Time to kill on the side of the US 550

What to do when the New Mexico Rail Runner drops you off 3 hours before your Rio Metro bus picks you up, at a junction with a freeway?

gas stop photo on the 550
Much of America looks like this from a car.

View Rail Runner Stations & Rio Metro Office Locations in a larger map

Well, I wondered but only momentarily. I recently discovered McDonalds does a $1 coffee, and always has free wi-fi.

The longer I have been in the USA, with limited time and money the less I have cared where and what I eat. Much more time here and I swear I’d be eating burgers. I miss protein sources sorely missing from a vegetarian diet in the jungles of fast food franchises. I get some egg sometimes.

Knowing I can always take my McDonalds coffee at leisure I decided to spend some time shopping. I approached the gas station always on the hunt for new flavours of E-cigarette juice which is pleasingly popular over here. Denied, they redirect me to the adjoining parking lot, where there is a dedicated E-cig store at the end. On the hike across the lot with my luggage bumping conspicuously, I discover a second hand book store!

Under Charlie's Covers photo
Under Charlie’s Covers

Under Charlie’s Covers is a sprawling but enticing shop.  It’s unusual to find an independent retailer in these interstitial, highway areas. Venturing inside, I find books organised by type (fiction, murder mystery, science) and within alphabetised author, but also some kind of system I couldn’t fathom whereby some books are places horizontally on a shelf (recommended or just too large?) and others are piled in stacks of about five on the floor.

Inside the bookstore photo
Piles of books. Kinda scary, kinda exciting.

It wasn’t long until I met Charlie herself, an attractive woman with wide, curious eyes and a warm smile. She was happy for me to store my luggage and take my time.

I asked her about the business and she tells me she’s had the shop for five years. I ask if books are good business. She laughs “Oh I don’t make any money, but I have a lot of fun.”  Realising this is a labour of love and Charlie is likely a serious reader, I ask for recommendations for novels with strong female role models, and she thinks for a bit then darts off towards the shelves.

I amuse myself eating single Jelly Belly beans from a glass jar on the counter. There are some really strange flavours in the mix that seem invented to jolt you out of your sugary reverie. One is distinctly “bile” flavoured, and I can’t for the life of me decide what its intended likeness would be.

She doesn’t return. I imagine my request has been superceeded by some pressing alphabetisation, and begin to browse again. It’s about ten minutes later when she seeks me out with four books in hand. Hand picked she’s found me a time travelling novel, a historical adventure, a police procedural, and a horror all with strong female leads. I’m thrilled at this customer service and take her recommendation for one of the four to try out.

Back to browsing and I discover an Aladdin’s cave of sci-fi, about five wide shelves full! I’m drooling now, picking out speculative fiction authors and enjoying the covers of the older books (here’s a funny blog about just that).

book covers photo

I dig up a couple of Charles Stross books (The Atrocity Archives and Glasshouse) I’ve never read before, and a collection of short stories called Redshift: Extreme Visions of Speculative Fiction. I select these at great length of course, whilst forced for luggage restrictions to cruelly discard an Alastair Reynolds that I can’t remember if I’ve already read. I mix up the collection with some popular science about consciousness by Alva Noë and a slim period erotica by Anaïs Nin that I imagine won’t shock Charlie.

Happy with my selections I purchase the books (whilst revisiting the Jelly Belly collection) pleased to be funding this treasure trove on the side of the interstate. It was a pleasant reminder that travel is rarely about where you’re going, but where you’re at.

2 thoughts on “Time to kill on the side of the US 550”

  1. “Sugary reverie” is the most concise description I’ve encountered to define the apparent behavioural philosophy guiding my existence.

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