Long Live The New Media


We saw it while we were walking along a country road.

The fact we were walking and not driving was probably unusual to the cars that passed us, but those cars and drivers, in a rush to get to wherever they were going, would have missed what we didn’t. It was strewn along the roadside, black shiny tape gleaming in the morning sun. Chunks of plastic were scattered across the road. A spindle lay in the bushes. And as we walked we found more strands of tape, buffeted by the breeze.

I remember our first VCR. It was a Betamax (cue your snickering, but I will point out that for years it remained THE professional standard. If you watched any TV news in the 80s, 90s, and well into the 2000s, you were watching Beta), it was the size of the desk I use now, loaded cassettes through the front, and the remote was connected by a cable.


Like most people, we rented movies from a store; videotapes were ridiculously expensive in the day – 90, 100 dollars a pop. There was no “priced for retail” because the studios were making huge coin on their videotapes. Overnight, video stores popped up in mini malls and in place of record shops. Before home video, you wanted to see Star Wars, or a James Bond film, or The Towering Inferno, you had to wait for them to come on TV. And they aired in prime time too. That’s right, you’d watch Moonraker on ABC  – a “Network Television Premiere”, and with commercials it would occupy 3 hours of prime time. There were only 13 channels. They controlled when you saw a movie and which movie. The content provider was king.

So we rented movies, on weekends. Friends came over, we’d rent a movie. Over at a friend’s place, we’d watch a rental. Something stupid, or violent, or both.

Betamax lost the war to VHS, and while rental stores that carried both were around, the arrival of Blockbuster, which embraced VHS, effectively killed the commercial side of the format. We bought a VHS in 1988 and as of this writing my mother still has it. The digital clock in it only ran up to 2004 but she was still using it the last time I was up.

Blockbuster wiped out most of the mom and pop stores, giving everything a corporate sheen. You were guaranteed to find a copy of any new release; dubious classics like Another 48 Hours, Judge Dredd, Batman Returns, Armageddon. Of course if you were looking for something more esoteric you were SOL, especially if you lived in a small town and Blockbuster was the only game in town.

vt_suspect_video0003.jpg.size.xxlarge.promoAlong with Beta and VHS, I owned a Laserdisc player thru much of the 1990s. I even worked a summer at a store that sold and rented them and home theater systems. they’re no longer in business. It was a niche collector’s format, but I owned the Star Wars trilogy (non Special Edition versions) and at the time it was the best format for watching a movie outside of the theater. Some LDs I own have never been released on any format since then – the Criterion Collection editions of The Killer and Hard Boiled, Seven, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and The Fisher King among them – and when I got a DVD player in 1999, I still bought LDs because they were so cheap. People were transitioning to DVD and unloading their collection, same as music enthusiasts dumped their old vinyl for CDs.

Killer CC 01When my DVD player bit the dust in 2011, I bought a PS3, mostly for the Blu-Ray and DVD aspects. I own close to 500 movies in those formats … and 5 games. We watch a lot of streaming material on Netflix, drugging ourselves on entertainment and technology. I haven’t stepped inside a video store in years. There aren’t any around outside of the niche shops Blockbuster failed to kill. Blockbuster is gone too, or pretty much gone. Eventually DVD will disappear, and Blu Ray will probably become a niche collector’s format like LD. The future is streaming video and VOD. Just push a button and it’s there. You don’t own it, you’re only renting it, borrowing it. And if the broadcaster and supplier have a dispute, that title gets yanked. They control the content now, more so than they have since the 1970s when home video was in its infancy.  They control the horizontal and the vertical. They are the Videodrome Brian O’Blivion preached about. I bought the Blu-ray of Videodrome a couple months ago, and it’s more prophetic about the here and now than Cronenberg could have imagined 30 years ago.

Call me a luddite (“Brad, you’re a luddite”), but I still cast a wary eye towards digital technology. Obviously, because I celebrate the joys of analog technology in Mixtape.  Yes technology has made life easier, but I’m old-fashioned when it comes to my books and my movies and my music. I have to buy the media I want to enjoy over and over again. I want to feel it in my hand and know that I own it, I can watch it whenever I want to, and I won’t wake up some day to find it’s been pulled from my shelf because of an ongoing dispute between Time Warner and CBS. I don’t like digital books, or e-readers. I spend my days staring at a screen filled with words; when I want to decompress the last thing I want to do is pick up another screen and stare at that too.

Case in point: recently I acquired a copy of this beauty:

SW1It cost me 10 dollars. In 1978 my mom paid $2.50 for it, and I read it until it fell apart. I hadn’t turned those pages in thirty years before I found this and bought it for old time’s sake. And reading it again was … magic. The feel of the paper, the smell of the aged newsprint. The panels and colors, faded but still vibrant, the pin-ups, the ads, all of it brought me 35 years back in time to the first moment she unveiled it to me.

You won’t get that experience with an e-book. You won’t get that experience with streaming video or audio. Time Warner Cable and Spotify control the content now. We’re just borrowing it. We no longer treasure books, or movies. They’re a distraction to keep us occupied while we check Twitter and Facebook for the umpteenth time. That lack of care extends to our daily experiences. People in movie theaters don’t know to keep quiet while the movie’s playing, and don’t know (or most likely don’t care) that no matter how surreptitiously they think they’re checking their phone, someone else in the theater can see them and be distracted by it. 2013 boasted the least memorable summer movie season in memory filled with the least remarkable summer movies since I can remember first watching movies. It’s like the filmmakers don’t even care anymore because we seem to have given up on caring about anything meaningful or special. And I’m still trying to figure out which of us lost the most.

I don’t know what was on that videotape strewn along the roadside. Maybe home movies, maybe old TV shows. Maybe it was just an old videotape, and no longer worth the bother. I don’t know what became of the boxes of videotapes I owned for years before donating them to a Library. They may still be on the shelves, they may be in a landfill. Some may be crushed bits of plastic and tape strewn across a country road. But for a time they contained magic. Magic we’ve now lost to the digital age. It’s called progress, and progress always leaves the corpses of the obsolete in its wake.

The Great Escape

So how was your summer?

As I write this it’s climbing towards 90 F in the city, one last gasp of summer weather before fall arrives in force. At least I hope it’s a last gasp. I’m not a fan of hot, humid weather, which naturally explains why I moved to a city that’s notorious for being brutally hot and humid. But having been here five years now I have acclimatized to it like all New Yorkers, by spending as much time away from New York as the bank account can handle.

Plus the CHUDS are more active July thru August

Plus the CHUDS are more active July thru August

August in New York is when all the locals of means clear out, and you can pretty much fire a cannon down Broadway without hitting anything. New Yorkers go to the Catskills or the Hamptons, or down to the Shore. Escaping the city heat is essential to retaining one’s sanity, even if only for a few days. Case in point, I just returned from a few days in Cold Spring, NY.

See? Don't you feel relaxed already?

See? Don’t you feel relaxed already?

My wife and I had no real plan other than getting away, hiking some trails, eating some good food, and just basking in not being in Manhattan for a few days. And Cold Spring, just shy of 90 mins. away by train, fit the bill. I’ll spare the details of our trip, because people talking about their vacations is always deadly dull. But what I will detail are some things I realized while we were away, and which pretty much apply to every vacation I’ve been on; the essential things you need to do to truly enjoy your vacation.


1. You have to be away at least 24 hrs

Look, day-trips are fine. We do a lot of them, but they’re only a respite of a few hours. You wake up in your bed, you fall asleep in your own bed. If the point is to get away you have to get away, even if just for overnight. You don’t have to go very far, but you have to go.

2. Proximity to nature is a must

A caveat; this is a personal preference. Well, all of these are, but when you live in a city of concrete and steel, getting back in touch with nature is everything they tell you it is. You need that refuge from the modern world. You need to retreat from the sound of cars on the highway, plans overhead, and find that Walden moment where, if only for a brief gasp, the sounds of modern life fade and are replaced by the sound of running water, trees creaking in the wind, and silence.

This picture just saved me 1,000 words

This picture just saved me 1,000 words

3. Don’t dine @ the hotel

Their chef graduated from Le Cordon Bleu, they’ve been rated in Zagat, and Time Out recommended them highly. Doesn’t matter; don’t eat at the hotel’s restaurant.  While it may be good, great even, it’s still a meal at the hotel and to do this right you want to spend as little time in the hotel as possible. You didn’t come all this way to sit in a room.  Get out and explore the surrounding areas. The best meal you have will be the one that’s not eaten out of convenience. On a related note:

4. No. Chain. Anything.

Walking the main drag of whatever 1-stoplight village you’re staying in, you see a Starbucks or a McDonalds, do not go in. Don’t go near it. You can go to those places at home (though why you’d want to is another question). My wife and I walked past the McDonalds on the Champs-Elysees but we didn’t go in, because we were in Paris and we were better than that damn it. Times Square here is full of tourists lining up to go to the Times Square TGI Friday’s, or the Times Square Red Lobster, neither of which is any different from the Applebees in Toledo, other than twice as expensive because everything in New York is twice as expensive.  Don’t be those people. Also don’t go near Times Square. You want to know where to eat?

5. Talk to the locals

If you’re in a small rural community, ask the locals where they dine. They’ll be easy to spot; they’re the ones who smile and say “hello” when you pass them on the street. They’ll tell you where the good food is, and the better ways to spend your money. On a visit to Salem MA, after having paid way too much to tour a way too small museum about witches, we hit up a small café to grab coffee. There, I asked the barista what was worth seeing in Salem that wasn’t tourist trap witch stuff. Without hesitation she recommended the Peabody-Essex Museum just down the street. We spent the entire day there and it ended up a highlight of our trip.

Well, that and views like this.

Well, that and views like this.

In a related note the best meal we had in Paris was with our friend Jimmy and his wife Claire; Montmartre residents who took us to a bistro across from Gare du Nord, where the manager was a friend who proceeded to bring over all the half-empty bottles of wine other diners had left. We were good and liquored up before dinner arrived, and it remained the highlight of a trip full of highlights.

Bonus Travel Tip: Air France is the only way to travel because WINE

Bonus Travel Tip: Air France is the only way to travel because WINE

6. Don’t do the same thing twice. But if you do something similar, shake it up.

We made this mistake last summer. A couple years prior we’d ventured up to the Catskills to hike Katerskill Falls. It was one of the best experiences we had ever, so naturally we sought to replicate it. We stayed at the same hotel, drove the same route, and hiked the same trail. My credit card info got stolen, our rental car was almost broken into, and we returned feeling more stressed than when we left. The only thing that stood out about this trip was the dinner we had at the Culinary Institute of America the previous night, not so much because of the food (which was excellent) but because it was something we hadn’t done before. This obviously explains why I never took to ocean cruises, or got suckered into buying a time-share, or did the all-inclusive resort; because to truly enjoy myself I have to do something different, not the same old same old. If you don’t change things up, you get entropy, and entropy is never good when you want to experience something meaningful, yes?

7. Buy something local

A souvenir, candy, soap, tea, whatever. Doesn’t have to be much but you should support the locals. Or, if you’re me, you blow 60 Euros on the Taschen “Kubrick’s Napoleon” at the Galleries Lafayette. Then you lug it around Paris, lug it to CDG, the connecting flight to Frankfurt, then on the plane for your 8 hour flight back to JFK, then the 90 minute subway ride home because it’s New Year’s Day. The book weighs 15 pounds. Then you find out you could have bought the same book on Amazon.com for less and tell your wife. Then your wife throws the 15 pound book at you. But if you hadn’t bought that book in that city, you wouldn’t have a funny story to tell so it was TOTALLY WORTH IT.

The book in question, next to a copy of The Stand for comparison (The Stand is a REALLY long book)

The book in question, next to a copy of The Stand for comparison (The Stand is a REALLY long book)

8. Find a scenic spot to just chill.

This doesn’t have to be rural, though every rural place we’ve visited has had that one moment, that one spot of calm and peace that’s now burned into my brain. Places where, if I close my eyes, can picture perfectly. There was one on our first Katerskill trip, several on our Honeymoon, many in Paris, even one fresh spot discovered this weekend. It can be urban, it can be indoors or outdoors. There’s even a favorite scenic spot here in my neighborhood that I return to time and again (but that’s my secret). They have to be secret though because they’re yours. And if you find that thoughtful place while away it’ll never leave you.


9. Limit your tech use

This is going to come as a shock to a lot of you, but when I go away, I leave the phone at home.  Any technology that would have you tethered to home or work doesn’t belong on vacation with you. I discovered this last year when we took a trip to Newport RI, and I decided as we were packing that I was leaving the tech here. Partially to see if I could do without it, but more because I wanted to escape the modern world. It ended up being the best vacation we’d had in a long time. Not having email or Facebook or Instagram or Twitter meant we were experiencing things in the moment, with our own eyes, not through the screen of a digital device. Know what you’ll find at the Louvre (besides pickpockets)? People taking grainy pictures of the Mona Lisa through their iPads or smartphones, instead of, you know, LOOKING at the Mona Lisa. Don’t be those people. Don’t share every picture or thought while on vacation with people in cyberspace. We don’t care. And before you say “but what if an emergency comes up while I’m away?” just ask yourself what you did before the internet came along to ruin our lives.

10. Read

Your hotel room may have a TV. Don’t watch it. If the hotel or inn or B&B doesn’t have TV, stay there. If you’re doing travel right you’ll be so exhausted by the time you return to the room you’re occupying you’ll be too tired to watch anything. You’ll crack open that book you’ve been meaning to read, climb into bed, and fall asleep with it open on your lap. That’s the best way to end a day or a week away; too tired to read.


Things are gearing up for a busy fall season. I’ll be at New York Comic Con this year, this time with an actual table. There’s also the usual movie related stuff coming up, so Fall, my favorite time of the year, is looking to be a busy one. Which is why I’m glad I was able to get away and enjoy some of summer, and just as glad to feel like I’ve finally mastered the art of relaxation.