Tag: travel

Bookstores for Browsing (and Buying)

Powell's Bookstore shelf

Staff guidance at Powell’s Books on Hawthorne

I travel a lot—both for business and leisure—and though I always pack plenty of reading material, I’ve noticed that doesn’t stop me from seeking out great bookstores wherever I land.

There have been times when the task wasn’t so easy. Once I was in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina with hours to spare before my flight home and I’d already finished every book I’d brought along on the trip. Not wanting to pay premium prices at the airport, I walked up and down the main streets looking for a bookstore, but had no luck. I ducked into a visitor information center and the host told me they unfortunately didn’t have any more bookstores in the area. She recommended I go to a drugstore for a magazine. I thanked her and kept walking. Soon, I found the public library. I entered and asked the librarian if it was indeed true there were no shops in the immediate vicinity. She regretfully confirmed there wasn’t, but when I told her of my predicament, directed me to their used library book sale where I scored two 50 cent paperbacks for my journey. Still, I was rattled that a major metropolitan area doesn’t have the demand to keep a bookshop in business.

Coming from Seattle, where independent bookstores like Elliot Bay Book Company and Third Place Books thrive, I’m spoiled with many places to explore. The following are five of my favorite U.S. bookshops outside of my own city.

  1. City Lights (San Francisco)
    I first discovered this gem during a girls’ night (seriously) with a few local friends back in 2011. The plan was for us to have cocktails at the nearby Tosca, but we needed to kill some time while we waited for a table. Ascending the stairs to a small nook on the upper level, I thought my friend was right behind me and asked her if she’d read a book that I was pointing to. When I turned around, she wasn’t there, but I had chills up and down my spine. A few minutes later when she made her way up, I joked that the place must be haunted and a local interjected that indeed there are rumors it is. Regardless of the spirits present (or not), the selection is eclectic and vast, just as you’d expect in this city known for its progressive slant.
  2. Left Bank Books (St. Louis)
    As a college student in Columbia, Missouri in the ’90s, I frequently made trips to St. Louis for Ted Drewes frozen custard. On one of those journeys, I took a friend along who was a St. Louis native, and she introduced me to this treasure trove. With a focus on community and a knowledgeable staff that encourages you to linger, I find it hard to leave whenever I visit.
  3. Compass Books SFO (San Francisco)
    I know, I know. San Fran is already on the list—I just can’t help it if they have an embarrassment of literary riches. And this one is in an airport. Yes, you heard me. The “West’s Oldest Independent Bookseller” is my first stop every time I land in Terminal 2 at SFO. In addition to the usual bestsellers, they have fantastic bargain shelves and unique gifts/greeting cards you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere.
  4. Tattered Cover (Denver)
    Following the U2 tour in May of 2011, my boss and I went out to breakfast at a place we’d seen featured on the Food Network. Full from a delicious meal and with hours to spare before the next concert, we decided it would be best to walk off our pancakes and explore the area. By chance, we landed in this mammoth-yet-somehow-amazingly-cozy independent bookstore. It’s the sort of place where the smell of coffee wafts from the café as you browse and lively conversations among bookworms are abundant. I wanted to move in immediately.
  5. Powells City of Books (Portland)
    I’m proud to say that my hometown boasts what I think is the greatest indie bookstore in America (and is actually the world’s largest). This iconic shop where I spent hours scouring used racks as a teenager, looking for (and finding) my next Beatles fix, has the vibe of a classic record store and a selection that could never disappoint. I’ve never once left without making a purchase.

Other stores I planned to include until I learned they recently closed were: Granada Books in Santa Barbara and 2nd Edition in Raleigh. May they rest in peace.

Paying Respects

Vegas Strong sign

My friend Lew is a connector. She’s worked in public service all of her adult life and her approach to her career and to life are one and the same: live and love. Do both with joy and justice.

When she invited me to be part of a girls’ trip to Vegas with a handful of her dearest friends from across the country, I didn’t hesitate to accept. I knew I’d have a great time.

It was early spring when we planned this trip—we secured plane tickets, reserved accommodations at the same resort property and most importantly, bought advance tickets to Magic Mike Live.

For months we all exchanged Facebook messages and texts, excited about the getaway. Along the way good and bad things happened to all of us. A week prior to the trip, I was laid off for the first time in my life. I was grateful I’d pre-paid for every aspect of the journey so I could still go and not feel guilty about spending money.

Then, three days before the first members of our party were to arrive in the desert, a white, cowardly American man opened fire onto the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival from his hotel room at Mandalay Bay on the Las Vegas Strip. He killed 59 people including himself and injured over 500 more.

A domestic terrorist attack right across town from where our weekend was to happen.

Before you send me mail about how I categorized this attack, let me remind you of the definition of terrorism, “the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.”

Note: it doesn’t say “only” or “exclusively” for political purposes. So even if this coward’s motive wasn’t political, it’s still terrorism.

Anyway, we were all horrified and exchanged messages that we wouldn’t let this terrible tragedy dampen our spirits. I expressed that I’d like to leave flowers for the victims at some point during the trip and the girls agreed it was a good idea.

Aside from a few hiccups (our hostess, who is allergic, got stung by a bee; Channing Tatum came to the Magic Mike performance immediately after ours so we didn’t see him), the trip was a blast. We shared meals, lounged by the pool and waved fake money at brilliant dancers. We concluded the weekend with a lavish French-themed brunch at the Aria hotel.

But I couldn’t shake the guilt. Every cab or ride share driver we had in the city was clearly traumatized. One girl, who transported victims to the hospital in the thick of the chaos, told us it was the worst day of her life. Another driver was a part-time nurse who was still caring for the injured. Yet another openly wept that he knew he’d dropped off some of the people who lost their lives.

Every storefront, hotel, casino, porn shop, wedding chapel—you name it—had a sign that read “Vegas Strong.”

Here I was, a serial concert-goer, who had just attended my 40th U2 concert a few weeks prior. I’ve been to several outdoor shows and festivals. I’ve been in crowds larger and smaller than the one those country fans were in that night. I wasn’t in Nevada when the tragedy occurred, but I had survivors’ guilt.

Guilt because it could have been me; guilt because there was no disruption to the fun-filled weekend we had in their town; guilt because I hadn’t paid my respects.

So the last afternoon, as our group was wandering and shopping and behaving as girls do as they wind down from a girls’ trip, I couldn’t take it anymore. I was on the brink of tears and filled to the brim with emotion.

I announced that I was going to the memorial and anyone who wanted to tag along was welcome to join me. One girl, who I had never met before this trip, decided to join me.

Our cab driver, another who was impacted that unimaginable night, told us that the spot across from Mandalay Bay wasn’t much to see, but we should go to the Las Vegas sign down the road, where a gentleman from Chicago had planted crosses for the victims. We agreed and arrived to a very grim, but peaceful and beautiful memorial. Candles, notes, posters, flowers, stuffed animals and balloons lined the patch of grass so thick it was difficult to find space to walk. Though we were out in the brilliant sunshine with cars whizzing past and journalists broadcasting live, the mourners were quiet and spoke in hushed tones, with reverence for the dead. Locals were thanking visitors like me for taking a moment to remember. How could we not?

My new friend and I separated to head back to the hotel, as my flight was a few hours earlier. I made the mistake of walking on the sidewalk outside where the massacre happened, glancing over the fence where the stage was still set up; remnants of attendees possessions still strung across the lawn. The negative energy was palpable and pulled me toward it.

The city was in shock and the air was raw with sadness. Consumed by this grief, I said a prayer, shed many tears and composed myself to head to the airport.

Those innocent souls shall not be forgotten.

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