The Beach During the Early Days of the Plague: Now Forbidden
I used to love taking walks, but now I am somewhat indifferent. You see, what attracted me was not the mere exercise: It was having a destination. And my favorite destinations were bookstores. Well before the coronavirus plague reached our shores, the bookstores of Los Angeles pretty much melted into history. Now I will occasionally take a walk to an Italian grocery in Santa Monica or to the West Los Angeles Post Office.
For a while, it was possible to walk along the beach, or over the bluffs in Santa Monica overlooking the beach. Now both are closed to enforce social distancing. The above Los Angeles Times photo was shot during the early days of the plague. Now, the police are out in force chasing people from the beach or anything else that looks like a nice place to walk. We are urged only to walk for the sheer fun of it, or to go to the market or pharmacy to shop for necessaries.
One thing I absolutely refuse to do is wear a mask while taking a walk. If some random bozo attempts to upbraid me for it, I will gladly send my sputum in his direction. As I wrote in yesterday’s post, until I can find another solution, I cannot exercise while fogging up my glasses. I will gladly stay far away from other walkers, as my distrust of strangers long predates the arrival of the coronavirus. I am always happy to answer strangers’ questions in my ungrammatical Hungarian, which may include some colorful expressions of contempt.
Later this week, I will probably walk to Bay Cities Imports (the Italian deli in Santa Monica) to pick up one of their delightful Spaniard sandwiches together with some ingredients for a future Italian meal. Their pasta, sauces, and Italian sausages are nothing short of superb.
We’ll Take Your Word for It
As I took this picture some twelve years ago, I have no idea what this picture is all about. In those days, I used to take a lot of beach walks as a form of exercise. What really motivated me, however, is that there was usually a book store either on the way or serving as the final destination. Now that most of the bookstores in the area have been shut down to satisfy the itching of palms of greedy landlords. The only two that remain—Sam: Johnson in Mar Vista and Small World Books on the Venice Boardwalk—have survived only because the bookstore either owns the building, or a family member of the owner runs the bookstore.
I need to do more walking, though I feel some apprehension as the hot season begins raise beads of sweat on my forehead. No matter. I could wake up early on Sunday and time my walk to get to Small World Books as it opens at 10 am. The things I have to do! Apparently the walk is not sufficient motivation on its own.
As I continue to stare at the picture above, I realize what the photo is about. I strongly suspect that it refers to some benefit conferred by Falun Gong, the Chinese spiritual practice currently outlawed by the Communist Party in Beijing. How did I figure it out? After I wrote the second paragraph above, I looked up Falun Gong on Wikipedia and noticed that the first character in Chinese on the banner is the first character in the name of Falun Gong. Check it out for yourself here.
“Book Window” in Downtown L.A.’s Last Bookstore on 5th and Spring
Sometimes I think the silent movies had it right. The landlord was always a miser who thought nothing of evicting widows and orphans for late payment of rent. Now as bookstores are shutting their doors forever because some landlord was a richer tenant and a more upscale clientele. Let’s face it, selling books is not the easy way to wealth. And, what is more, many bookstores have a scruffy air about them. Not the sort of people who would be invited to Mar-a-Lago or the Trump Tower.
In most bookstores, the top price for an item is usually around $30 for a hardback and $20 for a paperback. Compare that with the money that could be made by selling a fashionable handbag or a stylish outfit to some empty-headed poltroon. Of course, even fashionable boutiques have off days, because there are not enough rich clients around to make owners of commercial real estate happy.
Curiously, I don’t even like to visit a retail establishment unless there is a nearby bookstore to make the trip worthwhile. I used to walk into Santa Monica on Sunday mornings to go to Barnes & Noble. Now that it has closed down, I would not be put off if the whole 3rd Street Promenade slid into the ocean. It is well known that I don’t care for anything fashionable or stylish, and I do not throw money around to buy fancy bling-bling or even gourmet meals.
If more malls had good bookstores, one result would be more sales in the surrounding stores. There is always likely to be some dinosaur like me who disappears into the bookstore while the wives and children exercise their credit cards buying frou-frou.
Michael R. Weinstein, Bookseller, in His Torrance Store
Booksellers are a hardy breed. Even as the cost of commercial rentals is going up, the unit sales price for most books seems to be holding steady. Five years ago, I stopped at Alpine Village Market in Torrance near the intersection of Torrance Boulevard and Vermont, probably to buy some of their high quality meats and groceries. A few doors down from the market was a used bookstore signed only as Collectible Books. I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was a used book store with a fairly large stock.
The genial owner, Michael R. Weinstein knows his business and has an interesting selection of literature, history, genre fiction, and miscellaneous non-fiction in his labyrinthine store. I cannot pay him a visit without making some sort of find.
I remember when Los Angeles had dozens of used book stores, including three within walking distance of my apartment. No more. I used to go as far afield as Glendale to visit Brand Books, but it is gone. Sam Johnson Books in Mar Vista is still there, but its co-owner, my friend Bob Klein, passed away a couple years ago.
So, Michael, eat a healthy diet, get plenty of sleep and exercise, because I need good booksellers like you to supply me with what I need to make it through the day.
Sam: Johnson’s Bookshop in Culver City
My doctor prescribed that I take long walks four days a week. Now that I am working only two days a week, it is much easier to comply. This morning, for example, I walked from Pico and Pacific down to where Windward meets the ocean—along two miles of “boardwalk” including parts of Santa Monica and Venice. My destination was Small World Books, one of the few remaining independent bookstores in West Los Angeles.
When I walk south, I go along Bundy to Venice Boulevard, where (not coincidentally) Sam: Johnson’s Bookshop is located. It is easily the best used bookshop for miles around.
Do I head west? Then my turnaround point is the three-story Barnes & Noble on the Promenade in Santa Monica.
Small World Books on the Venice Boardwalk
Even with bookstores disappearing at an alarming rate, I have this book-buying habit that I have to somehow keep within reasonable limits. On my long walks, bookstores are like the raisin in the oatmeal. They give me a tangible reward for all that exercise.
When the temperature begins to heat up, I may have to join an air-conditioned health club that has treadmills and exercise bicycles. Hot weather is a powerful disincentive to outdoor exercise.