I'm a newspaper columnist interviewing customers renting movies from a Blockbuster store in Carol Stream. Have I gone back in time?
Perhaps my time-machine moment happened last week, when I rekindled my Myspaceaccount (updating my info to replace my old America Online email address) after reading a business story about the sale of the social networking website. I had forgotten all about Myspace, which launched as "a place for friends" in August 2003 but seems far older.
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I joined Myspace solely as a way to connect to young people in the suburbs who might be good to interview after a tragedy involving one of their friends. But the only "friends" sending messages to my Myspace profile turned out to be young, attractive, lonely women encouraging me to visit their websites to see friendlier photographs of them. The last time I logged onto Myspace was to watch the video of that guy who posted his teary "Leave Britney Alone" rant in defense of pop star Britney Spears.
But Myspace is back, with a new improved music format, which should help me in my job if I need to interview a suburban musician about whatever befalls Britney Spears.
Or maybe I went back in time on Father's Day by visiting the Classic Car Show at Oak Brook Center and hanging with cars and their owners from the 20th Century. Maybe my time travel occurred as I watched our old-school 17-year-old son type a letter on his typewriter, affix a stamp and realize that he had no idea how to get the envelope inside one of suburbia's quickly vanishing old-fashioned blue mailboxes.
But if I have gone back in time, I'm enjoying the stay. And I'm not the only one.
"I love this place," movie-fan Ed Powell says of the Blockbuster at 732 W. Army Trail Road in Carol Stream. "I have 200 movies on a list. I have them by year, and I'm still in 2009."
The 71-year-old Carol Stream resident subscribes to the Blockbuster By Mail plan that allows him to rent unlimited amounts of movies three at a time for $19.99 a month. He even watches the previews to remind him of movies he might have missed before he retired. Powell, who once made his living as a computer repairman (set the Wayback Machine to 1994 to recapture those glory years), says he likes walking into a store, seeing the titles on the shelves and talking movies with the staff.
"I like the customers," replies Thao Bui, one of the managers at the Carol Stream Blockbuster. He greets many of the customers by name.
"The selling isn't that hard because we are always giving away free stuff. Every week we have different promotions," Bui says. But some people don't even know the store exists.
"If I wear my Blockbuster shirt out, people ask me, 'Do they still have Blockbusters?'" says Bui, who is happy to let them know about the deals. Monday's crowd includes parents dropping off DVDs that the kids watched during the weekend. Many DVDs rent for 99 cents for five days.
Once a behemoth retailer as ubiquitous as Starbucks, this Blockbuster (there are five more in the Chicago area) has the feel of a neighborhood Ma & Pa shop.
"I kind of like the idea of browsing, and they have a nice collection," says loyal Blockbuster customer Jim Judson, 63, of Glendale Heights. There used to be two Blockbuster stores closer to his home, but they closed. Judson subscribes to a TV service that offers streaming movies, but he prefers Blockbuster's $14.99 plan that allows him to rent as many movies as he wants as long as he returns one DVD before he gets another.
"It's just the way I like to watch movies. I like this method. I've been doing it since VHS," Judson says, referring to the videotape format that was the cutting edge technology when Blockbuster burst onto the scene in 1985.
As a Jewel employee for 42 years, Judson has seen his retirement plan change hands a couple of times. He understands how the modern economy can alter the friendly and familiar. But perhaps this conversation is something better handled in a social media format. Do you still remember your Myspace password?