I swear on a stack of novels I didn't dream this: Today I saw a Bookmobile in my adopted hometown of Caspar. A big fat vision of a white truck, emerging from the noontime fog. It had parked itself on the gravel between Community Center and Shul.
As in a dream, driver Dave Frick stood at the door and welcomed me in. "Stay a while," Dave said. "Don't worry about the exact time. Our next stop is lunch."
So I browsed. I wandered through a windowless interior packed with books. It felt like stepping into a small boat, a very literary boat. The floor dipped and rocked each time I put my weight down. "You ought to try driving this on the curves," Dave said when I asked if anyone ever got seasick in the bookmobile.
I took out a library card from librarian-in-training Robert Parmenter, my first in years. As a bookstore owner I didn't need the library. Now, I do.
No one else visited the bookmobile boat while I was there. "Caspar is one of our smaller stops," Dave explained. "But we did have five people here before you."
Dave and Robert promised to return on alternate Wednesdays, and handed me the new schedule. Navarro, Comptche, Floodgate, Philo, Boonville, and Manchester, Stewart's Point, Sea Ranch, Gualala and Anchor Bay. Westport, Cleone, Elk and Albion. At first I couldn't see Caspar, where we live, because the schedule hides us over on the North County side of the page, not the Coast side.
Before the big white truck gets to Caspar it has visited the prisoners in Chamberlin Creek and Parlin Fork, and they get first pick. It seems the right thing to do – they're in their cells or out fighting fires or digging trenches to help fight fires. Reading is the way out of there, if only in one's mind. We freer citizens, on the other hand, can sleep in and go kayaking or restauranting whenever we want.
So you can figure that when the bookmobile gets to Caspar, the books remaining on the shelves have already been rejected by prisoners of the state. That would explain the huge selection of books for children, and romance-type novels. I couldn't find a single copy of Dig Yourself Out of Prison or Tried & True Escape Methodologies. Those were already lent out.
Wherever the library thinks Caspar is, at least they are showing up. Thanks to the enthusiastic passage of Mendocino County Measure A, funds from a new sales tax levy are becoming available to pay for more bookmobile stops, more books, more open hours, more librarians. This is a very good thing. In the bookmobile today, new librarian Robert was being trained by driver Dave, because the driver used to also be the librarian back when there were fewer dollars hanging around.
Because of Measure A the library has added Hopland, Caspar and Cleone to the bookmobile stops. Anyone who climbs aboard may request books from libraries in three counties. Keep them for four weeks. Return them to any branch. Download audio books online. E books coming soon.
I phoned the Fort Bragg Branch Library for some additional information, and was referred to the Ukiah Branch Library. The library in Ukiah is the mother ship, administrative headquarters, the place where all questions are finally answered. It clearly is not a branch but more like the entire tree trunk from which the other libraries, modest in size and intention, branch off. Why does the county call Ukiah a Branch Library?
Round Valley contains the only county library not called a branch. Maybe Round Valley is where the missing tree trunk is located. If anything is a branch it has to be the bookmobile. Why don't they call the truck a branch? Are you listening, librarians? Ukiah isn't a branch, it's the Main Library. They figured all this out in San Francisco years ago with the help of a few sarcastic three dots in Herb Caen's column. Why not here?
I'm starting a campaign to get to the bottom of this. What's a branch and what is not? Why is Caspar on the wrong side of the printed schedule? Why doesn't the bookmobile get new shock absorbers now that there are more available dollars?
And why are all the librarians so nice, even when they have to deal with stupid questions like these?
Just now my lovely wife Joselyn read this script (she's my only editor) and commented, "That's funny. That's nice, to talk about the libraries. Now more people will use them and the bookstores will go out of business."
I replied: Libraries are to bookstores as elevators are to staircases. We need them all.