Saturday, January 22, 2022

The Mezzanine Bookstore

 As a writer, I love to read and I've always loved books. I could lose myself for hours in a library or a bookstore. As a kid I accompanied my dad for his twice-a-month trip taking my grandmother to visit her sisters in El Paso and to buy groceries in Juarez. Even though I was in elementary school, I had to wear a coat and tie because back then, you got dressed up when venturing into public. Think about it, during World War Two, soldiers wore ties into combat. Unlike now, where people go to a fancy dinner looking like slobs.

One highlight of the trip to the big city was our stop at the Popular Dry Goods Company in downtown El Paso. It was the quintessential department store, a bustling maze no matter the time of year. Most of what I remember is a blur but what comes into focus is the candy counter where you could buy fudge by the pound (like that ever happened); the elevator operated by a guy in a red coat manipulating a brass lever; the toy department in the basement with stacks of model airplanes, and my favorite place of all, the mezzanine level with the bookstore. My dad would leave me there unattended while he went to pay an installment on whatever my mom had put on layaway.

I wandered the tables and shelves of hardbacks. I avoided children's books and was on the prowl for a good read about airplanes, warships, or army tanks. The one book that particularly fascinated me was about 19th century train accidents, complete with illustrations. I learned about boiler explosions turning locomotives into bombs. One memorable tragedy involved a company outing. On the way home, the women gathered the children in the last railcar, away from the men who were a mob of loutish drunks. The locomotive boiler blew up, hurtling what was left of the locomotive high into the air, to guessed it. On the car with the women and children. A gruesome detail of period train wrecks was "telescoping," where one railcar slides inside another, usually a freight car ramming through a passenger coach, smearing the human contents into goo. No Dr. Seuss for me.

From the mezzanine, you could look through the glass barrier upon the ground floor with its labyrinth of cosmetic counters and women's fashions. Above the cacophony of customer chatter, sounded chimes summoning sales clerks. Incredibly, when researching for this post, I found this photo of the mezzanine view, though from years after I was last there. Memories.

Photo courtesy Keith Andrews


Charlotte Hinger said...

Mario, I can remember my parent's rare forays into Kansas City and when we paid for an item money was put into a something that zipped along a line to somewhere. Do you know what that was called? Loved your post and your comment about standards for dress.

Anna said...

Charlotte, I remember that device too! (From another part of the country.) The money and sales slip went into a little tube, which zipped along to an undisclosed location, and then returned with the sales slip and your change. I believe it was common in department stores and dime stores back in the day. Either management didn't trust the sales clerks to handle money, or they feared that they were vulnerable to being held up.

Mario, bookstores were bliss for me when I was a child. I would read for hours, carefully keeping the book clean, and then replace it on the shelf. Once the owner swept right past me at closing time and locked me in.

Mario Acevedo said...

Charlotte and Anna,
Thanks for your comments. I don't recall those devices which I think were pneumatic tubes. My credit union uses them at the drive-thru.