Spider-Man: Homecoming hits theatres tomorrow on July 7, 2017. The masked superhero has a famous saying: “Your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.” It’s a perfect time to share a Nintendo story from my youth. It’s a story that’s going to be featured in Jeffrey Wittenhagen’s upcoming Nintendo book. Thank you Jeff for allowing me the honor to be a small part of another one of your great books. To all my readers here on RVGFanatic, here’s my story in full below!
YOUR FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOOD NINTENDO MAN
I’m instantly bombarded by a tidal wave of memories whenever I think about the 8-bit Nintendo. Like so many others, I grew up on the NES in the late ‘80s. Born in 1983, I was just old enough to appreciate the NES when it started hitting its stride in North America circa 1987. I have fond memories of all those lazy carefree Sunday mornings spent playing the likes of Contra, Mega Man 2 and Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! just to name a few. Nintendo help made my childhood fun and memorable. Back then gaming was a brand new experience to me. There were no fancy 3D graphics, no complex controller layouts and no lengthy 10 minute tutorials to sit through. The NES gave you two buttons; all you had to do was press start and you were good to go. Sometimes simplicity can’t be beat. There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles — the NES is proof that a game doesn’t have to be overly fancy or complicated in order to be great.
My uncle bought a Nintendo for me and my brother in 1987. I still remember the humble collection we managed to amass through the years…
My childhood is filled with fond memories of myself, Uncle Jimmy and my brother Kevin switching off for hours on end as we sat glued to our television set playing the latest NES titles. Hell, the NES was the ORIGINAL Nintendo “Switch.” After all, those halcyon days were all about switching off with my brother and uncle on Contra as we attempted to save the universe on a nightly basis back in the summer of 1989. Hanging out with my uncle and brother blasting alien scum to Kingdom Come was some of the greatest times of my childhood.
Another fond memory I carry with me were all the rental stores that populated my area. There had to be a good 10 video stores all within a 30 mile radius back in the late ‘80s where I lived. From the established titans of the industry (Blockbuster) to all the little quirky mom and pop shops, it was an entertainment mecca with more goodies than you could watch or play to cover the span of ten lifetimes.
My favorite store of the lot hands down was Evergreen Video. I blame Evergreen Video and its owner, Tom, just a common man working hard for the American dream, as the source that corrupted me. One day in the late ’80s my dad was driving me and my brother around. We spotted Evergreen Video by chance when we made a pit stop in a small plaza to pick up a few items. I had never seen Evergreen Video before but on that day there it stood. Its big bold green letters silently called out to me and my brother, beckoning us over. We found ourselves breaking into a brisk stroll as we made a beeline for the store, our legs suddenly on a mission of their own.
I can still hear the little chime that rung each time someone entered the store. It was a quaint shop with lots of family videos. You were immediately greeted upon entry by four tall wooden shelves that began near the entrance and ended close to the register counter, which sat roughly 60-70 feet straight ahead. Two columns of towering tan shelves rested on each side of the store, freeing the middle aisle for a clear walk to the counter and a good look at the man who owned the store, Tom. Rocking brown rimmed spectacles and a beard like it was 2014, Tom became something of an uncle figure to me and Kevin. You would often find Tom invariably sporting a flannel shirt of one kind or another. In fact, he was the spitting image of Al Borland (played by Richard Karn) from the ‘90s TV sitcom, Home Improvement, only with glasses.
Up front and to the right sat a small wooden shelf. There Tom kept his collection of 30-40 NES games. Tucked away in a corner, it was this little heavenly nook that my brother and I always made a mad scramble for every Saturday afternoon. The smell of the oak wood shelves permeates to this day. If there was ever a quintessential mom and pop rental store, Evergreen Video surely was it.
Tom worked there every Saturday afternoon, rain or shine. And no matter what, we could always count on seeing his big smile greeting us behind the register counter whenever he saw us trampling in. I still remember some of the games I rented from Evergreen Video…
… just to name some. Back then there was no YouTube or anything to really scope these games out. You basically rented them on a whim based on the cover art and how cool the back of the box looked. It made for hit and miss rentals and some crazy times. You just never knew what you were going to get. In some regard it was almost like the Wild Wild West back then!
There was a certain purity to those days that I miss. The same can be said for the purity that courses through the 8-bit veins of the NES itself. Timing is everything in life — the Nintendo and the late ’80s simply went hand in hand and everything else that came along with it, including mom and pop shops.
Tom was so good to us; he even held games for me and Kevin. My brother would call and ask for a game and if Tom had said game then he would hold it for us. I remember him telling us once, with a big smile, “Only for you guys.” Maybe he said that to every kid customer of his, but damnit I like to think he meant what he said. And I don’t doubt that he did because that’s just the kind of guy Tom was.
There’s one story in particular that I’ll never forget. One time we came in to pick up TMNT II: The Arcade Game. We met Tom’s son that day. He was playing the game on the small TV that sat behind the register counter. I felt so bad when he was forced to turn the game off just so we could rent it. He was on the snowfield level battling the wolf boss, Tora. I remember Tora flashing and blinking red as Tom told his very own flesh and blood, “Sorry but these boys need to rent the game now.” I’ll never forget the poor kid looking absolutely crushed, wanting to carry on like any TMNT loving kid would, but he respected his dad far too much to disobey. I always felt guilty about that! Tom had this incredible knack of making me and Kevin feel like we were part of his family. It was top-notch service the likes of which you can’t buy. The kind of genuine service you can only find at a mom and pop shop.
Being huge fans of Double Dragon II, Kevin and I couldn’t wait for Double Dragon III. When it finally arrived in early 1991, my dad took us to Evergreen Video to rent a copy. The drive home was filled with visions of spinning roundhouse kicks and crazy throws galore, but alas, when we popped the game in it refused to play for some reason. My dad promptly called Evergreen Video to inform Tom about the situation and Tom told us to come back for a no-frills exchange. We ended up picking Battletoads as a replacement rental. While we were disappointed that we couldn’t play the eagerly anticipated Double Dragon III, we made the most out of that weekend. More importantly, Tom’s great customer service and integrity once again shined like a thousand stars shimmering in the night sky.
But here’s the part that blows my mind. A few weeks later we made our usual Saturday afternoon trek to Evergreen Video. Tom surprised us when he revealed a brand new copy of Double Dragon III — reserved just for us! He said he was waiting on us to come by because he knew how disappointed we were that his previous copy didn’t work. He wanted to make things right, but he already did that with the Battletoads exchange. It exemplifies the kind of upstanding man Tom was. He always went above and beyond the call of duty. If Yelp existed back in 1991, Evergreen Video would have gotten 5 stars all day! As for Double Dragon III, let’s just say some sequels disappoint.
Early 1992 was an interesting time. There was a changing of the guard. You could feel the shift in the winds, and you could see the writing on the wall. The 8-bit NES was being phased out for the brand new 16-bit Super Nintendo. And with it, Evergreen Video. Business wasn’t booming for Tom in early 1992 as it was in the late ’80s. When the Super Nintendo came to the US in late 1991, Tom bought some SNES games to keep up with the times. I rented Ultraman and sadly that was the last game I would ever rent from Evergreen Video. The beginning of one era (the SNES) marked the ending for another (Evergreen Video).
One innocuous Saturday afternoon in early 1992 my dad took me and Kevin to Evergreen Video to return Ultraman. Unfortunately, that trip proved to be our last. Tom told us he and the family were moving on. But because I was so young I didn’t really grasp his heartfelt admission. I just assumed he would still be there next Saturday and the Saturday after that. Because it’s Tom. And that’s what Tom does. After all, he’s your friendly neighborhood Nintendo man.
But reality crushed me when my mom took me shopping in that same plaza a week later. I stole a glance inside the remains of Evergreen Video. What was once a simple but lovely store that provided me with so many good memories was now a broken, fragmented shell of its former glory. A part of me expected to still see the wooden shelves and Tom’s friendly mug situated behind the register counter. Instead, what I found that day was an empty store torn down in shambles, the floor littered with debris. I felt like crying as I peered in through the glass pane. I lost a little bit of innocence that day. From that moment on I forever realized that things don’t last forever, no matter how much you want them to.
The last time I visited that plaza was June 2008. I had just graduated from college with a teaching credential. My cousins wanted to celebrate the occasion by eating at a Chinese restaurant. Of all the places they could have chosen, of course it had to be at a restaurant in that small plaza near the defunct remains of Evergreen Video. But of course. It was a surreal night. I just graduated from college and was looking forward to the future. But returning to that childhood plaza for the first time in what had to be over a decade got me far more emotional than I thought possible. After dinner my cousins declared a movie night at their place. But having unfinished business, I told them I would drop by later. As they drove off I stood outside the restaurant all by my lonesome. I slowly turned my gaze to the classic spot where Evergreen Video once proudly stood ages ago. My heart started racing as I knew what stood before me: I was on the verge of facing a huge part of my childhood for quite possibly the last time ever. I knew what I had to do…
The building was vacant. I peered inside as memories came flooding back. I saw a montage in my own mind playing. Rushing in, pushing the door open, hearing the chime of the bell and being greeted by Tom’s friendly smile. Making a beeline for the NES games, admiring the art on the boxes and hoping you would pick a good game to play for that weekend. All those images flashed in my mind one after the other. And then I was snapped back to reality. I said a quick silent thank you to Tom. Turning my back to the store, I stood there for a minute to take in the cool early evening air.
I reminisced about the past while also eagerly anticipating the future. I had just graduated and was on my way to achieving my childhood dream of having my own classroom, my own students to teach and to be a positive male influence in their lives. Not unlike how Tom was to me all those years ago in his own unique way. Alas, as the final shards of sunlight pierced the storefront, I decided that was enough reflection for one night. Placing my childhood memories back in the box, I texted my cousins that I was heading over and made my way to my car. I stole one last glance at the place where Evergreen Video once stood tall and proud. I gave Evergreen Video one final knowing nod as the engine roared. The night was still young… and so was I.
That fateful June evening of 2008 was the last time I visited that small plaza where Evergreen Video once stood. It’s crazy that it’s been nearly 10 years since I’ve been back to that area. I’ve since gone on to fulfill my dreams of becoming a teacher. I like to think Tom, wherever he is, would be proud of me. To this day I have no idea where he is or even what he’s up to. I never knew his last name. It’s been over 25 years since I last saw the man. It’s sad to think there’s even a chance he may no longer be alive. But wherever he is, in whatever state or space, I hope he’s doing well and at peace.
Tom was a uncle figure to me and Kevin growing up, and Evergreen Video became much more than a mom and pop video store. It was a connection and bond held between strangers turned family. A bond that formed much like the bond that video games can help forge between people from different walks of life. And the NES certainly did that. Whenever I think back to my childhood, I invariably think about the NES, Tom and Evergreen Video. It was a different era. A simpler time. I’m grateful that I got to experience gaming’s golden age growing up. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Long live Nintendo, and long live the memories of Tom and Evergreen Video.