Travel Journal

The players: Me (Tom), my friends & assistants Blanco & Chris, 6 potential sellers of libraries

The setting: Los Angeles, September 2009

The goal: Purchase quality books


Perhaps the most interesting part of my job is traveling around the country and meeting various people who have libraries that they want to sell. My most recent trip was to the Los Angeles area to potentially purchase six different collections of varying sizes. On paper it appeared as though there would be at least a thousand or so books involved, so I found that it was economical to bring my trusty assistant Blanco along for the trip. While not a professional “book guy,” Blanco has been scouting books for us for a few years now and has gotten pretty good at it. Furthermore he’s a very hard worker and trusted friend, so with airfare as cheap as it was, I booked us each a roundtrip to LAX. We would also be joined by our long-time friend Dr. Chris who is a geneticist at UCLA and whose home serves as my hotel when I visit So. Cal.

We hit the ground running at eleven a.m. LA time and hurried to our noon appointment in Pasadena. We met a widow and her friend of many years. Both ladies were very friendly and good-natured. Some of her husband’s books were in boxes in another friend’s garage so we drove there and had a look. I was a bit disappointed to see boxes filled with paperback novels, old computer guides and an occasional decent book. Since these books were the residuals of one of her husband’s offices, I agreed to purchase them for a nominal price. We loaded the 35 boxes into our van and went to the next location with the ladies, which was her husband’s office at the local college. She did warn me that although the office was locked, the last time she went there (about 3 weeks ago) someone had gained entry and removed a few books from the collection. She knew this because she packed the shelves tight when she merged his two offices into one and was taken aback when there were indeed holes in the shelves where books once were.

Alas, even with the missing books, the collection was very good and we agreed on a purchase price. We then went to move the van closer and as we did this, Blanco spotted a grocery store shopping cart down an alley on the side of the building. He wisely decided to borrow the cart for our job. Between that cart and LeBron (our trusty 4 wheeler, named for its unrivaled greatness), the three of us packed up the library in about 30 minutes. We bid our farewells and headed down the street to appointment #2.


The setting: Los Angeles, September 2009

The goal: Purchase quality books


The next gentleman had about 35 boxes of books in his office. I had seen a list of the books prior to my visit and liked about half of them. We had a brief negotiation and then settled on a price. He was also pleased that I did not want all of the books since he liked to put them out on a table for his students every few years. He now was able to do this since I was going to pick only about half of the books AND he had a nice chunk of change in his pocket; he was content. (so was I since I did not have to haul things for which I had no market!)

As we cleared out the office he wanted to run home and bring back some books to show me that he liked to collect of which I had never heard. When he returned he showed me three of Alfred Wainwright’s Lake District guides. Although I’ve been around books for decades and do know the value of MANY types of books, I was certainly enlightened about the market for these guides. Upon first glance I thought he was joking and was swindled when he showed me the prices of $450 and $225 for these seemingly pedestrian field guides to hills and mountains. Upon further review I now know that early printings of these books are scarce and valuable. You never know what you’ll learn and from whom!

Next appointment was rather quick, purchased about 30 books and had a good talk with the gentleman about the future of scholarly journal publishing while Blanco and Chris waited in the parking lot and reminisced about old times.

The setting: Los Angeles, September 2009

The goal: Purchase quality books


I then met a wife who was sent on behalf of her husband to his office to deal with me. She was a transplanted New Yorker and had the accent and traces of the swagger that I often see when visiting my relatives in the Bronx. Brief, to the point, and done.

My last appointment for the day would be with an elderly couple who had a LOT of journals and about 400 books. Unfortunately I had to break the news to them about the journals, but they took it well. The husband was now legally blind, but was still very sharp and the wife was dynamic and talkative. We hit it off well and as I selected what I could use we discussed our children (she lamented the fact that her two kids would probably never give her grandchildren), guitar playing (I’ve been playing for about 30 years, one of her sons went to GIT), and finally her recent discovery of Leonard Cohen. It was a very warm meeting and felt more like family dinner than a business transaction. When Blanco, Chris & I finished removing the books we said our goodbyes and headed back to Chris’ house for the evening, but first, we needed to eat.

The choice was one of Chris’ favorite Mexican restaurants called Guelaguetza. Unfortunately when we arrived it was closed for remodeling due to the fact that a car had recently driven through its window. So we went instead to the legendary Tito’s Tacos. At 8 pm on Sunday night the place was a complete zoo! Lines of people ordering at the outdoor windows, people inside eating and ordering, human traffic coming & going. Since we hadn’t eaten in about 10 hours we proceeded to inhale our food. It was good, but none of us were blown away. We were dragging at that point from a long workday and big meal so we headed to Chris’ for a nightcap of Tequila and music. It was quite a first day. My cargo van was pretty much loaded and Chris’ touring van was about half full of boxes. Already it was a good trip.

The setting: Los Angeles, September 2009

The goal: Purchase quality books


Day two was going to be less hectic with only two appointments and then offloading the books at a freight depot. The early appointment netted about 28 books since the gentleman was still using the bulk of his library for the 6 books that he was concurrently writing. The offloading took about 2 hours and was done in the mid-day sun. We were hot and sweaty but at least the hard work was over. We then headed to my last appointment with a woman who lived a bit south of Venice Beach. Her house was a stone’s throw from the water and was stunning. She was very friendly and her field of study was highly specialized. She did tell me that she was not yet ready to sell, but wanted to meet me and get my thoughts. Our meeting was educational and enjoyable for both of us. We’ll probably meet again someday…

With work done, we headed to Venice Beach, walked along with the entertainers, lost sailors, and tourists. Got some beers and a snack to eat and reflected on how good life was. After this brief interlude, we headed back to Chris’ to wash and prepare for dinner at our favorite sushi restaurant, Sasabune. It was another transcendent experience at the sushi bar with the freshest cuts of fish being offered just as the chef wanted them served. We accepted all he had and were grateful.

Work trips don’t always include good friends, good food, or even good meetings, but when there is a convergence of all three, it is no longer “work.”

Summary: 42 hour trip, 2000 books purchased, a good time.

Grade: A