3.24.2009

Strange to Me

I headed out to the meeting in Albion early. The day features icy early March with patches of sun and promise of snow, though slow to materialize. The superhighway toward, around and away from Rochester is a sort of slingshot, though it gives you miles of suburban landscape sameness.

The meeting itself, after an hours drive, is nothing special, more of the same and before I know it, I’m back in the car.

On the way back the State roads seem like a better idea, so I drive straight south on 98, over waves of ancient shorelines where this or that glacier or glacial lake had thrown a beach. From the dusting of snow overnight, the fields are muted white, gray, tan or white. Crossing the mucklands north of Elba, wisps of steam rising from the flat black fields suggest the surface of a lake.

I hope to find Bill Kauffman at home in Elba. I find his house a block off 98 on Chapel Street and its deep, vibrant yellow seems to hold out the possibility that I’d find him at home, but not so. I walk to his door and tap, then tap again and turn back to my car.

I’d wanted to ask Bill to give me more precise directions to the bookstore in Batavia. In Batavia, I cruise the State highways 98, 5, 33, and 63 in all directions to the edge of town. On my way north on 63 near downtown I see the Pok-A-Dot is open for lunch business. The Pok-A-Dot is a 40s lunch counter, a tent of a building erected for temporary shelter but surviving into a new century. It must be nice in the summer because you can order your food, then sit under shelter off to the side of traffic to eat it up. In the winter, it seems to be made mostly of glass, and everybody crouches over the heat sources at the stove top, grill, and deep fryer. Almost all the patrons are men, and most have their coats and hats still on. All the cooks and servers are women.

In the Pok-A-Dot, there are six or eight tables and a counter seating twelve or fifteen that bends around the grill. I sit at the counter, nearer the heat. The waitress never offers me a menu. She just comes up and says, “What will you have?”

I see someone has an order of onion rings, so I ask for them too. Out, they were out.

I order the health food plate: hotdog, French fries and Pepsi. First, she delivers the Pepsi in a frosted mug that defrosts all over the counter. The hotdog and fries come later, each in a folded paper boat. The fries come with a sharpened stick. I eat my lunch. A guy comes in later and sits beside me. Maybe it’s his usual seat. The waitress doesn’t even ask; she brings him a cup of coffee, then a hotdog garnished with fried onions.

When I pay and am ready to leave, I ask, “Is there bookstore in town?”

The waitress starts to answer, then turns to a customer who’s been reading a book the whole time over a cup of coffee at the counter. I saw him; of course I should have asked him. She asks him for me, “Do we have a bookstore?”

He looks at me; I look at him. He’s about my age, maybe a little heavier and a shade redder in the face. “What kind of books do you want?” he asks.

I say, “Batavia books,” thinking of the novelist John Gardner, who was born here and set Sunlight Dialogues in Batavia, but I couldn’t remember his name. I thought about saying, the guy who wrote about painting L-O-V-E across the Thruway entrance north of town.

But while I was thinking, he asks, “You mean, like Bill, what’s his-name?”

I say, “Yeah, Kauffman. Bill Kauffman.”

He says, “You want Present Tense Books on the corner of Washington and State,” and tells me precisely how to get there. He also suggests the Holland Land Office Museum gift shop as a second choice for historical books about Batavia.

I follow his directions through the corners and lights and drive easily to Present Tense Books but, it being Monday and all, it’s closed.

-by Stephan Lewandowski

5 comments:

Darrick said...

Stephan,

Thanks for coming to our store, our hours of operation are:
Tuesday-Friday: 10-6pm
Saturday: 10-4pm

Please come back to visit, you won't be disappointed, or visit us online at http://www.presenttensebooks.com

sarah said...

somehow, i happened on your blog and read this post.

i worked at the pok-a-dot for 5-6 yeas while i finished high school and college. my mom worked there before me and my grandma was the manager through all of this.

i have lots of fond memories (and some occasional not-so-fond ones...). i'm married and in nc now, but whenever we go home, we always stop at the pok-a-dot, at the request of my husband.

thanks for this post... :)

pigeon said...

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