A real bookstore and real local culture
Austin is a pretty literate place. There are lots of colleges here, probably more per capita than anywhere else in the state, I'm guessing. So I should have assumed that there were great bookstores in the area, and I should have started looking for them sooner. But it was months after we moved here, summer, before I even started to look. I pulled out the yellow pages, looked under "Books," and planned several tours. The first day, I struck gold. "BookPeople" (bookpeople.com) right down in the heart of town, the largest bookstore in Texas, says so right here in the phone book, and it sure feels right. Inside, it's like the Tattered Cover in Denver, if you've ever been there. Several floors, lots of sections, angles, corners, seats, no long aisles. Moderate lighting, comfy chairs in niches, coffee bar in the back, quiet but not funereal. But even before I stepped inside, I knew that I had hit a home run. There, on the marquee, was the notice of an event to come: today's date, 7 PM, reading and book signing by Kinky Friedman. I immediately called Ms. T. and told her that dinner plans had changed. We were going to see the Kinkster first and then go somewhere.
Wait a minute. A bookstore with a marquee? Like a movie theater? Well, yes. They have enough events of various sorts that they constantly update it. And it's not obtrusive. The store is on one of the busiest corners in Austin, but the marquee doesn't face either street, for instance. It's visible only from the parking lot as you're walking toward the building. So if you haven't already parked to come to this bookstore or the fancy grocery store next door, you can't see it at all.
Kinky is one of our heroes. When we were in the Northeast, he was a local New York City boy and author of many strange and idiosyncratic detective tales. Still is. Lives in Greenwich Village, well SoHo for the purists, and uses much local color in his stories. He started out life as an extremely eccentric satirical country singer from Texas -- *extremely* eccentric, with additional emphasis on the extremely, and not the least bit politically correct -- and he still comes home now and then to a ranch near here. (I can't begin to do justice to his biography. If you want to know, I'm sure there's a lot of material available.)
So we show up at the appointed time with about a hundred other people to hear and see the Kinkstah. He read a chapter of his new book. Turns out that, fans though we be, we were two books behind the curve. Then he told a few jokes and signed lotsa books.
Aside: typical Kinkster joke. Texas oilman is having a terrible day. His wells are going dry, his company is going under, his wife is leaving him, and his creditors are hounding him. He's driving in his huge Cadillac with the longhorns on the front, and passes by a church on a country road, sees the statue of Jesus in front of the church. His situation is so desperate that he stops to pray. He kneels down and begins to pour out his heart to the statue, about his business and his wife and his partners. A poor Mexican man comes along in dirty clothes, and also kneels down a few feet away to plead with the statue. He says that his daughter is sick and needs medicine, and his wife lost her job, and the crop is weak because of the drought, and can the Lord show them some mercy. The oilman gets up and pulls out his wallet. He reaches down to hand the Mexican man $500, and says, "Boy, don't be botherin' Jesus with that stuff. I got *real* problems here." Ta-dum.
The other people there were an interesting part of the event, too. A couple of them looked very familiar. We concluded that they were probably actors or media types that we just couldn't quite put names to.
Odd coincidence: the guy in line directly in front of us at the signing looked for all the world like Imus's younger brother. (I am not asserting that Imus even has a younger brother, just that this man looked a whole lot like Imus when he was younger and a trifle less gnarled.) And beyond that, he looked familiar, like maybe he was a local TV person that we had seen or something. The very next day, we are driving off to dinner in a trendy but seedy part of town, sort of like the (NYC) SoHo district before it became so trendy and gentrified, as happens to all good slums sooner or later, and we saw the same gentleman walking down the street. Now that was a kinky experience.