During the Thanksgiving weekend in 1978, Livia and I went down to
with her parents for a short vacation. As always whenever I went anywhere, I was interested in hunting up the used bookstores, and there was one listed in the Fulton, Texas phone book that sounded intriguing: Collector's Bookstore. (That was how you found bookstores in the days before the Internet: you looked them up in the phone book.) Corpus Christi
So we drove over there on a cool, foggy November day, and before we found the bookstore, we stopped at a newsstand we happened to pass. Inside that newsstand, I spotted copies of the December 1978 issue of MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE, which, behind a garish cover that I've featured on this blog before, contained my first Mike Shayne novella, "Death in Xanadu". That was a pretty big thrill, let me tell you.
But there was more to come.
We drove on, following the directions I'd figured out on a map (the kind you fold up, not download), and there, sitting on a corner lot at an intersection, was a small wooden building with a sign on it that read COLLECTOR'S BOOKSTORE. It was open. We went in, the only customers at that particular time.
I had to stop and catch my breath. There were shelves and shelves of vintage paperbacks. Even better, there was a whole room full of pulps, the most I'd ever seen in one place up to that time. It was amazing.
Since we were the only customers, the guy who owned the place was very friendly and talkative. He introduced himself as Judge Margarito Garza, who in addition to being an actual judge also owned this bookstore and had created the first Hispanic comic book superhero, Relampago. I think at that time there was only one issue of the comic, and the judge had published it himself. That didn't matter to me. I thought it was extremely cool, and since he was selling copies at the store, I bought one, along with stacks of old paperbacks and as many pulps as I thought we could afford, mostly issues of DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY, ARGOSY, and some coverless, digest-sized issues of DOC SAVAGE and THE SHADOW. Actually, I probably spent more than we could afford that day, but it was the biggest and best book haul of my life to that point. And the judge was a great guy, a colorful character, and a joy to talk to.
Unfortunately, I didn't get back down to the coast for quite a few years after that, but I always wanted to pay a return visit to the judge's place, as we called it. When I finally did, the store still existed, but it had moved into a different building and was primarily a comic book store. The paperbacks were all gone. The judge still owned the store, but he wasn't there the day I dropped in. I was sort of disappointed and discouraged.
But tucked away in a back corner was a small stack of pulps, all that was left of the stock that had been there on my previous visit. There were a few Westerns and maybe half a dozen bedsheet-sized issues of DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY. I bought them all, of course, and the guys running the place for the judge were clearly happy to get rid of them. So it was a bittersweet visit to say the least.
Even that incarnation of Collector's Bookstore is long gone, but I remembered the intersection where the original store was located, so a couple of years ago while I was in the area, I drove by. Where that little brown frame building stood in 1978 is now the parking lot of a McDonald's. That's all right, I suppose. Things change. Judge Garza died in 1995. All the books and pulps I bought there were lost in the fire. But I can still drive by there and see that building in my mind and hear the judge's laugh and smell all that old paper and remember the thrill I felt that day at finding such great stuff . . .
It is what it is, but I'll take it.