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Old-school things cherished while traveling

Apr 24, 2013 - By Steven R. Peck

In another city, I find the bookstore, the movie theater and the local paper

Three of the things I like best are now described often as worn-out enterprises. In no particular order these are bookstores, movie theaters, and big daily newspapers.

Traveling recently out of state, I became separated from my wife from time to time. I worried that she might need to find me and not know where I was.

"Don't worry," she said. "I knew you would be in the bookstore."

I always buy a book when I am traveling. If it takes the bookstore at the airport to do the trick, then I will do that. Usually though, if I am going to a larger city, I will find the bookstore.

There is, in fact, a new book about bookstores. In it, well-known writers talk about their favorite bookstores and why they like them. (One of the mini-sorrows in my life came when the Either/Or Bookstore in Hermosa Beach, Calif., shut down. If you never got there, I'm sorry for you.)

The movie theater also is a favorite spot. There is something exotic, at least to me, about attending a movie in a different city. I think it might have something to do with that strange feeling you get when emerging from a movie theater that the world outside has changed somehow. Or, that time was suspended simply because you were in the movie theater. Even the most familiar surroundings can seem different after two hours in the dark watching a movie. Add to this effect the unfamiliarity with a different city, and seeing a movie out of town can almost double the sense of being "away."

Circumstance found me traveling in California, Washington D.C, and Connecticut recently, and I bought local newspapers in all three places. I much prefer them to the generic copies of USA Today which are provided to guests at virtually every hotel in every city in America.

The local paper is part of the city's identity. The San Francisco Chronicle is quite different from the Denver Post, which is not at all the same as the New Haven Register, which differs drastically from the Washington Post.

The papers come back with me in a suitcase as souvenirs which I think are superior to any gift-shop trinket or T-shirt with the name of the city stamped on it. These items most likely were made in China or Singapore or some other far-off locale. But the local newspaper was manufactured on site. Made in America. Newspapers are, after all, manufacturing centers in addition to their other functions. If you don't believe me, check out the huge machine at the back of our building. It makes things.

All three of these enjoyments -- the bookstore, the movie theater, the metro newspaper -- apparently are antiquated in the eyes of many. Why go to a bookstore when you can download an e-book to your hand-held electro marvel?

Why spend the money and sit in a non-lounge chair and spend a lot of money for popcorn to watch a movie with a crowd of strangers, some of whom will be talking or coughing, when you can see it at home on your big screen TV, in your underwear, if that's what you want?

And why buy the local newspaper when you can read it, or something approximating it, on your smart phone, if you are even interested in news any more?

I answer these questions by reversing them.

Why wouldn't you want to read the great local newspaper, which is a product not of electronic data mining but of collaboration, deliberation, examination and creativity by a group of smart, committed people? Why wouldn't you want to go to the great local bookstore, which is part retail outlet, part art gallery, and part conversation pit? Why wouldn't you want to go to the darkened movie theater and be entertained and swept away from time and space for a while by giants on the screen and where there are no phone calls?

I guess what I'm asking is why we are so anxious to render ourselves so similar to everyone else? By reducing so much of our outside information and stimulation to a handheld device 6 inches from our faces, we are becoming ever-more faceless ourselves, indifferent and unresponsive, insensitive to the world around us.

And so much more boring.

A person a generation younger than I am once asked about the older days of listening to music on the radio.

"You mean you didn't know what song was coming next?" he said.

The question came almost as an accusation. His music listening was programmed and predicted by his iPod.

"No, we did not know what song was coming next," I said.

That was sort of the point of doing it, actually.

Don't throw me immediately on the scrapheap with the Pony Express and the 8-track tape. Returning from the aforementioned trip a few days ago, I found myself stranded in Denver by weather, unable to drive north to Wyoming for more than 48 hours. I was able to assemble three opinion pages for The Ranger and nitpick over the sports copy, all from my iPhone.

In fact, these words are being dictated into it at their point of origination. I love this thing. Now that I have it, I wouldn't want to give it up.

But why must it be so odd that I feel the same about the bookstore and the movie theater, and the thick newspaper on the kitchen table?

Must having one exclude the others? Who says so? What for?

Not me. Not now. Not yet. Once we lose things we once cherished, I've noticed that we usually regret it.

Maybe there's a book about that. Or a movie.

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