Squeaky Floors

This past Sunday, still stuck in Riverside and still feeling kind of sick, I decided to track down the local public library and update my collection of California public library cards (yes, I’m a nerd in some ways… my wife and my mother and all of my co-workers appear to agree). I found myself in the Mission Inn district of downtown Riverside. Turning left on Mission Inn off of Lime, I found myself on a street lined with old stone buildings, and knew that I had to park here in front of the Civic Auditorium. It was too amazing to pass up.

I know that a man alone in a strange town is supposed to get into trouble by tracking down the bars or something like that, but I don’t seem to be very good at that. Instead, I track down museums. And bookstores. And libraries. Even when I was wandering around Ireland and the United Kingdom, I was always drawn to these sights; the bars and taverns in York were cool, but the Cathedral and the bookshops were cooler. I know. I’m a nerd. And when I’m traveling for Benthic Creatures, the same thing happens. Most of my co-workers went off to tour some wineries and go wine-tasting, but I wasn’t up to it. So here I was. In the historic downtown of Riverside, California.

The building next to the Civic Auditorium was an art museum, but it, unfortunately, was closed on Sundays. That made me sad, but across the street was a place with the potential to be more interesting: the municipal museum of Riverside, with a special exhibit on the entomology of the area. That, I couldn’t pass up. I went inside, learned all about the plants and animals that are native to Riverside County, saw some of the fossils that have been dug up in this area, some basketwork by some of the Native Americans from this area (amazing… I had never really payed much attention to how tightly woven the grasses can be in a Native American basket, or how intricate the designs could be, and I was enthralled), and learned all about orange growing in the area.

Orange growing is a big thing here in Riverside. A Really Big Thing.

There was an entire exhibit devoted to oranges. How they’re grown. How they’re harvested. How they’re marketed. One wall was exclusively devoted to the history of the Sunkist Growers’ Association. And there was an exhibit of a local historian’s collection of advertising signs for oranges.

You can’t get enough oranges. Or orange marketing.

I also found the library, of course. Most of the county libraries I’ve been to have been much more impressive than the town library where I live, and Riverside’s was no exception. While the library in Modesto had an impressive computer section, Riverside’s library had a very impressive collection of government documents. I browsed through it for awhile, glancing at local soil reports from 1897, naval reports from the Revolutionary War, county census reports from 1922, and so on. Some of the books were in great shape, some were falling apart in my hands. I couldn’t help myself; I spent about an hour just in that one section. Then I spent an hour sitting at one of the study desks, working on a paper for my management theory class.

After the library, I found probably the best part of the Mission Inn district: Downtowne Books. It was one of those cool old bookstores, cooler than anything I’ve seen since Wigtown, Scotland. The shelves were old, stable but bending under the weight of so many books. Hardbound books rested comfortably on the same shelves next to ancient paperbacks. The inventory was so overstocked that books lay in neat rows on the floors at the base of the shelves, and in piles around tables and chairs. The floors were wooden, and creaked under my weight as I explored and browsed for another good hour or so.

I had a good conversation with one of the owners; she told me that she and her sister had bought the bookstore almost on a whim a few months before, and we talked about bookstores we’d been to in other countries. She agreed that she would need to take a trip to Wigtown in Scotland and pass it off as a business expense. I eventually walked out of there with a Spanish text, a copy of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and a copy of The Wind in the Willows for Jennifer.

All in all, a good day.

Of course, it was afternoon by now, and the bronchitis that’s been lurking in my lungs was starting to get to me, so I knew I had to get back to my hotel room to finish my paper. On the way back, I decided to stop at the grocery store and get some food for the upcoming week. The produce section at this store was huge! And dominating over the plums, the apples, and bananas, the carrots, and everything else, were the oranges!

Of course! Oranges! The amazing and glorious oranges of Riverside County, so splendour-filled that they deserved an entire room at the municipal library!

And they were all so… small.

It was like walking into a room filled with piles and piles of orange marbles. Or mothballs. Or gumdrops. I bought some tangelos (my favorite) and took them back to my hotel room. I opened one, began to peel, and found that it was almost all peel; there was barely any fruit inside of the thing at all.

I began to wonder if all the citrus from Riverside was like this. Riverside, so famed for its amazing oranges, seems to be able to produce these marble-sized fruits of nothing but peel.

I picked up my Spanish book and began to browse through it, peeled another tangelo, and enjoyed a small slice of irony.