"Do you know of a good bookstore around here?" I asked the cashier as she handed me an enormous spinach salad and slice of cheese pizza at this unfamiliar restaurant in this unfamiliar town. We had found this low-slung eatery in the downtown area, sandwiched between Thai cuisine and a bar, if I remember correctly. Thai food had been nixed.
Youngest and I were on a late summer explore, itinerary: his choice.
I thought he would choose the 'Water Slides with Friends' idea as his one excursion out of town before school began, not the 'Go to a New Town with Mom and Stay in a Hotel with Pool' idea. But he chose me, or more likely, he chose the hotel, pool, and promised trip to the mall.
One of the first buildings I noticed when we arrived in town. On the side mural, floating on the puffy clouds and barely visible in this shot, are two painted heads of Jerry Garcia and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gazing benevolently down on all the peaceful brothers and sisters of this small metropolis.
By the time we'd arrived at the pizza place, we had been in town for awhile - we'd already shopped, stayed overnight, wandered around the local mall, and eaten way too many Willy Wonka candies. These treats came out of a clear-fronted vending machine with tubes and slides for our candy to roll down before dropping into our plastic tub. We ate them while window shopping. We went back for seconds. And thirds. His choice. The longer we chewed these sweet-sour, alien-to-any-natural-process tidbits, the more neon our tongues became. My stomach began to wonder if it could handle much more of this 'his choice' agenda - at least concerning food.
Another 'his choice' had been to stand in the mall's indoor Hurricane Simulator - a sorry simulator we agreed, as Son's hair barely mussed and he was able to stand perfectly upright in supposedly 80 mph winds. It was nothing like the weatherman we'd seen on the hotel television that morning, braced on an east coast beach against gale force winds. That guy could barely remain upright much less keep his hair groomed, compared to Youngest and the Hurricane Simulator's leisurely breeze.
As we lunched, we commented on sights we'd seen, as well as our hotel's bonuses and shortcomings, especially the 11th floor vertigo I'd experienced. The conversation went off on a tangent into the somewhat frequent wonder I have for high-rise dwellers who comfortably sleep each night so far removed from the ground, a lifestyle that is far removed from my own.
Snicker away, high-rise dwellers, I had to face away from the window to settle my roiling mind and stomach before I finally dropped off to sleep in that 11th floor hotel room.
All things verbal then deteriorated to a full five minutes of Youngest's teasing about the gruesome fat ticks (pale pine nuts) I was eating on my spinach salad. He even went so far as grabbing one particularly blood-sucking-looking pine nut and clutching it against his neck, pretend panicking as he fake pulled it off, complete with silent screams and blood-spurting gestures. I stuffed my irritation and played along, timing my eye-rolling appropriately, not only remembering those drive-you-Wonka candies we'd shared (80% to Youngest, I might add), but also that we were on a rare trip away and this was my last child at home - one with full-fledged teenhood right around the corner.
With the last of lunch, we made plans for our final stop in town: we needed to find a bookstore -- this thirteen year-old loved to read and so did I. Finally, I thought, a choice we agreed on. With directions from the pizza lady, along with assurances that we'd love this place, we got in the truck and took off, driving the full distance - 300 yards or so it turned out - to the local independent bookseller, tucked in a nearby side street.
Youngest and I hopped out - down really, this being my husband's too-tall-for-us truck we were driving - and crossed the street toward the shop in the late afternoon sun. We stepped through the threshold into the muted light of the shop, our eyes taking a moment to adjust. Our jaws dropped, our heads turned as our eyes swept the interior view. We caught each other's gaze.
"I've never seen a bookstore quite like this..." I remarked, as a gleam arose on both our faces.
Son began to wander off down an aisle without another word.
"See you in ten minutes," I reminded.
"O-k-a-a-y......geez." and he was off, an explorer searching new interiors.
I know ten minutes sounds an absurdly short time for browsing and choosing book titles with promise, but I also knew ten minutes was plenty of time for us. Without a deadline, we'd both wander around for hours, our eyes and brains perusing, absorbing, absent to all other life needs, until we were forced out on the street by tired clerks at closing time. Besides, our trip was nearly over, it was late in the day.
I turned and took in the line of tall, narrow, thickly mullioned windows stretching across the front of the high-ceilinged, partially bricked storefront. Next, I drank in the mirroring rows of tall, narrow, mahogany-hued bookcases, completely covered with...
Not only were they enticing me from the many stuffed cases lining the store's perimeter and filling the interior, but the books -- new books, used books, old books -- were also in haphazard stacks on the floor of every aisle. Piles and piles of tantalizing titles and covers, all rising from the otherwise tidy and polished floors.
Cluttered bookstore heaven... discordant and delightful all at once.
I am a sucker for this kind of atmosphere: books bought and sold in older buildings, filled with intriguing nooks and crannies, creaky wooden floors and filtered rays beaming across high ceilings, cushioned benches placed here and there partially filled with pale, hunched, mesmerized devotees.
My kind of people.
My kind of bookstore, although I had never seen floors covered with book stacks quite like this before.
Standing in the back of the shop, sneaking a couple photos. I had to.
Within seconds, I had gotten my bearings and was ensconced in my favorite section, interior mind bubbles bursting in delight as I found copy after copy of longed-for titles on my mental list of books and authors yet to read. Since most of those finds were in those piles on the floor, I knelt down and began to build a quick stack of potential purchases.
Not more than five minutes had gone by, when, standing back up, hoisting my selected books, I heard a brusque voice behind me.
"I'm ready. Are you?"
Lifting my eyes, I see an impressive stack held in the arms of Youngest - a stack exceeding my own by a good half-dozen books.
Without a word, we glanced at each other's must-haves, glanced back at our own must-haves, set them all down, and began editing. When each personal tower had been greatly reduced in number, we silently loaded up again, heading for the checkout with smiles on our faces.
Quest fulfilled, time to head home.
As we pulled onto the highway, the last of the westering sun to our right, Son reached forward for the CDs. "Mind if I put on some music, Mom?