The best dates are accidental – the bookstore/coffeeshop you didn’t expect, the historic square you didn’t anticipate, the flea market you didn’t know about. Today had all three – the bookstore/coffeeshop, the historic square, the flea market.
I had an itch to go somewhere, maybe a bookstore or coffeeshop, preferably somewhere with space, parking, novelties, fresh air. Do I go downtown? I asked out loud. Or do I go to the cafe down the street? Or do I venture to the bookstore northwest of where we live? I knew I wanted to be somewhere spacious but not empty, novel but not uncomfortably unfamiliar, close to home but not too close to home.
Then I remembered a Reddit post from several weeks ago. People raved about a specific bookstore about an hour away. But because it was several cities away, a strange town, and an hour away, it didn’t seem worth it at the time. Today felt perfect, though, and I set my mind to go there.
The drive there was peaceful. We passed by pockets of forestry and lakes and ponds. We drove through maybe four or five cities before arriving at this town. Its age quickly showed, stout abandoned buildings and criss-crossing roads and fading bricks galore. From a demographic perspective, it looked like hipster central. I peered around. Food trucks and antique stores and records shops and burger joints surrounded a cathedral-esque building. This was their historic square. It looked like so many others, classic Main St., with the buildings boxily attached, all 50 shades of brick.
The bookstore was overwhelming, a maze of vinyl music and classic poetry and ghost stories and ocean books and translated tales and collectible games and framed posters of Johnny Cash and photography books. The place itself was old as hell. That was part of its appeal. The names carved into the wood, stickered collages on the wall, chunk of carpet kicked up and left to unfurl. It was, I kept saying, scrappy, but in the best way imaginable. On the second floor, I saw familiar books and authors – Nabokov, Didion, Cisneros.
Afterwards, we explored a neighboring indoor flea market, the second half in a musty, likely haunted, basement.
Next door, where the smell of sugar wafted onto the street, we got ice cream, two scoops on chocolate waffle. We ate it on the steps of the cathedral. Hungry, we ordered takeout burgers and hot dogs at a place down the street, where I studied the waiter’s face behind my massive shades. I later realized she reminded me of an old student. We finished the food on another set of cathedral steps. By then, the tree’s Christmas lights had turned on.
Funnily enough, I had also hoped, today, to find some lights. And here it was, the day I envisioned and somehow stumbled into: the bookstore, the downtown, spacious but not empty, novel but not uncomfortably unfamiliar, close to home but not too close to home. In the car, I effusively reverse-thanked myself, saying “you’re very welcome for today’s accidental date.” He responded with an even louder “you’re welcome,” and we thank-welcomed ourselves until the sun set and we could see a sliver of moon in the sky.