I became pals, though. When he was gone after a surgery for weeks, I missed him… and when he came back, I couldn’t wipe the smile off of my face for hours. I never got to know my grandparents as an adult, so there was certainly that extra meaning for me – but he and I just got along well. We were pretty much “the old guys” who talked about the young kids we worked with and all of their crazy antics. I couldn’t tell you how many free movies I’ve seen in the theater because of him, but even if that wasn’t the case – I love Tex :).
At my first store, I met two guys who became my friends, and still are today. Nick Reiber, that adorable Jew, being one of them. While I generally got along with everyone I worked with at the second store, there are again two with whom I’ve developed friendships. First came the irreplaceable Scott Brown. He transferred over with Trevor and at first was solely a source of fun and entertainment on our weekly night shifts. His picture was hilariously plastered all over the store and on our back computer desktop. He hit on girls he shouldn’t have, and didn’t on girls he probably should have. Slowly, but surely, Scott Brown became my friend, though. The night after Katie died, I had just told Trevor and he’d offered his condolences. Scott Brown came in for his closing shift, and obliviously made some lame joke about the store smelling like a wet dog, and continued to make dog jokes and Trevor and I kind of smiled at the irony. I was still in shock at that point, and the doctor couldn’t have ordered anything better than Scott Brown for me that night. He made me laugh quite a bit, and while it wasn’t necessarily anything special on his part, I’ll never forget how glad I am that he was around for that night.
Of course, as anyone who was around the store this past summer knows, the other made friend was none other than a certain Korkie Bullard. Never before had I ever met someone even half as similar to myself as she is, and we hit it off from the beginning. From covering shifts and giving rides, to the paper flower I made for her hair the first day we worked and the Purell she shot into my eye, between notes on my laptop and treasure maps left for the other to find, and the general consensus that no matter when we worked together we knew fun was going to be had… it was a heck of a time. As I said in regards to the customers, I couldn’t dare try to remember everything here, and I don’t have to. She’s still in my life, as is Scott Brown, and memories with friends have a hard time fading because of that. And, in case any of our fellow employees have actually made it this far through my very verbose farewell to Blockbuster, I’ll happily reiterate one more time – Korkie and I are just friends, I promise. That was for you, Jay ;). I couldn’t be more thrilled to have met this gal, though, and the irony is – that if I had stayed at a full-time second job I got this summer, we wouldn’t have spent all of that time together, and we most likely wouldn’t be as close as we are today… and that just wouldn’t be fine by me. Heck, I even titled this goodbye after an in-joke.
Happy Trails, Blockbuster:
The end was somewhat bittersweet. It was almost sad seeing things slowly disappear from the store and/or get destroyed, but it was also a little fun to have some action and things to do again. For quite awhile I had only been working one day a week, Mondays, so there were a number of customers I hadn’t seen in a long time. Our closing sale brought people in by the droves, and I was able to see a number of these folks one final time. When in a position like this, some customers get rather attached. Over the last few weeks, I had customers thanking me and commenting on how it would be sad to not see me anymore. I received handshakes and well-wishes for the future. On my last day, my homeless lady even came in looking for trash bags and said a very heartfelt goodbye and thank you before she left. It sounds strange and odd, and I don’t imagine these people went home and wept, but we were the neighborhood video store – and attachments get made.
I’ve driven by the store a couple of times since we shut the doors for good. Slowly things disappeared from inside, and last week I noticed that it had all finally been taken out. That is sort of why I waited this long – I wanted a final shot of the place as it never looked before – empty:
Beyond my mostly weekly Behind The Counter movie reviews, this site has seen a number of posts about Blockbuster.
To Finally Conclude:
I may have started off this exhaustively long entry sounding rather
bitter and angry against the company, but I’m not. Sure, it’s far from
the best run corporation in the world, but that almost made things more
fun for me… as I mentioned with my Joker-izing theme. Beyond all of
that, though, I had a heck of a time. A HECK of a time. I met some great people who are
going to be permanent fixtures in my life, I have hilarious memories
that I can always look back on, and I saw a HECK of a lot of free movies. I’ll remember Dan singing at the top of his lungs as he wandered around the store. I’ll remember Joel’s amazing crossbow made of DVD locks. I’ll remember beautiful female customers and seeing old friends I hadn’t seen in years come into the store. I’ll remember crazy employees and hilarious ones. I’ll remember being there the night we put my dog to sleep, and coming in the day after. I’ll remember telling Tex that I moved my friend and his wife into their new apartment, and I’ll remember telling him when I helped them both move into their own places after getting divorced. I’ll remember a two years of amazing, hilarious, sad, and fantastic things that happened during my time I spent at this store, both because of the store and otherwise. I’m happy to move on, and I’m hardly shedding a tear for the company’s loss, but I’m still a bit of a sentimental sap, so I’ll end this with…
Arrivederci, Crown Valley/Golden Lantern – you gave me a heck of a two years :).