The next day we saw the most we had seen of Chicago—in our rear view mirror.
By mid-morning we had passed Garry, Indiana—the birthplace of Michael Jackson and by midday we stopped in South Bend (home of Notre Dame) for a bathroom and exercise break. The dominance of football was obvious from our entry into the city. The lanes of the public highway were marked (permanently, it seemed) with the parking lanes for the football stadium (VIP, Season Tickets, etc.). We found a spot in a quiet park by the river (the one that bends south, I presume). It was a beautiful fall day, the wind gusting and sending leaves floating down from the trees. It was something I was sure Felix had never seen before. I tried to get him to appreciate them but he was more concerned with running around, and the big dog we passed. The park had an old cabin that had belonged to the first resident of South Bend. It was locked and deserted. So were the public bathrooms. We moved on.
It was one of the longest days of the trip. We lost an hour as we passed into East Coast time. Nevertheless, I was pushing to make it to Clyde, Ohio—Sherwood Anderson’s “Winesburg”—before the bookstore on Main Street closed. Surely a book that featured Clyde should sell. I spoke with the proprietor at the Book Exchange. She was not the decision maker. The owners worked out of another bookstore they operated in Port Clinton, about an hour distant. We pulled in to Clyde at 5:30 and took a parking spot right outside the bookstore (parking spots were easy to come by). Rika and Felix went around the corner past the Presbyterian Church, which figures in Winesburg, Ohio. I made my pitch. The owners were going to be along in an hour or so. We would have waited. But, when I asked if there was any good restaurant where we could get something to eat near Main Street, the answer was negative. I had had the same feeling the last time I visited Clyde when I was researching for the book; the old Main Street block soldiered on, the buildings patched and cracking in the back alley. But the Clyde of old, as described by Anderson, was not so thriving.
“Factories had not come in and the people were engaged in farming, the selling of merchandise or in the practice of the crafts in the old sense. Two carpenters met on the streets in the evening and talked for hours concerning the best way to cut out a window frame or build a door.”
Feeling a bit like gypsies at this point, we headed out again, and ate at McDonald’s a few towns down the road. We made it to Cleveland after nightfall.
The Holiday Inn Express in Cleveland is in a beautiful old building, with an arcade a city block wide that was patterned after an Italian palace.
By then, I was feeling the steady presence of some sort of cold. We took our luggage to our spacious room with its twelve foot ceilings and settled in. Only one destination stood between us and Boston: Binghamton, New York.
The next morning, my nose was running and my head felt congested. My voice was a hoarse croak. Nevertheless, we stuck to the plan: to visit three bookstores before leaving for Binghamton. I was sorry to be leaving Cleveland as if we were on the run. It was nice to be in the canyon of tall buildings. Just down the street from us one could see the beautiful Terminal Tower skyscraper, built in 1930, with its top like a wedding cake. We headed out towards Shaker Heights.
Shaker Heights is an affluent suburb of Cleveland. Getting there, all the streets were Anglo Saxon, the fire hydrants painted silver. Once we reached the main drag (though such a word sounds like a profanity when used within the city limits of Shaker Heights), we could tell it was a very fine place. There were several Oriental rug stores, and not one of them had a clearance sale sign in the window. Where we come from, there is not a single Persian or oriental rug store (outside, perhaps, of Beverly Hills) which does not advertise a sale year-round. We stopped first at a bookstore in Shaker Heights which shall remain nameless. It was after 10:00 and the door was wide open, the interior of the shop impressive and fine. The staff was in the middle room, from which the open door, and my entrance, were clearly visible. They were engaged in a staff meeting. Perhaps I looked like some flotsam from the street. But in the time I was there, and during the time I returned to give them another try, no one acknowledged my presence. I wasn’t about to swoop down upon them with my crow’s voice and be sent on my way like some errant tradesman, so we left.
What followed was a beautiful drive through backlit fall foliage, leaves drifting down onto country roads on the way to Chagrin Falls—a town that looked the way I imagined Richard Ford’s Haddam, New Jersey to look: awfully tony and immaculate and with an ambiance money can’t simply buy. “Living in a place,” Richard Ford’s glib Frank Bascombe tells us, “is one thing we all went to college to learn how to do properly.” I believe Bascombe is referring to tutelage concerning how to live in a place like Haddam, or Chagrin Falls—places where living must be done properly, or shouldn’t be attempted at all.
From there it was on to Hudson, Ohio, the most gratifying bookstore experience I had on the entire trip. Liz Murphy from the Learnéd Owl in Hudson, had responded to our early mailing about the book, requesting a review copy. When I called the shop from Chagrin Falls, she recognized me immediately, saying that the shop loved the book. The bookstore, which has been in business for over forty years, and has been owned by Liz Murphy for more than twenty, has an old-fashioned wooden screen door that banged as I went in—a sound that reminded me of cottage doors in summer camps by a lake. The shop has a sleepy golden retriever, who looked up when my son came in. It is situated on a healthy Main Street and gives every impression of being an integral part of the community. A steady stream of customers came in and out, and engaged in conversation. Ms. Murphy, if all booksellers were as enlightened as you, I believe the world would be a better place.