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Texas Convention All Booked Up

An Australian BookCrosser's Adventures in Texas
by Skyring
May 2, 2005
I smiled every time the elevator doors opened. I had to. At each floor, the table in the lift lobby was bearing a row of books, each with a familiar little yellow note saying “Take me home! I’m Free!” In fact, the entire Fort Worth Plaza Hotel was one big OBCZ for the weekend. Even the hotel staff members were wearing BookCrossing Convention badges!

As an Australian, little things like this made me feel at home in the middle of Texas. I knew I was among friends. Just the sight of that little yellow running book on a badge or a shirt or a bag, and my face would light up with a broad smile. A hotel full of such people had me grinning goofily all the time. Otherwise, Texas was a strange and alien land for me. The sun moved the wrong way across the sky, the cars came at me from the wrong direction whenever I stepped off the curb, the coins were different, the accents, the spelling, the food. Lord, the food! Spreading jalapeño cheese sauce on your biscuit would get you certified as insane back home in Australia, let me tell you!

But the locals bent over backwards to make a stranger feel at home. Before the convention even started, I found myself in TexasWren's giant car on a field trip to Archer City, home of Larry McMurtry’s enormous secondhand bookstore.

“Anything else we can do to make you comfortable?” TexasWren asked mojosmom and me in the backseat.

“Yeah,” I replied, looking nervously at the Texas traffic, “drive on the other side of the road.”

I must have watched too many Westerns. I expected Texas to be all sand dunes, cactus, mesas and cowboys. But north Texas is quite a pleasant land, certainly greener than my home city of Canberra, where we have been on water restrictions for two years now.

Archer City is two hours drive away from Fort Worth. A tiny town – a courthouse, library, couple of restaurants and a gas station or two. Two water towers and a Dairy Queen. Wide streets, hot sun; slow walking, slow talking inhabitants. I loved it. But as a secondhand bookseller I loved McMurtry’s “Booked Up” operation even more.

The original premises are a rambling maze of bookshelves, books everywhere, sprawling over tables, chairs, nooks and niches. The floor level changes when you step into the annex, and again when you enter the converted garage. A wide door opens straight out into a backyard, deserted by all except some lizards flat out in the sun and a lazy grey cat. Two young ladies in the front room languidly sort books and politely assist when you arrive at the tiny counter with an enormous stack of purchases, which they pack away into bags recycled from a variety of local businesses.

And such books! No mass market paperbacks here. I’d been hoping to buy a bag or two for releasing, but I couldn’t find anything cheaper than $5, and I wanted to keep most of the books I saw anyway. As a bookseller, bookbuyer, booklover, bookhoarder, I yearned to fetch a supermarket trolley and wheel away enough of McMurtry’s excellent books to make my homeward jumbo jet drag its tail along the ground the whole way home.

The amazing part about the store is that it is not just one store but four! Booked Up #2 is across the road, #3 a few doors down, and Booked Up #4 is a couple of blocks away. Each of the satellite stores is loaded with great books and quite unattended by staff. You have to make your selection from the vast stock, wander out, cross the highway, pass the courthouse, maybe stop in at the Cimarron Coffee Co. for a slice of pie, and eventually plonk your pile down in the first shop, where you are more than likely to want to do a quick browse through the shelves there. Again.

Eventually we were done. Almost. TexasWren’s husband johnnyzero wanted to see the famous Dairy Queen, as featured on the cover of McMurtry’s latest book Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen and in the pages of his novel Texasville.

We settled in for a snack and a shake. I had something called a Blueberry Cheesequake, which featured actual chunks of cheesecake in amongst the freezing berry goodness. Naturally, it couldn’t be slurped up with even the thickest straw, and as I spooned my way through it, I wondered just how much I’d want dinner tonight.

“Y’all ain’t from 'round here?”

We looked up. It turned out to be a young lady who had a bit part in the movie of Texasville, and who now writes for the town paper. We gave her press releases, bookmarks and a book or two before hitting the road back to the convention. The article was published a few days later.

I’ll let someone else describe the formal events of the convention. It was all good, but for me there were three highlights that stood out.

The greatest pleasure was meeting my BookCrossing buddies. People whose lives I’d shared from the far side of the world for a year or two. People I hadn’t met in the flesh. I hugged them all, starting with Amberlee17, who is sweetness personified, and worked my way through all the famous BookCrossers in attendance. It meant a great deal to me, a stranger in a strange land, to walk into a room full of people I’d never laid eyes on previously, and to feel a thrill of joy to recognize someone or have them introduce themselves. In many cases their real names held no recognition, but their screen names rang all my bells.

Someone brought out a camera and the BookCrossing LiveJournal bloggers posed for a picture. I wasn’t entirely surprised to find that everyone else in the picture was female, but I certainly wasn’t complaining.

A roar went up when Ron, Heather and Bruce, the three co-founders of BookCrossing, walked into the room. Everyone was smiling – if it weren’t for these people, we wouldn’t have such a wonderful community!

My second highlight was the release-frenzy-walking-tour of the historic Stockyard district. This was Old Texas at its finest, with gunfights, cattle stampedes, wrangling and bulldogging and that was just on the trolley ride there, trying to find a seat! But we wandered around the historic district gawking at the longhorns, riding the mechanical bull, and generally being tourists in the Texas sun. We sought the cool shade and cool drinks of the Stockyard Station, and somehow one particular release zone recommended itself to all BookCrossers who passed that way!

And my third special experience lay in the kindness of Canadian BookCrossers Nelle and GolfGuy, who took me to my first ever Major League Baseball game, where we saw the Toronto Blue Jays wallop the Texas Rangers at the amazing Ameriquest Stadium. This was a piece of pure America and I enjoyed every colourful moment of the evening.

The next morning Miss-Efficiency gave a presentation on next year’s convention in Toronto, and I resolved to attend, simply because I’d had so much fun in Fort Worth.

All too soon, Fort Worth was just a speck on the horizon as my jet turned in the sky and headed west on the first hop of my long journey home.

Thank you America! I felt welcome and among friends. It was an experience I’ll cherish in my memories. As they say in the classics, I’ll be back!

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