Wednesday, August 10, 2005

president's choice memories of downtown london

Recent headlines surrounding the arrest of marijuana activist Marc Emery and a post on Blamblog yesterday stirred memories of some of my favourite family roadtrips of my early teens.

Many moons ago, Emery ran City Lights book store in London. Two hours away from home, it was an excuse to get away for a whole day. We'd hit the road early, usually stopping for for a snack at the West Lorne service station (the Tim Horton's being a radical improvement over the 1867 restaurant that was there on childhood trips to Toronto, which I only remember for its dinginess and smelly clientele - no wonder we used to picnic on the way to my grandmother's house). Until we grew out of it, our usual first stop was the Superstore Mall on Wellington, due to the plastic ball room in Loblaws. Most of the day was spent downtown. After leaving the car in the crazy parking lot at Wellington Square/Galleria, we'd split up - Mom sticking to the then-thriving mall, Dad and I wandering off to Richmond, Amy joining us for City Lights then racing back to the mall.

We'd exit by Woolworth's/The Bargain Store, then head down King St, past Novack's outdoor store, Fatty Patty's, London Mews and a hotel that changed names every visit. Turn left onto Richmond at the art supply store, pass a couple of store fronts and you had reached cheap used book nirvana.

The comic book bins were across from the cash, varying in the amount of space they took up. All were half cover, minimum 25 cents (as were most books), a godsend for a kid rapidly building their collection. Most memorable finds: a near-complete mid-70s run of Incredible Hulk (#166-202, only missing Wolverine's debut and a few others) and the final issue of Tales of Suspense from 1968. While I searched these and the humour, film and sports sections, Dad sifted through the 10 cent book bins out front, then check out history and fiction. Both of us left with bagfuls that made Mom's eyes roll.

Across the street was another used book store, which I think was called Book Brothers. A bit roomier, a bit dingier, a bit pricier but good for oddball finds like Street & Smith football yearbooks Dad forgot to buy in the 70s. Millions of copies of Marvel Super-Heroes #26 and Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD #17 stick out in my mind. Later on, a comic book store opened directly across from City Lights with decent bargain bins. Next door to City Lights was a coin shop where I stocked up on cheap 1960s baseball cards. Around the corner on Clarence was Dr. Disc, which wasn't much better than their Windsor outpost.

Times change. City Lights was sold and soon book prices rose and the comic bins vanished. The Galleria emptied. Loblaws abandoned the ball room, then Superstore Mall. Vacant storefronts downtown rose, leaving a stench of death. I headed off to university. Old-style family trips to London were replaced with medical checkups for Dad. If they stayed for the night, I'd pop down from Guelph or Toronto, pop in City Lights for a lone book or album and walk around downtown with a touch of melancholy, remembering how it was. - JB

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