Sunday, June 19, 2011

Blockbuster Brouhaha

Technologically speaking, the early 1990's were basically the dark ages.  The Internet had yet to be invented, music was stored on cassette tapes and compact discs, and Blu-Ray was something that Mrs. Charles only did on her husband's birthday.  One common form of entertainment way back then was something we called "renting a video."  There were special stores for it and everything. 

One Saturday evening, I drove a mile and a half to one such store, called "Blockbuster Video."  After browsing the action-adventure shelves for a few minutes, I decided on Die Hard 2: Die Harder.  I'd seen the original Bruce Willis masterpiece, of course, so I pretty much knew what to expect from the sequel.  I took the movie to the checkout counter, grabbed a couple bags of microwave popcorn (with butter) and left the store, eagerly anticipating the two hours of cinematic mayhem I was about to experience.

Back at home, I dumped the popped popcorn into a bowl, cracked open a Diet Dr. Pepper, and inserted Die Hard 2: Die Harder into my video cassette recorder, or as it was more commonly known, my VCR.  For younger readers, or those of you with some sort of memory disorder, VCRs were devices in which you could put a "tape" and then "record" a show from television.  You could also "play" a store-bought "movie" or pre-recorded "program" and sit on your couch watching it until your brain cells "imploded."  It was like TiVO but without the magic.  There were all sorts of problems with this technology, for example, once the tape got all twisted and stuck (usually the fourth or fifth time you played it) the movie was thereby converted into garbage.  Also, when your tape ended, you had to take about five minutes to rewind the damn thing before you could watch it again.

It was like living in the Stone Age.

So there I was, relaxing on my couch, watching the opening scene where Bruce Willis senses trouble at Dulles International Airport and ends up killing an innocent evil mercenary, when I suddenly got the feeling that I'd seen this movie before.  Not wanting to sit through the whole thing again,  I rewound the tape, put it back in its plastic case, and returned it to Blockbuster where I figured they'd let me exchange it for something I hadn't seen, like Predator.

Here's where the trouble starts and let me remind you once again, for the purposes of this story, you are on my side.

I took Die Hard 2: Die Harder to the counter and explained the situation to Lauren the assistant manager, who appeared to be about eleven years old.

"Hi, I just rented this movie, but stupid me, it turns out I've already seen it.  Is there any way I could exchange it for a different one?"

Lauren gave me a look similar to one she might have given me had I asked her to explain how the situation in Europe immediately after the fall of Germany led directly to the Cold War and if, in her opinion, the Western Allies should have acted to oppose Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.

"You want to do what?" she asked.

"I rented Die Hard 2: Die Harder, but when I started watching it, I realized I've seen it before.  Can I just exchange it for a different movie?"

"I'm sorry, that's against company policy.  I can't do that."

"You can't?  Why not?  What's the problem?"

"Well, how do I know you haven't already watched the video and are trying to get a second one free?"

"Okay.  Good question, Lauren, you make an excellent point.  But look.  Right here on my receipt it says I paid for the video at 6:44.  It is now 7:31.   According to the box for Die Hard 2: Die Harder -- see right there? --  the running time is 124 minutes.  I'll do the math for you, that's a little over two hours.   So I couldn't possibly have watched it by now."

"Maybe you just took the movie home and made a copy."

"I wouldn't know how to do that even if I wanted to."

"Well, I can't exchange it.  You'll just have to return that one and rent another movie."

Clearly, I was dealing with someone who was incapable of thinking beyond her bubble or making a customer-friendly decision.  I figured I'd try to walk her through a solution.

"Lauren, listen carefully.  All you have to do is scan this one back in, then let me choose another movie.  I'm sure there's a procedure for this kind of thing.  You must be able to do something."

"I'd need approval from the manager."

"Okay, great, let's get him out here."

"It's his day off.  I'm in charge.  And I'm telling you, you can't exchange movies."

"Fine, just give me a refund and I'll pay for a different one.  How about that?"

"Sorry, no refunds."

"You know, Lauren," I said, feeling the anger percolating in my guts.  "It's stupid-ass policies and mindless drones like you that will one day, about fifteen years from now, inspire some creative genius to come up with a system where, for a reasonable monthly fee, customers can order movies, have them mailed to their homes, keep them for as long as they like, and then simply send them back.  They'll call it Mailflix or something.  When that happens, Lauren, you watch how quickly Blockbuster and its 'let's-screw-over-the-customer' business philosophy fall right off the face of the earth."

"I'm going to have to ask you to lower your voice, sir, you're disturbing our customers."

That's it, Lauren, make me the bad guy.

"I'm a customer, dammit, and you're disturbing me!  Now are you going to let me exchange this movie, or am I going to write a letter to your corporate office and explain how completely uncooperative and rude you've been?"

"You know, sir, because you're causing a scene, I'm going to give you your money back and ask you to leave."

I'm sure that Lauren thought she was doing the right thing, customer service-wise, and figured that by giving me a refund she would ease my hostility and send me on my way.  But she couldn't have been more wrong.

"Oh, but wait, Lauren, I thought you said you couldn't give out refunds."

"I can if it will get you out of the store, you're disrupting our business."

"What the hell?!  You can't give me a refund if I'm being calm and reasonable, but you can give me a refund for being a loud, obnoxious jerk?  Don't you realize you're simply rewarding my bad behavior?  Doesn't really make me feel like cooperating, if you want to know the truth."

I walked over to the rack of Red Vines, Whoppers, and Raisinets.  "What happens if I pick up this candy display and chuck it through the plate glass window?" I asked, eyes ablaze.  "Do I get a thousand shares of Blockbuster stock?"

"Sir, here's your money back.  Please leave now before I call the police."

Not wanting to rehash this entire fiasco with the local authorities, I took my money and headed for the door.

"Good night, sir.  Have a nice evening."

I replied with the great Bruce Willis line from Die Hard 2: Die Harder.

"Yippee-ki-yay, Motherfucker."

Wait a minute.

"Yippee-ki-yay, Motherfucker" was from the original Die Hard.  The one where he's trying to rescue people from a tall building . . . with the bad guy named Hans Gruber . . . I thought that was . . .

Well, shit.  Turns out I haven't seen Die Hard 2: Die Harder after all.

I'll have to put it on my Netflix list.


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The Bus Driver said...

yippie kay yay motherfucker is a universally awesome line.

The end.

Jonah Gibson said...

This is some classic shit right here, brother. I totally could have done this myself. Didn't, but could've. Don't you wonder what Lauren is doing today?

notactuallygod said...

If a movie's good, it's worth seeing again. Especially an all-time great like Die Hard.

Danger Boy said...

Good job bringing the funny. Love your twist at the end, like a movie...but definitely not like a Die Hard movie.
Now I'm going to go take off my shoes and make fists with my toes.

Anonymous said...

"It was like TiVO but without the magic."


And the 1990's were the dark ages?


Yet, how true.

Brings back many fond memories. I betcha you still have that contraption that rewound the tapes for you at lightning speed: three minutes instead of the five minutes.

I can't believe how much technology has changed in 20 short years. Ay, yi, yi. But you did well in reminding us.

Remember the HUGE mobile phones with their five foot antennae?


Eva Gallant said...

I loved this! don't you just love customer service people who have no idea what the term means?

Suldog said...

Awesome story, and a great kicker. Amazing how we go from one technology to another, consigning the old one to the garbage heap of time as though it was never worthy of us in the first place. Of course, every so often a bunch of dopes get stuck with 8-track tapes when they decide that something is THE NEXT BIG THING, when in fact it is vastly inferior to the previous big thing or the other next big thing which will be along shortly.

Fred Miller said...

I love that scene at Dulles where he goes to the pay phone and it says "Pacific Bell."

Pay phones. Remember those?

Jeanne said...

They had some lousy customer service, back in the day.

injaynesworld said...

LOL! You had me at Blu-Ray... And I've done the same type of thing myself so of course I'm on your side.

Steve Bailey said...

Too bad it wasnt Die Hard 3... you coulda said "Simon says you give me back my money"..... and then when you get the money you could say "You've just been Moonlightinged bitch"

Bruce Willis humor is the best!

Jeff said...

Having worked my share of customer-service jobs way back when, I used to doubt the phrase "the customer is always right. But in this case it's true. Well, aside from the Die Hard quote, that is.

Good stuff as always, Chris.

joem18b said...

Hi, Mr. Chris. As a Blockbuster employee, I can tell you that having gone through bankruptcy and closed thousands of stores, we at Blockbuster are much kinder and zenlike that we were back in the 90s. We are so sorry! We are changing our name to Blockkisser. Bring back your tape and we will let you rent Die Hard 2 for 50% off plus tax. We still have some of those red vines from the 90s. We'll give you one free, or, no, for 60% off.

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