Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Bookmobile

Every once in awhile, when I'm out driving here or there, I see a St. Louis County Public Library Bookmobile, and I smile.

The summer before 7th grade, my folks moved from Jefferson County to South County. Not too far, but to a 7th grader, well, they may as well have taken me to Guam. All I knew was that I no longer knew where I lived, and I had no friends. That summer I spent a lot of time on my bike, exploring the subdivisions around my new home and generally trying to get my bearings. Finding another kid my age would have been a perk, too. Eventually, I found my way through the subdivision behind us and discovered a path that led directly to my new middle school and my sister's new grade school.

Then, one day, while riding up there and circling around as I usually did out of sheer boredom, I saw something in the grade school parking lot I had never seen before. There was a big truck that had pulled a large trailer onto the lot. The markings on it said, "St. Louis County Public Library Bookmobile." Huh? Now, I was an avid reader even at that age (always have been, actually: my former elementary school librarian had made special rules for me in second grade because I had read almost all the second grade books in the library, and when no one was looking she let me skirt the ropes blocking us from the third grade section), but I had never seen a bookmobile before. Hell, I didn't even know bookmobiles existed.

After sitting there on my bike, scrutinizing the outside of the trailer for a long time, watching people go in with books and come out with different books, I finally steeled up my nerve. It looked like they let anyone go in, after all. I parked the bike and gingerly climbed the metal grate steps, pulling cautiously on the rectangular latch of the door. I peeked inside, and it was like nirvana.

Books! Shelves and shelves, rows and rows of books! In a trailer, for Pete's sake! I think my eyes must have been the size of saucers, because finally the bookmobile librarian explained to me exactly what a bookmobile was, and how I could use it, for free.

I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

Once a week, I could ride my bike up to the grade school and visit the bookmobile. I could check out seven books at a time, for free, just like at the big library, and return them up to two weeks later. I got my very first library card that day, on the spot. It was laminated and it had my name on it and everything. I think that library card became one of my most cherished possessions, alongside the bike.

I have no idea how many books I checked out and read that summer. I can say that I took advantage of the seven book maximum and stuffed my backpack full every week, racing home to start on my newfound treasures.

What had started out to be the worst summer of my short life (my parents had moved me to Guam after all) ended up being probably one of the best, thanks to the Bookmobile.

So, whenever I see a St. Louis County Public Library Bookmobile, I smile. And remember.

The image below isn't of my Bookmobile, but a cool one I found while visiting Stef in Ann Arbor. Tweaked it a bit in Photoshop because it was fun, and besides, Bookmobiles are supposed to be a wee bit psychedelic.


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