I didn't make it to the great Borders blowout this morning--we're 90 miles away and, sentimentalist though I may be, I simply felt no strong notion to join the party. But I certainly remember my first outing. I had actually never heard of Borders before I went to Philadelphia in the fall of 1993 for a visiting gig at Penn. They found me an apartment right at Rittenhouse Square (pleasant and cheap). The first evening, I strolled idly up Walnut Street; I knew vaguely that there was a worth-a-sidetrip used bookstore on Walnut at about 20th (I've forgotten the details and it doesn't seem to be there any longer). But as I came around the corner at 18th and Walnut--whups, there it was, one giant store just suppurating books, surely the most fully stocked bookshop I'd seen outside of Charing Cross Road, excepting only Cody's in Berkeley. And a chain at that. I'm pretty sure I can remember my first purchase, although it doesn't seem to be in the house any more: a commentary on Marcus Aurelius, and I marvelled that you could find anything for such a niche audience in mainstream shop. Waldenbooks this was not.
But of course what attracted me even more was the coffee shop. UB groupies will recognize that I am the ultimate public-space reader, and the idea of a coffee shop inside a bookstore--and just around the corner--meant I really didn't have to spend many evenings at home. The only problem was that the place was so crowded: all I could infer was that Philly must be painfully short of singles bars, at least for the lib-arts set, because you had to claw your way for a table at Borders just about any time of the day or the week.
I won't bore you with too many more details which are, in the end, not so much different from so many other readers'. I probably logged my most Borders' time down at Davis, near campus, a favorite study hall for Asian technoid brain trust. In New York, I enjoyed the privilege of the massive space at the base of the World Trade Center. Two of my favorites were (are?) in and around DC--the one at 18th and L, and the one out by the Pentagon: both seemed to go heavy on the sort of wonkery you'd expect in those neighborhoods. And once, back when the GPS was still a novelty, I asked my rental car to point me to a Borders near Cleveland; it pointed me to Raleigh, NC; I guess the device hadn't caught on yet.
Meanwhile, of course, I was getting sucked into the digital vortex. And here's the thing: just as my first Borders presented itself a feast of almost unimaginable plenitude, compared to the online catalog it came to look shabby and cramped. Some will say this was bad management, a company run by a bunch of suits who knew nothing of the book biz. Maybe, I'm not sure-I've often suspected that loving books might be a hazard in the book biz; much better just to have a strong back Still, over and over I found myself looking at the Borders wall and saying--um, gee, is that all?
I guess that is all, and I can't say I'm merrily indifferent. Still, Palookaville has a selection of fine coffeeshops. It also has one excellent used bookstore and meanwhile, would you like to see what I've just downloaded from Amazon to my Iphone?