Confessions of a
Garage Sale Hunter

I've got a love for retrostuff. I try to find as many hard- and software from yesteryear as possible and if possible at a good price.

Sometime around the year 1980, my grandfather decided to buy a video cassette recorder. There were two main opponents back then : VHS (courtesy of ...) and BetaMax (courtesy of Sony). My 'gramps' chose BetaMax. Naturally, when my father went out to buy a recorder a couple of years later, he too chose BetaMax. He already knew the system and it would be easy to swap tapes between him and his dad.

But for whatever reason, BetaMax was never as widely accepted as VHS. It boggles the mind, because VHS is worse. Every novice or layman can see the difference. For example, the colour red is a bitter pill to swallow for both formats. But your red will be a lot better on a BetaMax than on a VHS-recorder.

In 1989, my dad faced the facts : BetaMax was losing and disappearing. It became harder to find replacement parts and even the blank tapes were less easy to come by. So he bought a Panasonic VHS-recorder. Talk about quality : it still works to this day, 17 years later!

Our BetaMax broke down eventually, so all that reminded us of the system were 200 tapes filled with riches beyond anyone's imagination. Well, episodes of DuckTales, movies of Louis De Funes and the occasional blockbuster from the 80's - yes, I discovered Back To The Future via BetaMax!

Luckily, local fleamarkets were filled with second hand BetaMax-recorders - some ridiculously priced at $12. We managed to find three recorders over the period 1992-1997, but then they became more rare in Belgium. Until 2004, when we found another recorder (the previous three gave up the ghost). This one is still alive and kicking as I write this and it's put to good use.

When I became older, I read about magical ill-fated machines. Whenever the chance to buy some forgotten piece of nostalgia comes along, I am tempted. But, I realise it's a greedy way of living ("more! more!"), so I won't overdo it. Here's my list of possessions :

- a BetaMax

- a Video2000, another device that didn't win the VCR-war.

- a LaserDisc, a pre-DVD-system. Finding a working LD-player wasn't easy!

- a MegaDrive, the console by Sega. Not a flop (not by a longshot), but mentioned here because I found it on a fleamarket for the ludicrous price of $8, complete with two controllers and six games.

- a Record Player, because I still try to buy my new records on LP (last purchase : Morrissey's Ringleader Of The Tormentors).

- a Performa 630, a 1995 Apple computer. Now, thanks to iPod, they rule the world, but they were considered 'has-beens' in the early 90's.

- a MiniDisc, the portable audio recorder by Sony. Not a flop per se, but it never topped the sales of the WalkMan/DiscMan. I still use my MD every day, because I don't necessarily need an iPod.

- a N-Gage, the most recent item in this list. A flopped handheld device by Nokia, it will go down in history as one of the most underrated consoles.

Long live retro junk!

Julian De Backer, 7 August 2006