I returned to my hotel room and took a shower and changed into my dress-down Friday gear. Nothing special, just blue Levi’s, black tee, slim-fit navy and purple plaid shirt and a pair of scuffed off-white Reebox. I sat on my bed resting against the headboard and channel hopped with the sound turned off, watching nothing in particular. I guess I just needed a fix of different kinds of people and different kinds of faces and landscapes but without the yakkety-yak. Where I come from, everyone is white and has a double chin. It gets a bit samey after half a lifetime. As darkness fell, I turned the TV off, combed my hair and left my room to hit the city. I crossed the street and took the Blueline. Minutes later I jumped off at Damon, Wicker Park.
The heat, wow, it’s coming back to me. That was one hot summer’s night. So hot, the night itself broke into a sweat. The streets were a beehive of the beautiful and bizarre, floating from bar to café to night club like butterflies. I stopped to light a cigarette and took time out to watch the people ebb and flow. Every subculture; punks, steam-punks, goths, skaters, preppies and a whole bunch of people dressed in ways I am sure there are words for but didn’t know. Life itself was alive and hiving but I felt I was watching it from within, like a hologram nobody could see.
I walked along and it didn’t take me long to find a decent bar. The Southern. I went inside and sat on a stool at the edge of bar, slowing knocking back my Sazeracs. A well dressed woman next to me was having an animated conversation with her male companion about seitan. I guess it was some kind of vegetarian food from what I picked up but it seemed to be something of a big deal to them. I got a little bored and to be honest, I felt a little bad about being a fly on a wall and switched my thoughts to working out a plausible story to impress a lady with, one with a ‘wow’ factor.
But not in this place.
Everyone was in a group and no one looked like they needed new friends or lovers. I got up, sank the rest of my drink and left. I made my way back up towards the six corner intersection of Damen and Milwaukee. It was after midnight and most of the stores were shut. The night life was still cranking up though and I wanted to go for a ride in its engine oil. I was working out a story in my mind about being a journalist but I scrubbed that. They’re probably a dime a dozen round here and none so special neither. Art critic? I’d have needed to have read up on a whole lot of bluffer’s guides even to get off the starting block on that one. While I was thinking, I was getting thirsty again. The air was humid and my throat was cut with the dud packet of Lucky Strikes that I bought from a hustler outside my hotel a few hours earlier.
Then the building came into view.
It had a blue frontage but I couldn’t tell its name from where I stood. There were no awnings or sign but people were buzzing in and out. It looked groovy. I quickened my pace and soon enough, I was outside its front door. I looked in and was taken aback to find that it wasn’t a bar but a bookstore. A very big bookstore to boot. I looked up and finally, I saw the sign.
I know stores open longer in the cities than they do in small towns like Priest River but I never saw a bookstore, let alone a second hand bookstore open this late. I could tell it was second hand. The shelves were an orderly display of disordered shapes and sizes. I decided to put my thirst to the back of my mind and go in and explore.