The Palo Alto Borders was my psychogeographical center. It seems strange to say that of a store, never mind an outlet of a giant and mostly uniform chain, but there was nowhere else I was so free to grow up. Borders became for us the mythic “third place,” not school or home, where young people could encounter each other on accident.
If you drive West on University Avenue in Palo Alto, California past the downtown area, you will pass under the train tracks, over El Camino, and onto picturesque Palm Drive and the grassy expanse of Stanford University.
If you go East, you drive first through North Palo Alto and its multimillion-dollar suburban compounds, then over Route 101 and into East Palo Alto. Developers have used this area in tax-starved EPA to store big chains that can’t afford the space in Palo Alto. The Home Depot and the day laborers waiting outside stay on the other side of the bridge, but if you walk up University heading East, before exiting Porsche and Ferrari territory, you can see the hulking blue Ikea rising across eight lanes of traffic.
The Borders Books on University Avenue at the geographic middle of this whole mess, has been housed in the former Varsity Theatre since at least 1996, when I first saw it. I never knew the Varsity, but its neon sign is still there, white and pink and red above the bookstore’s own, as is the theatre’s original ceiling and its intricate moldings. Today, the signs look archaeological. Borders is joining The Varsity in the past.