Do You Know What A Video Van Man Is? It’s Important

Do You Know What A Video Van Man Is? It’s Important

Tell me honestly, millennial readers: Did your town have a mobile video shop? A person who had loaded an entire brick-and-mortar video shop’s worth of tapes or DVDs (depending on your specific era) into a car or van and drove around, on call, renting them out to people? Because we had one.

We called him the Video Van Man. Our first encounter with the Video Van Man was in about 2001. He was in the area, visiting a house near my friend Jacob’s place, and we noticed he had a Toyota Hiace filled to bursting with DVDs. All of 16, we scurried over for a look.

The Video Van Man was a squat Slavic man in his 50s. He had thinning hair with grey around his temples and small but thick glasses he seemed to peer over rather than use. He had the wry worldview of a man who decided a great small business hustle was to fill a car with small things and rent them to people. It must have been a nightmare to keep track of all those discs, who had what, which were overdue, and collect on overdue fees. Whatever he was making on rentals, could it have outstripped his weekly fuel costs? Questions I wish I’d had to presence of mind to ask back then.

We lived in the Tweed Valley, and the Video Van Man would hit a different region every day of the week. He was out and about most days, because he was up against stiff competition. There was at least one video shop in every town in the region, and the larger towns had as many as three. There were many mum-and-pop stores, but the chains were everywhere — Video Ezy, Civic Video, and Top Video had all moved in, and the big dog Blockbuster had just established itself in Tweed Heads and Murwillumbah. The Video Van Man’s value add was convenience — you didn’t have to go the video store to browse, or even take discs back when you were done. He came to you, the picking up of last week’s discs presenting an opportunity to sell you on another week’s worth of rentals.

And he was booked and busy. On Mondays, he might be as far south as Brunswick Heads. On Wednesdays, he’d be somewhere between Murwillumbah, Uki and Tyalgum. On Fridays, he could be reliably found anywhere from Hastings Point to Coolangatta. Smack bang in the middle, and with the weekend looming, that always suited us down to the ground.

I know what you’re thinking. This dude drives around in a van, renting video games to kids in the suburbs? Sus. But I promise you, he was, remarkably, 100% on the level. All his discs were legit, not pirated or yoinked from Bali markets en masse. He would only show up if you called him to come by. He never got into any trouble, and he was well-liked by everyone in the area. 2001, man. A different time, to be sure.

That day, he knew we were looking for games before we even reached the van. We rummaged through his surprisingly vast library of games for things to play over the weekend. Being teenagers, we paid him with whatever change we could scrape together. The first rental was a copy of Tekken 2 for the PS1, a game we loved but could never get hold of at either of the local video stores. Over the next couple of years, we would see him regularly on a Friday. We plumbed his collection, uncovering gems along the way. Without the Video Van Man, we wouldn’t have played Tenchu 1 and 2. We wouldn’t have fallen in love with X-Men vs. Street Fighter (the closest thing we could get to the Dragon Ball Z fighters burning up the import charts in the States). We wouldn’t have discovered games like the PS1 version of Asterix (called Asterix: The Gallic War in countries other than Australia), a surprisingly solid strategy game with interstitial 3D platforming levels.

The Video Van Man liked us a lot because we rented from him regularly, we never broke anything, we never lost anything, and we were never late returning anything. He liked us so much that after what must have been our 30th weekend rental of Tekken 2, he simply told us to keep it.

I don’t remember when we ultimately lost track of him. We all finished high school and began moving around after that. The little collective that made up our after-school gaming sessions found itself spread right up and down the Gold Coast.

In all that time, I don’t think I ever even learned his name. I wish I had. I would have loved to talk to him for this yarn. Nevertheless, this weird little man of vague nationality, with his Hiace full of DVDs, looms large in the memory. He is precisely the kind of itinerant oddity the Tweed produces, a semi-lawless place built on the tectonic plates between Queensland’s beachy brand of mental illness and New South Wales’ stony rural temperament.

There Is Another

Recently, I noticed a tweet from my friend Chantal at We Have Always Lived In The Forest about what she called “the VHS truck men.”

‘No way,’ I thought. ‘There is another.’ So I chimed in.

This led to the two of us having a long discussion about the very existence of Video Van Men. What we found was that our respective Video Van Men (Chantal’s dubbed the similar but decidedly more ominous ‘VHS Truck Man’) were similar in many regards, but very different in others. Both could be gruff, but ours was patient where hers was not.

The most surprising thing to come out of that discussion, for us, was the realisation that a lot of people we follow on Twitter hadn’t the faintest idea what we were talking about. We were asked by several people if this was a bit we were indulging in. No. We can both assure you that the Video Van Man was extremely real, neither a cryptid nor the product of Australian Gothic fable crafting (though, I’m sure Chantal would be delighted if either turned out to be true).

Help Me Out Here

I turn to you, Kotaku Australia readers. You come from all around the country. Did you have a Video Van Man in your neck of the woods, or did you only have traditional video shops? Have you ever heard of the idea of a Video Van Man before? Does the scenario I’m describing here make any sense to you at all, or are Chantal and I truly alone in the universe on this one? Please get in the comments and put me out of my torment.

Image: Bojan Pesic, iStock, PlayStation, Kotaku Australia

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