Bowling Green, KY -- August 14, 2007

Though the town has no bowling green, and none of the residents I talked to had any idea as to how the town got its name, it does have a very nice park with a fountain in the middle of it and enough green grass to have a picnic.

The town is bigger than this quaint downtown, with a population of about 55, 000 and a considerable, what I call, Walmart sprawl, indistinguishable from, say the sprawl of Sioux Falls, South Dakota--very difficult for a walking tourist/reader-stalker to negotiate.

Bowling Green is the birthplace of the Corvette, Duncan Hines, and a taxi driver who knew how to get me from the mayhem of the Walmart sprawl to the bus depot on time, despite a time crunch in rush hour traffic--through the strip malls, onto the freeway, a loop back and bam--right on time.

That morning I'd hitch hiked for the first time--inadvertently. The attendant at the bus depot had explained that I should take a left at the traffic light and walk three miles into town, but I ended up on a street perpendicular to the one he'd intended. The problem--he'd given me driving, not walking directions. I was coming from a road that intersected with the light at a different angle.

I walked about two miles in sweltering humid heat, passing through fields and semi truck repair yards. All this to save a few dollars on taxi fare--more than anywhere else in the country, people were full of suggestions on how to save money.

Every couple of minutes a pickup would go barreling down the road. Several folks honked or called out to ask if I was okay. I waived them on. I knew, after all, where I was going. One man was more instant, or at least more convincing. When I told him I was going to Bowling Green he threw his head back, the hair from his mullet falling past his shoulder blades, and laughed. "Not if you're going this way," he said and backed his truck up turned around. I considered my options and got in. He drove me several miles, tapping ash out the window while he chain smoked, told me a touching story about his life--the intimacy of strangers--and when he let me out, explained that, though he didn't really understand what I wanted to do, I was a hell of a lot better off here than out there. He left me to wander through Western Kentucky University, which wasn't in session.

I eventually found the downtown area, where I visited doctors offices, social service offices, and managed, in a single afternoon, to find, after a taxi ride out to the strip malls, two readers. Not bad for a sleepy town in Kentucky.

At a welfare office, I found a woman reading Harry Potter, but her number was called just as I was asking her. At the furniture store, no one was reading in an environment that, to anyone walking down the street, would appear to be a blissfully comfortable air conditioned readers' paradise. I was lured in. I poked around behind lines of floor lamps, walking around end tables, searching for readers resting on leather, velvet, soft suede. The furniture seller was helpful--we could put some in a recliner if you like...hand them a book? she asked. I really believe she would have plucked someone off the street. But, no, I told her, it can't be posed, and went back into the heat, continuing the search.

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