22 July 2010

The last hour

Tomorrow my partner and I leave town for a few days -- and while we are away, the old Webster's on Allen will close its doors until it gets a new downtown home. There's something surreal about being somewhere you know is going to disappear, about being in a place for the last time -- and knowing this fact. It's hard not to feel nostalgic. There's an almost unavoidable need to load the final moments with a significance they might not otherwise have: another day at the old hangout with nothing special going on suddenly becomes a blurry Polaroid of old friends saying goodbye pinned to the fridge with a souvenir magnet. Once in a while you take it down and look at it and sigh.

It's hard to resist the temptation to document this last hour. The doors haven't locked yet, the books are still on the shelves, the toaster is still plugged in, the wireless is still up and running. For all intents and purposes, it's just another Thursday afternoon at Webster's in the summer. Things are slow. The café staff have caught up on their work. No one stands in line. A handful of regulars are scattered throughout the store, doing what they always do: reading, surfing the 'net, talking. The book staff are in the midst of their usual business, the tasks that always mystified me, thinking in the secret language of books.

Time has come nearly to a standstill. The only thing that marks its passage is the slow saunter of the occasional patron across the floor, the progression of songs on Pandora, the lazy spin of the Stax of Trax Records sign. As always, there are countless fliers below the counter, some of them ancient and torn, others brand new. Cookies and teas sit in glass jars. A couple flip through the records, hoping to find some treasure. A man browses the books, letting curiosity lead him around the shelves.

It's nothing magical. Or is it?

I'm trying to figure out exactly what it is I'm going to miss about this place. Elaine recently noted that Webster's isn't the building, but the people who fill it. And in a way she's right: it's the convergence of this continually changing group of people that makes Webster's a social force in the community. But as a geographer, I can't help but think about the importance of space and location in the identity of this place. I won't just miss the assortment of people here (and many of them make strange bedfellows indeed), but also its relationship to other locations I frequent, the many paths I take to get here from different points in town.

I'm learning from this. I'm learning that everyday life isn't just about static destinations; it's also about our movements between them. Movement brings space for thought, anticipation, anxiety, meditation. What I will miss about Webster's isn't just the place itself, but the ways I have organized my practices around it, the ways it has changed my experience of life in this town, the ways that this space and I stand in relation to one another.

Time's almost up. In twenty minutes I'll walk out the back door, and by the time I return that door will be locked. I'm going to go live it now.

1 comment:

  1. What a clear cogent expression of what Websters and Elaine's heart means to all of us. Thank you!