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Our friend Mrs. H. recently found a terrific website about restaurants near the stops of the Phoenix Light Rail system.  David Bickford writes generously, entertainingly and cogently about the various eateries, reviewing both food and general ambiance.

While Mam was still here Mrs. H. had the brilliant idea of reading up on some of the stops of the rail and then making a lunchtime field trip. I liked this idea a lot as it combined two activities I really like: riding the light rail, and eating.  Bickford indexes his reviews by restaurant type and by location, so Mam and I spent considerable time poring over the restaurants from the Sycamore Street station to Mill and the ASU campus.

Logo courtesy of Yelp.com

It was our considered opinion that we should visit the MedFresh Grill on Mill Street, because it is the only Turkish restaurant in the Valley, according to both Bickford and the proprietors of the eatery.  Three falafal and chicken kabab plates later we knew we had made the right choice.  It was delicious food, freshly prepared and humbly served.  The falafals were crispy-crisp on the outside, tender on the inside and hot. What I remember most vividly is the very creamy garlic sauce on the side of my plate – it was mostly smushed garlic, but somehow it was made creamy, perhaps by the addition of… cream?  some kind of light, fresh cheese?

Before settling in to overeat we strolled down and then back up Mill Street, the commercial street at the heart of the ASU campus.  There you can find the usual assortment of collegy stores – headshops, music shops, outfitters, and so forth. But you also find what is becoming rarer and rarer these days: a bookstore!

Old Town Books (the proprietors of which can be seen in the top photo above) has been in this location for about twenty years, and outlived Borders, the mega-bookstore that used to be down the street (now Urban Outfitters).  Mrs. H. noticed a copy of a very important book on golf that Speedy didn’t have yet; I was able to pick it up for $4, and he swears it has added 20 yards to his drive!  Mrs. H. found a lovely book of photographs of houses along the James River.  Oddly enough, Mam had grown up along that very river, and was able to tell Mrs. H. odd scraps of news about some of the homes pictured.

So.  Independent Booksellers.  What are the odds they’ll survive?  My guess is the odds are good, at least for the foreseeable future.  Many of them sell both new and used books, sometimes side by side, as in this bookstore that we visited on our way home.

Some serve niche subjects, religion or mysteries, for example.   All are owned and/or operated by people who are passionate about books and who seem always to have the time to interrupt whatever they’re doing and talk about them.

Amazon and Googlebooks are challenging the big box bookstores such as Borders (now in bankruptcy) and Barnes and Noble (rumored to be for sale).  But the smaller indies have stock that is not always readily available online, and have devoted patrons who want to keep their neighborhood bookstores afloat.  The Book-Buyer’s Guide to New, Used and Antiquarian Bookstores in the Phoenix Valley lists no fewer than 36 stores.  Some are open by chance or by appointment (Machine Age); some have large staffs and come close to looking like a big box store (Changing Hands).

Then there are the hybrids, the stores we access online but which seem to be independents.  You can find them at thriftbooks.com (free shipping!) or abebooks.com.  Both sites list the book I bought Speedy for pretty much what I paid for it.  The thriftbooks site is more forgiving of bad spelling (is it Pinnick or Penick??) than abebooks.  And of course all the local indies have web-sites, though they don’t list all their book stock.

The bottom line?  There’s nothing more pleasurable then setting out to find some good food and coming across a good bookstore at the same time.  And if you go to your local bookstore rather than sitting at home with your computer  you may well have an adventure.  We did (we always do when we ride the Light Rail).  We met a well-groomed and neatly turned out woman carrying a cat in a handsome carrier.  I engaged her in conversation about her pet, a gleaming black puss with yellow eyes.

“He’s a leopard,” she told me.

“Really?!” I replied, thinking surely she meant ‘panther.’

We bantered back and forth, me asking questions and she answering them. By  the time we parted I had learned that she had found her kitty in the desert, the runt of a litter, and that scientists had dumped the kittens out in the desert after creating them by hybridizing a leopard with a schnauser, a pig and some other animal none of us can remember!   To say we were amazed to learn about this scientific accomplishment is an understatement.  We will never have such an animal because they cost $10,000 if you buy them, if you can find them.  Our new friend counted herself extremely lucky to have found hers in the wild.

But I digress, as usual.  Bookstores and restaurants – you’re almost sure to be entertained and satisfied if you visit ones you’ve never been to before.  Just watch out for the panthers.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia