Remembering Borders

Add this to the growing number of fond farewells to Borders Bookstore. I worked at the Borders Downtown Indianapolis store from 2006-2007. I have many fond memories of the people I met – customers and co-workers.  I am also mindful of the tremendously powerful connection that occurs when sharing a good book or recommending a book to a stranger. I took that responsibility very seriously. In no particular order, here some stories that sprung to mind when I heard that Borders will soon close for good.

Occasionally, a celebrity would wander in to our store. Kobe Bryant bought a paperback copy of Harry Potter. Ashley Judd made a couple of appearances during the month of May. Senator Richard Lugar once stopped in after running the Mini. He pointed to a display of Dreams of My Father and said “There’s a very bright young man.” [This comment, of course, immediately disqualifies him to

hold office because, God forbid, a Republican say something nice about a Democrat.] Still, my most memorable celebrity sighting was Alton Brown.

One evening, I was working near the DVD/CD area and saw a lone customer browsing the Cult Classics section. It was a slow night; I walked over and asked he needed help locating anything. When he turned to answer (‘No, I’m fine.) I stood stunned, facing none other than superchefgeek Alton Brown.  I nodded, too shocked to speak, and walked straight to the cooking section, grabbed a copy of his first book (I’m Just Here for the Food) and returned to the DVD/CD section. Mr. Brown graciously signed my book and seemed genuinely pleased when I told him that ever since Aaron Sorkin had left The West Wing, his show – Good

Eats – was the most entertaining show on television.

To Matthew Cook Smart - Alton Brown

 

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One year I worked the Borders booth at GenCon. Spent a great deal of time with noted fantasy author RA Salvatore, who, it turns out, looks and sounds a lot like Ray Ramano.

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I worked at Borders for the release of the final two Harry Potter novels. In particular I remember the release party for the seventh book, The Deathly Hallows. I can confidently say that that night was the most fun I’ve had at work.

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I attended a reunion of former employees of the Downtown Borders; we all shared our favorite crazy customer stories. Here’s mine: the story centers on one of our regular customers – I’ll call her Anna –  a sweet if somewhat spacey women who visited the bookstore a couple times a week on her lunch hour. She always called me Derrick (though my name tag always properly identified me as Matthew) and often sent me searching our used book databases trying to track down out-of-print home decorating books. 20 minutes of conversation with Anna – which really just involved Anna free-associating while I nodded, glancing occasionally at the computer screen to see if there were any matches for Plaid for Every Room – could make my day. Anyway, one day our store was hosting a book signing for Judy O’Bannon, who had written a book about her late-husband, the Governor.  Shortly before Mrs. O’Bannon arrived, Anna walks in.

-Hi Anna.
-Hi Derrick. Is Mrs. O’Bannon here yet?
-No. She will be here any minute though. She’s going to be signing books right over there [pointing] if you want to wait.
-I’m really looking forward to speaking with her. I wrote a song for her and I’d like to perform it.
-Wow. I’m sure that would be lovely. But. You’ll have to check with the manager. He’s in charge of the event.

And so, Anna wanders off in search of a manager. I am both horrified and giddy at the prospect of witnessing what she’s described.   Mrs. O’Bannon arrives (a truly lovely lady; very gracious) and the book signing begins. While working on another project, I keep an ear out for what I am sure will be the unmistakable sound of Anna singing.

No aural sign of Anna yet, but I soon see her walking towards me. She looks mad and lost. (Keep in mind that usually she just looks lost.)

-Can you believe it? He said I couldn’t sing my song for Mrs. O’Bannon.
-Really? That’s horrible.
-Yeah, I mean, I have beautiful voice. People tell me I sound just like Julie Andrews.

Suddenly an image of Anna running through the mountains of Austria belting out “The hills are alive….” enters my mind. I have to remove myself from this conversation before I break out laughing.

I am glad Mrs. O’Bannon was sparred the intense awkwardness (to put it in its best light) of listening to a Julie Andrews wannabe croon over her. However, part of me really wanted to hear that song.