So the “Booking Down the Road” tour ends back at our own dear little bookstore in Big Stone Gap (Tales of the Lonesome Pine Used Books, and yes, like the rest of the planet, we can be liked on Facebook). And what did we see, learn, enjoy?
Gas tank fill-ups: 4 (God bless the Honda Hybrid and all who sail with her!)
Nice Hotels: 10
Nice hotels with indoor pools: 3
Friends we got to see along the road: 4
Friends we missed seeing along the road because our overlaps didn’t: 3 (sorry Gayle, Dan/Tandy and Linda)
Books we bought: 42
Bookstores we visited: 42 (but it wasn’t 1:1!)
States visited: 9 (VA, TN, AL, MS, AR, MO, IL, IN, KY)
Number of times we said, “Oh, we should do that in our store!”: about 12
Number of bookstores we intended to visit that had gone out of business: 7
Number of vibrant small-town downtowns we saw: 18
Number of dead downtowns we saw: 22
Number of people who spent Christmas in the Memphis Crowne Plaza: 6, plus one lonely little desk clerk who kept jumping up any time someone came through the lobby, asking, in a hopeful voice, “D’ya need anything? Can I help you with something?” We finally asked for ice just to give her some human contact.
Number of times we had to go to Wal-Mart to get an item we couldn’t find anywhere else: 1
Number of times we visited a chain restaurant because we couldn’t find a mom-n-pop: 2
Favorite bookstore of all we visited: Oh be serious
Biggest laugh of trip: “Fucquay Avenue.” (If this doesn’t make sense to you, read the entry “999 and counting down.” But not while your mother is around.)
Number of total laughs on trip: about a thousand
So there it is, in simple numbers, our backroad bookstore excursion. What did we learn? That people who do what’s in front of them – build, paint, renovate, stock, defy, buy, sell and smile–are still standing, while those who wait for permission, or guarantees, or help from someone else disappear fairly quietly into that good night. That a lot of very sweet, funny people are living in the States, doing their day to day in a happy way and enjoying what life brings. That Springfield, MO is an odd place (Hi, Rachel!). That east or west, home is looking much better than we thought.
Big Stone Gap, among all the towns we saw, is pretty; it rates perhaps 7/10 in upkeep and upscale factor. We’re not Oxford, but we’re not Como, either. And we have the people, the resources, the possibility to make ourselves a cohesive community downtown. Do we have the will? Maybe, and if we don’t we have the individual curmudgeons, which from what we’ve seen will work almost as well. If you can’t join ’em, beat ’em. 2012 should prove an interesting year.
Jack and I are settling back into the store, planning implementations of some of the cool things we saw other shops doing, starting a network with many of the people we met to help ourselves along. Yeah, we learned a lot, and as every college professor knows, it will stick with us longer because we had a good time doing it.