A few years ago I was out with my friend, Randy. We were looking for a good used car for his wife. Preferable a Toyota Corolla, hopefully, a blue one. We had started on Puyallup’s River Road and then took the freeway to Lakewood. We got off I-5 onto Bridgeport Way and started looking on Pacific Highway, which eventually turns into South Tacoma Way. We had been at this for hours and had a list of possibilities. We stopped in at a tavern to have a beer and discuss the deals.
The tables and booths were pretty much occupied so we sat at the bar. We had been there about fifteen minutes, just nursing a Rainier and listening to the chatter from the crowd. We added a buck to the wall, so we could always get a drink even if we were broke. And then I saw it . . . an old VCR sitting on a cabinet next to the cash register. My eyes kept being drawn back to the VCR. Being a video producer I like any object that deals with video. I finally asked the bartender, Zorro, if the VCR was a Betamax. “What VCR,” he asked, ” . . . and what’s a Betamax?” He looked where I pointed and his head kind of cocked and nodded toward the silver rectangle of the machine. “I dunno,” the words came out slowly, “I’ve never noticed it before.” Since it was almost hidden and looked a little grubby, I easily believed him.
The VCR was half buried. A tray sat on top with two punchboards on it. Under the tray was an old copy of the Tacoma News Tribune. Zorro lifted off the tray and sat the two punchboards on the bar, where a lovely young lady with a dirty T-shirt picked them up. Zorro threw the newspaper onto the bar in front of me and then hefted the heavy machine and sat it on top of the TNT. The newspaper was dated Saturday, March 8, 1986. I looked at the filthy machine and said, “1986 was a bad year.” Dirty T-shirt said, “Yep. The Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, the worst viewing of Halley’s Comet in history, and Chernobyl exploded.” “No,” I said, “Sony Betamax was down to only 7.5% of the VCR market.”
I borrowed a bar towel from Zorro and reverently began wiping away thirty years of bar grease and Cheetos crumbs. A remote control was taped to the back. I went out to my car and brought back in some AAA batteries and loaded the control. I looked in the video tape slot and saw a tape. The only thing showing on the bar TV was golf and no one seemed to be watching. I asked Zorro if I could connect the VCR to the TV and got a nod in response. Within minutes I was ready to roll. All connected, I pressed the power button and the machine came to life with a blinking 12:00 power clock window. An audience of a dozen people held their breath as I pushed the rewind button. The machine began whirring and finally clunked. I reset the footage figures to zero, but I said, “Zorro,” to amuse my barman. I turned up the audio on the TV and I pushed play. “Here’s the story of a lovely lady . . .” Someone had taped The Brady Bunch. A sleeping drinker at the end of the bar snapped his head up, stood, and wandered down toward the TV. “Marsha can go to hell,” he said, “I was in love with Cindy . . . still am. She’s still beautiful. Drinks are on me.”
Zorro looked at me and said, “The image is a lot better than my old machine.” “Betamax was better than the VHS recorders,” I explained, “but VHS could record for a longer time. People could put more porno on each tape, so they controlled the market and Sony finally stopped selling their version.” “Cindy was in porno?” asked the sleeper. He blew a kiss toward the screen. “No, I was,” interjected Dirty T-shirt. People in the bar began moving their chairs to get a better view. The audience grew and by the time the tape finally finished hours later about seventy people were crowded into the bar. We drank a final toast to Cindy, The Brady Bunch, Chernobyl, the Challenger, and Halley’s Comet.
I asked for my bar tab and Zorro said, “My best day for tips, ever. No charge.” When my buddy and I left it was to a standing ovation. A guy with a familiar face followed us out the door. “Still interested in that Corolla?” “Why, yes,” answered Randy. The guy gave Randy his card. On the back he had written “$500 coupon for down payment – Toyota Corolla.” “I enjoyed the show,” he said as he walked away.
This story is dedicated to my friend, Randy Melquist and is based on a story by Bryan Bowers, autoharpist, about a lute hanging in a Chicago bar. Thanks, Bryan.