7626 Westheimer, Houston, Texas, 77063
January 2004–It is 4:30 pm and I am driving down Highway 6 South, just before the intersection at Providence, on my way to meet my friends at Barnes and Nobles. Horns are honking, tires are squealing, and Mother Nature is taking revenge upon us, for the environmental sins, we have committed, by burning us alive with the heat. I sit there, and stare ahead in an almost zombie-like state, waiting to escape from my heat automated prison. Someone from behind shouts out a familiar verbal obscenity at a driver who brashly swerved into a tiny gap existing between my car and the car directly behind me. I look over to see what the commotion was, and it was not what was happening that drew my attention, instead it was what I was seeing that hit me, tens of cars, all lining up like soldiers in war, ready to head into battle against a solar enemy, putting the statement “warriors of steel” to literal use.
Finally, I turn into the parking lot for Barnes and Nobles, and get out of my car. As I walk towards the entrance, I see two middle aged men walking in the same direction as me. Both men are sporting the same look: short black hair, with white long sleeve shirts, each hold black leather briefcases with one hand, and each other’s hands with the other. As I approach the door, one of the men, opens it for me and lets me in before them. I thank them and in return hold the door for them.
As I walk inside, I am immediately greeted with a presence of calm that I can never quite experience anywhere else. Ideally suited for the thinking individual, its quiet and personal atmosphere is so welcoming to all that one would just have to enter. I look around for my friends and see them sitting on the floor near the window. As I walk towards them and say hello, one of my friends tells me that they want to get something to eat, from Starbucks, next door. They ask if I would like to join them, and I say no, as I would rather sit, relax, and bask in the tranquil surroundings within Barnes and Nobles.
I decide to stay where I am and do what I do everyday, which is to look through the same magazines, with the same cosmetically enhanced figures, and the same “age- defying,” surgically altered, “natural” faces on the covers. Falling into the hole of materialism, I pick up a Cosmopolitan and decide to look through it.
Some may wonder however, if peace is all that is required, why not just visit a library? However, Barnes and Nobles is more than a library, in numerous ways. To begin with, upon entering a library, one is forced to constrict themselves to a set of several trivial rules, such as the all too familiar sign at the entrance reading, “NO FOOD” or “PLEASE BE SILENT.” Barnes and Nobles, on the other hand, do not have these trivial waste-of-paper-signs hanging on their doors, and instead allow customers to eat while they peruse through the shelves of books, talk to each other while reading or studying, or just simply talk.
While reading, I hear the front doorbell chime. Curious to see who it is, I look up to find an elderly man, with a black and yellow-checkered golf shirt and oversized gold-rimmed spectacles. I watch as he approaches the front desk and asks an employee where he can find “plant books” for his wife. The employee at the front desk directs the elderly man to the gardening section of the bookstore. Soon he disappears amongst the many books, and I go back to the “intellectually captivating” material I was just reading. I flip though the magazine for something interesting and start to laugh when I find an article on Cameron Diaz, titled “Tips On How YOU Can Get That Sexy Glow.”
As I am reading into this article, an explosion of laughter erupts in the far corner. I see seven girls, identically dressed with white flip-flops, each decorated with one bright plastic flower. The septuplets, wearing rainbow colored tank tops, and white short shorts, are all laughing in unison about something they heard about another girl at school. I start to smile to myself thinking, “Oh my gosh do I sound like them?” I lean my head back against the window, cover my face with the magazine and slowly start laughing.
I hear another chime of the doorbell sound, I look up, and this time it is a young boy in his teens. He walks in with a “rough-n-tough” appearance, with baggy pants and chains hanging from his back pockets, like a background actor, just leaving the set of the “Gangster’s Paradise” production studio, carrying something in an almost concealed manner in his hands. Half expecting the concealed object to be a gun, I squint my eyes and to my surprise see that the “concealed weapon,” is in fact a big, shiny, red book. Thinking that it looks similar to something I had at home, I once again squint my eyes, to see the words “S A T,” in big white letters on the front cover. I watch, as the teenage boy, casually walks to an empty table, where just moments before, seven identically dressed girls had sat busily whispering gossip and somehow, left without notice. The young boy sits down, opens the glossy paperback cover to his big-shiny-red-book, and resumes his reading, I too go back to mine.
Bored by looking at the multiple pictures of Cameron Diaz, I turn the page to find an article about the “spirituality” of yoga. As I begin to read, I find that the article is simultaneously degrading and debasing the art of yoga, for the simple interest of shallow minds. Not even once, stating its many psychological and medicinal advantages, it simply shows pictures of middle-aged women, sporting skintight work out clothes, thriving to get the rock hard Brittany Spears “abs” or the “perfect” Jennifer Lopez body. Disappointed at the materialism in just about everything today, I briskly turn the page.
While skimming through the magazine, I hear the doorbell chime once again. This time it is a woman and following quite a distance behind her, is her teenage daughter. The mother, noticeably bothered by her daughter’s apathy, calls her name out and tells her to quicken her pace. The daughter as a result straightens her back and walks faster. I watch, as the mother walks over to the desk and asks for an application form for her daughter. I watch, as the mother begins to fill out the form on her daughter’s behalf, explaining to the woman at the front desk, that she would like her daughter to work at Barnes and Nobles, because it is the only place she knows that her daughter will be safe. Remembering that I too, desperately need a job, I attempt to get up and ask for an application form as well.
However once again, I am interrupted in my thoughts when I see my friends coming back, with their “chocolate brownies.” They tell me that they want to leave, and go watch a movie. Almost saddened, that I have to leave such a peaceful place, I slowly gather my belongings, and leave the magazine where I found it, near the window, next to a crumpled up Starbucks straw wrapper. On my way out, I see the young teenage boy with the baggy pants, crouching over the table, reading aloud sentences with a perplexed expression and desperately trying to make sense of what he is reading. I laugh to myself and point it out to one of my friends, as we remember how we too, used to come to Barnes and Nobles and study for our SAT’s and do the very same thing. Both of us laughing, and cherishing those forgotten fond memories, we walk toward the exit with the rest of our friends.
As I open the door to leave, I am greeted with the ear piercing loud sounds of a nearby car alarm, like a call of the wild, waking all the metallic animals of this world, coming from the direction of a nearby black Mercedes with tinted windows. Instantly thrust, form a temporary world of calm and tranquility, I am thrown back into the busy, noisy and chaotic lifestyle that we all ironically choose to live. I start to wish that the same tranquil atmosphere within Barnes and Nobles could replace the screaming sound of metal. Barnes and Nobles, at Highway 6, is truly my favorite place in Houston. I like it because its peaceful atmosphere possesses a welcoming presence to all who enter. With its perfect blend of different things for different types of people from, music by globally acclaimed artists, beautifully decorated journals, contemporary to historical novels, and cards to coffee, it is the only place in which, such an eclectic variety of people can go. It is by far, my favorite place in Houston and I recommend all to give it a try.