Second, if you want to follow it, rest assured that I’m going back to posting once a week, or even fortnightly, after this trip. There will be three more days of “Booking Down the Road,” and then we resume the slower pace of a happy life in 2012. Best wishes for your New Year when it comes; some of you are in time zones where it already is, so hope you are off to a great start!
Okay, now let me tell you about our very strange yesterday.
We left Mt Carmel and Nikki, who as part of the “We really do have great customer service” fun told us about a bookstore in a house about 30 minutes away. This turned out to be run by one Bill E. Taylor, a character and a half. He and his wife had inherited “Book Daddy” from his father-in-law 12 years ago, when it had already been running 35 years. The store was tiny, not more than 10,000 books, and badly organized.
None of which mattered, because Bill was just so gosh darn much fun to talk to. He charmed us up one side and down the other, and we left loaded with (very inexpensive) books of every description, and his home address and phone in our pocket. For his part, he had our details and the title of my book, which he promised “to buy ten copies of and give as Christmas presents next year.”
So OF COURSE we liked him! But we also loved swapping small town stories of silly politics, smarmy inside deals, and sweet summers. The more you travel, the more things sound a lot like home.
We left Bill, charmed and cheered, and drove to Evansville, Indiana, which boasted five bookstores, two of them new. We had some trouble locating Fulton Avenue Books, and when we pulled in, a man getting out of a large pick-up gave us a funny–okay, unfriendly–look, as we folded up our travel atlas and hunted the camera before vacating our little hybrid.
“What’s his problem?” I asked Jack as we walked toward the door our GPS said was the place.
“Urk,” said Jack.
“Urk” is a not a sound I associate with Jack. “What, honey?”
Jack pointed, wordless, at a sign: “Gentlemen only. Must be 18 to enter.”
Well, who knew? This bookstore was a porn shop. Wow! That hadn’t happened the whole trip. Okay, back in the car (quickly!) and on to the next address.
It got funnier as we drove. “When you think about it, we’ve visited 30 bookstores, so one of them had to be a duffer,” Jack said, as we pontificated and rationalized and drove faster away from Fulton Avenue Books to “Bookmart.”
Which was also a porn shop.
“No way,” Jack said, staring at the sign.
“Let’s get the hell out of Evansville,” I said, and we floored it, leaving behind two more shops that shall never be explored by the Beck Welch team. Probably at least one was run by a sweet little old lady with a resident cat, who would have been knitting a sweater (the lady, not the cat).
Anyway, we left Pornsville at 70 mph and drove to an outlying burg: Newburgh. The funniest part of this bit was driving out of Evansville past some incredibly large and beautiful newly-built houses. In any economy, they would have stood out, but in these recession times?
“This will be the porn king family and his children,” Jack said, and at that precise moment, an ornate sign overhead announced, “Fucquay Avenue.”
I can’t remember the last time Jack and I laughed that loud. The windows in our car caved and convexed with it.
In Newburgh we met the retired librarian running “Book Nook,” a basement shop complete with an old bank vault. The messiest shop we’d seen yet, dimly lit and stuffed to the gills, it was a welcome respite from the morning’s non-bookstores.
A bit of serendipity also cheered us. Our route took us through a town called New Harmony, and since we drove right along the downtown square, it became evident that this was another utopian village attempt, like New Lanark, Scotland. We pulled in and wandered the street, stopping at an antique store (complete with resident puppy “Lucky”) so Jack could ask about the town’s origins. During the shop owner’s explanation, Jack mentioned the Lanark village and its founder, Robert Owen.
“Yeah,” said the shopkeeper. “That’s the guy.”
Turns out the Owen family had exported their philosophy and its backing money to the Quaker area of Indiana/Kentucky, and created this little piece of social engineering. A recent grant had brought it back to life–although, the man said regretfully, the bookshop had closed about five years before. A coffeeshop was selling used books, another pattern we saw often in towns that had lost their bookstores but weren’t big enough to attract Barnes and Noble.
Charmed, we drove to Owensboro, KY, where “Tales and Tunes” would be the last bookshop of the day before heading full steam toward Frankfort, KY, where our friends Charles and Mary waited. Mary Hamilton, a storyteller, is publishing her first book this May, with University Press of Kentucky. (It is called Kentucky Folktales: revealing stories, truths and outright lies.)
Jack and I chatted about the unusual nature of the morning’s discovery’s, how Billy’s place had looked so unpromising and turned out to be such fun, as we drove, and we pulled up to the address for “Tales and Tunes” almost before we expected it.
It was a porn shop.
We stared in disbelief, then burst out laughing. And drove away, still laughing, toward friends we knew in a happier place.