Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Bookmobile 1
The Massapequa Bookmobile in its heyday.

One of my elementary school classmates - say what you will about Facebook, but it has facilitated some remarkable reconnections - was kind enough to pass along an article from the New York Observer about a Relic from my Long-Lost Past.

I speak of the Massapequa Public Library Bookmobile.

Back in the day, the Bookmobile was nothing more, nothing less than a Library on Wheels, a honking big trailer full of (you guessed it) books. Every day, they would hook it up to a sort of utility truck affair and tow it to a different location around town, following a carefully laid-out route. And once a week - Monday or Tuesday, if I recall correctly - the Bookmobile would show up in the parking lot of the local nine-hole muni, just a short walk from home.

Bookmobile 2
Lining up for the weekly Bookmobile visit.

We had two libraries in town: the main library in the central part of town, and a branch outpost that was a few miles closer to where we lived. But back in the early 1960’s, the stay-at-home mom was much more the norm... and often, there was only one family car, which meant that she was more of a stuck-at-home mom, with forays to the library a challenge. Enter the Bookmobile:
The beloved bookmobile, originally purchased for $13,000, began its route in 1961, when mothers stayed home with children and didn’t have access to cars to get to the local library. It carried a small sampling of the library’s offerings: children’s books, biographies, romance books, science fiction books, mystery books, thrillers, religious and political books, classics, poetry and magazines. Each day it stopped in a different neighborhood so that everyone knew when it was coming. “There really was a necessity for it, and it was very well used for many years,” said [library director Patricia] Page. “But then people’s lives changed and mothers went out to work and the circulation dwindled.”
I remember that bookmobile, clear as day. I remember walking through the gravelly golf course parking lot and climbing up the steps into that trailer. I would walk along the linoleum-paved aisle, inhaling the booky aroma while scanning the shelves of books on either side, usually selecting the permitted maximum of three. Our mother would be there too, scanning the shelves for her mysteries and science fiction tomes. And then you’d get to the check-out desk at the end of the aisle, where you would hand over your library card, the librarian would stamp the due date in each book, and the Sooper Seekrit Microfillum Check-Out Machine would do its mysterious work. Then down the steep steps and back onto the gravel for the short walk home.

Bookmobile 3
Inside the Bookmobile. Hey, it’s like the bastard child of a library and a Winnebago!

Alas, in recent years, the Bookmobile had fallen on hard times. Retired last July after a forty-nine-year long career and in increasingly dismal condition, it was headed for the scrap heap when a phone call came in from none other than Alec Baldwin.

Alec bought the old trailer for the grand sum of $1,000 and had it towed off to his home in Amagansett, hard by the Hamptons on the south shore of Long Island. What he will do with it is anybody’s guess, but it would make a dandy playhouse or office with a bit of remodeling. Or perhaps a neighborhood eyesore.

It’s easy to see why Alec would remember the old Bookmobile with such rosy nostalgia. Its old once-a-week stop in that golf course parking lot was right across the street from his house on Iroquois Avenue... and he and his horde of siblings were, no doubt, regular customers.

Come to think of it, there’s no reason ol’ Alec couldn’t refurbish the trailer and stock it with vintage reading material, recreating the old Bookmobile as a museum piece celebrating the rich cultural history of the Island. He could have a Joey Buttafuoco/Amy Fisher young adult section; a Jessica Hahn adult section; a Baldwin Family theatre arts/run on top of Elisson’s roof section; and a Jerry Seinfeld humor section.

Good on ya, Alec. It’s nice to know the old Bookmobile is still around... a bit of Booky Nostalgia for us old folks who remember that bygone era of stuck-at-home moms. (I wonder whether the moms have that same feeling of pleasant nostalgia for those days: I suspect not so much.)

[Tip o’ th’ Elisson fedora to Chris S. for forwarding the Observer article, and to Allan P. for the photos and section names. You’re sick, I tells ya!]

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