Driving into upstate New York via interstate 81 you’ll find a remarkable rest stop. To put this into context, I should say that my wife and I have driven from Maine to Washington (not on a single trip) and from Wisconsin to Louisiana and South Carolina. We’ve laid down considerable mileage together, and never have we encountered such a nice rest stop. Clean, modern, and featuring local goods for sale, it’s a loving homage to the southern tier, the New York outside the city. One of the features of this unusual facility is a terrazzo floor fresco highlighting the various points of interest within a couple hours’ drive. Mostly when we stop here we look toward Binghamton and Ithaca, the cities we most frequently visit. We stop to use the restroom and then drive on.
When we stopped over the holidays, however, we lingered a little bit. There’s a display on Mark Twain—he lived in Elmira, New York for a time—and there’s an in-ground plaque outside to Rod Serling. I spent some time looking over the points of interest in the floor map when my wife pointed out a site listed as Hobart Book Village of the Catskills. I couldn’t believe that I’d been in this building dozens of times but had never bothered to look that far east. Curious, I did a web search once we reached out destination. There is, it turns out, a village in upstate known for its main street of book stores. What perhaps impressed me even more was that it was considered significant enough to be given a kind of “Hollywood star” treatment in what is an often overlooked part of the state.
Now I can’t say what my impressions of Hobart are. I’ve never been there, having just learned of it on a recent roadtrip. What I can say is that my world suddenly began to feel just a bit more friendly knowing that such a place exists. We live in a country that could indeed use a bit more positive influence. Some of my happiest memories involve bookstores. Back in my teaching days we made regular autumnal literary weekend trips, visiting sites haunted by writers. Often we’d find an independent bookstore near such sacred places. To many, I realize, this would smack of nonsense, but to those ensconced in literary dreams, it created pleasant memories. You feel something in the air as you stand near the house or grave of an author. Places are made sacred by what transpires within them. The writing of books shapes the very space-time around them. At least it does for those who even find inspiration in an interstate rest stop.