Rob Harmon’s Picks 4/7/15

Rob_photo_031715_Web“MEET ME AT BEST VIDEO”

Do you ever have an experience that should seem utterly familiar but, instead, suddenly feels foreign, sort of like déjà vu-in-reverse?

Recently I had to drive a good distance for an appointment and I was returning home. I was winding my way across the highways and roads of the state – you know, take interstate X to exit Y and merge onto rte. Z going south – and I felt my brain zoning out. It all seemed so routine, so commonplace, and yet…

My morning caffeine buzz quickly ebbing away, I began to see the twisting roads about me as the arteries and veins of some vast, unidentifiable body, while my car and the others whizzing around were the white and red blood cells, darting in and out, maybe pooling up here for a moment before gushing out over there. Looking at the highway entrance and exit ramps I imagined great muscles and tendons, the grass and trees were like skin and hair.

I was fascinated by the image of this humongous and complex, living, self-contained network, of which we all form only a tiny part, and I understood, albeit briefly, why some people contemptuously see our state simply as a highway connecting New York to Boston, or equate/confuse Connecticut with the Turnpike that bears its name. In short, I sensed for a moment how large the world actually is, with Connecticut merely a blip.

Eventually, I began to get closer to home and I read off the town names on signs as I got nearer: “Meriden, Wallingford, North Haven…” With this heightened perspective I was struck with how Hamden is just one town among many: to borrow my previous analogy, think of Hamden as just a single cell within this enormous body, with all of these blood cells rushing past it, day-in and day-out.

My point here is not to say that Hamden is insignificant — because it clearly is not — but to underline just how amazing it is that it contains one of the last and — aptly named — best video stores on the planet. Think back to the cells in the body and imagine that, at one time, each contained one or more specialized structures — a mitochondrion or a ribosome, say — but that now this specialized structure has been whittled away, dwindling down to only a few trace elements here and there. Think of all of the video stores that once dotted the face of the land, like little points of light seen from above at night, but now darkness has settled in as those lights go out, one by one.

Rob_Harmon_Open_letter_040715_pull_quoteSuch is the sad fate of the video store in our society, at least up ‘til this point. Once a mighty presence in the land, but now receded, practically to extinction. Blockbuster? Gone. Tommy K’s? Gone. Mom & Pop stores? (Almost all) gone.

Really, with all of the changes in media in recent years and the different entertainment “options” (if you can rightly call them that) available to the consumer, how would a blood cell — er, car — whizzing down the highway know that that little town over there contained a place like Best Video, a veritable Garden of Eden for movie-lovers, a place where everything from ALPHA DOG to THE OMEGA MAN is available to rent?

We should all marvel — we should all be deeply proud of what we have here — right here in our own backyard. I have worked at Best Video for almost five years and, surrounded by movies all day long, it can be easy to forget how good we have it sometimes. Owner Hank Paper has fought against the odds to keep the store open and gambled by adding the coffee shop and movie screenings. Managers Richard Brown and Hank Hoffman brought live music to our performance space. And – myself and my co-workers? – well, we put away the movies, we wait on customers, and we recommend films, day after day after day. We’re here in the snow, we’re here in the rain, we’re here in the morning and at night (within business hours, naturally!).

Best Video is a crossroads and a pillar in our community. If Hank opened the store in 1985 (30 years ago next month!) to be the best around, then we now have a new mandate: to simply be around. Our role in the neighborhood has changed and evolved over the years and we want to continue doing so, adding more music, film screenings, and other cultural events in the future. The Board of Best Video Film & Cultural Center, a new organization planning to take over — and save — the store, has a plan to reconfigure our business as a non-profit arts organization, which could, hypothetically, keep us around from here… to eternity. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!)

The little guy — the underdog — rarely wins in real life, but in movies, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, they often do. With our fundraiser event coming up on Saturday, Apr. 25, at the Outer Space’s Ballroom here in Hamden, please consider what Best Video means to you.

We want to stay here and we want to keep turning the lights on. We should not take Best Video for granted. We should not forget to be amazed by it.

Think about it: a weary traveler — perhaps imagining the world as arteries, veins, and cells, perhaps just wanting to rent a movie — may be pulling off of the highway right now, may be making their way down Whitney Ave., past the Sleeping Giant, past the university, and… there… off in the distance… Best Video…

Yup, the lights are still on!

MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944), final scene:

Mrs. Smith (marveling at the World’s Fair): There’s never been anything like it in the world.
Rose: We don’t have to come here on a train or stay in a hotel, its right here in our own hometown.
“Tootie”: Grandpa, they’ll never tear it down, will they?
Grandpa: Well, they better not!
Esther: I can’t believe it. Right here where we live – right here in St. Louis!

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