I’ll warn you all right now, before we get started. This is going to be one of those posts that make me sound like an old man, that’s gonna go down Memory Lanes and take lefts at Nostalgic Avenues. So if that sort of thing isn’t of interest, you might want to turn away now. (To be honest, I might even turn away myself, in preparation of my already stated senior sounding status). If you stick around you might be rewarded and reminded of times and places in your lives that are similar, and you never know what sort of memories might get jostled free by the end.
Last week, I went back home to Minnesota for a visit. My girlfriend Dianne went with me, and we had a wonderful time. We saw family, old friends, the weather was gorgeous (anyone out there thinking of a visit, I urge you to go from late April-late May, and/or mid September-late October. Simply some of the most beautiful scenery you’ll get to enjoy in this country). Because I hadn’t been back in over two years, I also wanted to make sure we hit all the old haunts and ate all the food that I can’t get anymore here in my 15 years (!!!) as a Los Angeleno. Consequently, there was a lot of “Oh! That’s where I went to junior high! One time, I got in trouble…etc, etc.” along the way, but Dianne was a trouper, and listened patiently to all the old tales. And, both being exhausted at times (man, I can TALK), we rewarded ourselves by eating our way through the state.
Besides seeing where I grew up and went to school and such things, I really wanted to hit some of the places I used to frequent. And two of them I hadn’t stepped foot in in over ten years. The first is called Midway Books. It’s in St. Paul, at the corner of Snelling and University Avenues. I remember buying my first ever issue of Famous Monsters with my own money there, way back in 1979, and then Doctor Who Monthly in 1982 or so. It was the first place I ever saw it, and remember asking my dad to drive me there about once a month to stock up. They also carried all the monster and sci-fi magazines, loads of paperbacks, and hardcovers from the UK. In other words, I spent a lot of bread there as a pre-teen. As I walked in, it was like literally stepping into the past, as the interior hadn’t changed very much at all. The layout was the same, the shelves were the same, hell, the smell was the same. And then I saw the owner, Tom Stransky, and I got a chill. The man hadn’t seemed to age at all, and wore the same glass frames and headband he always wore. I stopped him and asked if he had any old issues of Famous Monsters , and he headed into the back for me. When he returned, I told him I used to come into the place a lot in the early 80’s, and shockingly, he said “Yeah, I thought you looked familiar. Used to come in with your dad, right?." At which point I nearly fell over. “Yeah, that’s right, used to get all your Doctor Who books and magazines." I then spent the next few minutes going through the FM box, and grabbed an issue from ’72, with ‘Scream and Scream Again’ on the cover, and then decided to go a little further down memory lane. “Hey Tom, do you have any Starlogs?”, I asked. I found a few from the late 70s/early 80s, and started to head to the counter. Dianne, diamond that she is, snapped up my winnings and said “Let me get these for ya, I know how special this place was for you” and headed for the register.
We were about to leave, so I told Tom how much the place meant to me. “I work out in LA in television now, and started my own toy company, and this place is in a small way partly responsible for my love of all things sci-fi and Horror, so I’m really happy to see you still standing”. “Well, thanks man, that’s really cool to hear," he replied. “But we might not be here much longer, if the city has its way." He then went on to tell me how the city is going to build the Central Corridor Light Rail Transit Project, which would move commuters back and forth between St. Paul and Minneapolis, thus blocking parking on his side of the street for up to six months. One of the things that’s always been in his favor as a small business owner has been the abundant street parking, and Tom thinks this construction will signal the end for Midway Books. Along with several other watchdog groups, he’s been fighting the construction for 15 years, to no avail. It’s gonna happen, and all he can do is wait. “Well”, I said, “this place has probably been through worse times, and you’re still here. I think it’ll take more than that to kill Midway Books”. But in my gut, I fear the worst for him, as I do for many small businesses these days.
The other spot is in Minneapolis, and it’s called Dreamhaven Books (www.dreamhavenbooks.com). Owner Greg Ketter has been doing his thing there for upwards of 30 years now, and he’s moved locations several times already, with the customers following him every time. My first ever visit to Dreamhaven was in the mid 80s, when I was in high school. They carried much of the same stuff as Midway, but were located in the DinkyTown area of the U of M campus, which was infinitely cooler to me. One day in ’86, he had Douglas Adams in for a book signing, for the first ‘Dirk Gently’ book. I skipped the second half of school that day to get there, and still have the picture of Adams and me to prove it!
Dreamhaven is more than just a book store, though. Oh man, they have comics (old and new), toys, monster stuff, old books, tee shirts, first editions, and since he’s a friend, loads of signed books by Neil Gaiman. Once again, I picked up a basketful of goodies ( I paid this time, so keep it down) and had a nice chat with Greg. While he didn’t remember me specifically, more importantly, he knew of Bif Bang Pow! He walked me over to a spot in the store, and there, staring back at me, were our Invader and Talky Tina bobble heads from our ‘Twilight Zone’ line. I can’t tell you how bloody cool it was to think of this place, a place I frequented so many times in my youth, being connected to me through our toys. The world gets very small when that happens, and your head swells just a little bit more with pride.
These places are still special to me, and I hope they never go away. In an age when we can download books in seven seconds to our Kindle (ok, even I have one, and I’m a technophobe of the highest order), when you can find everything from the Dead Sea Scrolls to a bride on ebay, and when even the monsters like Borders, Virgin Megastore and The Wherehouse are dropping like flies, it’s really gratifying to see Midway and Dreamhaven still thriving. These were the headquarters, the spots where I’d get my magazine and book fix, and subsequently got all the news that was fit to print. Starlog, FM and Fangoria were the information bibles back in the day, when doing research entailed going to the library and using the Dewey Decimal System, not hitting ‘return’ on Wikipedia. OK, OK, sounding like an old man yet? Yes, I know, but I’m not hating on (see? I know how the kids talk) technology and the interweb, far from it. I’ve sadly become one of the people that can’t fathom how we got along with out cell phones and IMDB, so much so that I only have two or three phone numbers actually memorized. Sad, I know.
No, I think we’re connected more in a way now than ever before, in ways no one could have imagined. But there’s such a thing as being ‘too’ connected, as well. Paul Weller is a major hero of mine, and musically he’s been with me since I was about 12. His latest record, “Wake Up the Nation”, finds him in an angrier mood than usual, calling out politicians, idiots, and, well, technology in general. On the title track he has a line, “Get your face off of Facebook, and turn off yer phone/with the death of the post box, no where feels home”. Alright, it’s a bit drastic, but it’s sort of true too. Another track is called “Grasp and Still Connect”, and he bemoans all of the ways we’re losing human contact. Hell, I notice it when I exit most parking garages. I don’t think I’ve dealt with a person on the way out in a year, it’s all automatic. I know, I’m rambling a bit, but Midway Books and Dreamhaven had more than just material things to buy. They had (and still have) people like Tom Stransky and Greg Ketter, raging against the dying of the light, standing firm in their belief that there’s more to life than mail order. These stores mattered, and still do, and I urge anyone that makes it into the Twin Cities to give ‘em each a visit. Tell them I sent you, and treat yourselves to their kind service, their knowledge, and their great inventory. Just don’t go in January, I promise you’ll hate me forever.
Now, it’s time to wrap this up. I have some stuff to pick up on Amazon, some emails to send, and blogs to contribute to. Then later, I’m gonna curl up with the 5th Anniversary issue of Starlog, and a collected volume of Gaiman’s ‘Sandman’ book. Where did I get ‘em, you ask? Why Midway and Dreamhaven, of course.