Time changes everything, and some of these changes aren’t good ones. Today was a perfect example of this, as I made the rounds on the North side of Chicago, looking for a used copy of “All Quiet on the Western Front” for my teen-aged daughter.
It’s a book that I’m sure I’ve seen dozens of times at garage sales, estate sales, and resale shops. I frequent these places, looking for interesting things that I can pick up cheaply. And books are typically the cheapest thing of all in places like these.
The first instinct of many people might be to go to the library and check out a copy. That’s a good plan, except that I have untold overdue fines on my card (for the record, the books were checked out by my children using my card. It’s my responsibility, still, but I’m in no hurry to pay off the fines). I’d have to pay the fines before I can check out another book, so that option wasn’t going to work.
The second option would be to go to a bookstore and pick up a new copy. The problem, as you may know, is that bookstores have been closing at an alarming rate. How I wish my neighborhood Border’s was still around to sell me the book. But alas, the digital revolution has crushed that chain and many others.
Another option is to buy it online for an ereader, but my Kindle Fire may not make it back if it were taken to my daughter’s school. It could get broken, or stolen, or left behind in a classroom and never seen again. Those are large risks to take, for a book that would cost six or seven dollars new, and even less used.
So on a Sunday afternoon, I made a trip to two resale shops that were fairly close to where my daughter had play practice (she’s in Romeo and Juliet, for the record). I came up empty in each place, but in order to leave my car on the street and not get a ticket (which starts at $50 here in Chicago) I had to feed a parking meter first. They aren’t even meters anymore, but are large boxes that accept credit cards and print receipts that you then put on your dashboard.
In the not-too-distant past, parking was free on Sundays. But no more, as the parking company that paid just over a billion dollars for Chicago’s parking meters now gets to call the shots. The parking meter contract reeks to high heaven, and it’s a long-term liability that will weigh this city down. When the history of this deal is finally written, it will make the mayor who proposed it, and the 40 aldermen who voted to approve it, look like the fools that they were. But be that as it may, paying two dollars at a meter beats the $50 kick in the head that a parking ticket represents.
I finally found a copy of the book, completely by chance, in the impossibly dense and unordered shelves of a bookstore that I’ve written about before. I paid $3.75 for the book, which is more than a resale shop would have cost, but I’m also not adverse to helping bookstores like this stay afloat.
My victory at finding a used–and thus cheaper–version of the book was tempered by the fact that the two dollars I spent to park my car as I looked for it would have been unneeded just five short years ago. As the parking people skim a couple of dollars from me, I’m reminded that this city–which I love and will probably spend the rest of my days living in–is far from being perfect.