Balls to the mall
by Jon Worley
I don't like shopping malls. And I don't go to them.
Now, when I say "mall," I'm specifically describing the enclosed, anchors-at-the-corners, escalator-up/escalator-down, food -court-that-isn't-complete-without-a-generic-Philly-cheesesteak-joint kinda mall. I go to strip malls and "big box" malls all the time. I mean, come on. All but one of the four grocery stores I shop on a regular basis are in strip malls of one kind or another, and with all the work I do around the house most weeks aren't complete without an emergency trip to the Lowe's or Home Depot.
And when I say "I don't go to them," I mean I don't go to them unless I need something that isn't available somewhere else. I prefer a particular brand of wool socks, and the only store in the area that sells them can be found in two malls and nowhere else.
So I buy my socks at a mall. Disclosure is important in these matters.
The reason I bring all this up is that the newest and biggest shopping center in my corner of the New South opened on Friday. And I wasn't pleased. In fact, I was against the building of "The Streets at Southpoint" on general principle. Developers mowed down tens of acres of perfectly nice slash pines and replaced them with acres of asphalt and some truly dreadful architecture. The folks even built a faux smokestack so as to evoke the historic Lucky Strike chimney that till stands as downtown Durham landmark.
Did I mention that this mall is closer to downtown Raleigh--in terms of driving time--than it is to downtown Durham? Sprawl is a beautiful thing, man.
So anyway, back when this mall was in the planning stages, I swore I'd never go there. Who cares if it contained the only Nordstrom, the only Pottery Barn Kids (for those children who really need trendy place settings of their own) and the only Apple Computer stores in all of North Carolina? Not me.
I hate malls. Stores in malls sell a bunch of generic junk that I would be embarrassed to find in my home. Do you really think that those Lady and the Tramp salt-and-pepper shakers from the Disney Store are all that? Get real.
Once again, in the interest of disclosure, I must admit to owning a pair of Gap jeans. Maybe two. But really, do you know how hard it is to find Levi's 501s these days? Freakin' impossible. I save time by going to the Gap. But such occasions always cause me to perform the walk of shame. In fact, I usually wear a disguise.
As for food offerings, there's nothing worse than mall grub. One of the new trends in mall megarestaurants is international food. You may (or may not) be familiar with P.F. Chang's, a self-described "China Bistro." (Well, Marco Polo was Italian...) The Streets doesn't have a P.F. Chang's, but there is an "Asian Bistro" (that might be the name; I couldn't tell from all the nonsense painted on the walls of the place). There's also an Italian place (not Olive Garden; that place is too declasse for The Streets) and a bunch of other massive establishments. I'm not kidding about that. These places seat 500 or more hungry shoppers.
There's nothing I crave more than an intimate dinner with my wife and upwards of a thousand strangers. And what's with all the melting wax? All those candles on the tables make the places look like the set for the "King of Pain" video.
On Saturday morning I read all the stories about shoppers spending two hours driving around before either finding a parking space or giving up completely. I laughed a laugh of intellectual superiority. Everyone who's read even one story in the paper knows that the infrastructure around The Streets is nowhere near capable of handling mall traffic on a regular day, much less the influx of 100,000 or more Nordstrom freaks who traveled from as far away as Richmond and Charlotte to shop. Only fools would venture toward the Streets on opening weekend.
Fools! They're all fools!
So then my parents (in town to see my son Max, who is a whole three weeks old) offered to buy a color printer so that Barbara and I can properly print out photos from the digital camera her parents bought us for Christmas. We thought this a capital idea (life rule #4: never seriously turn down an offer of choice loot). Just one problem. The local stores (Best Buy, Circuit City, Comp USA; you know, local) don't carry enough Mac-compatible color printers for us to run solid print-out comparisons. There was only one place where proper testing could be done. The Apple store. At the new mall.
And so we found ourselves surfing traffic at The Streets on Saturday afternoon. After one failed pass (the cops wouldn't let anyone coming from our direction enter the parking lot), we did a little "tour de sprawl" (cruising some truly distressing new housing developments around the mall) and then tried again from a different path.
Success! After only 45 minutes we found a space and were crammed into the Apple store along with hundreds of other idiots. Luckily, they had plenty of printers to test. I did to reconfigure the computers (the sales staff know how to sell; they don't know much about Macs or even computers in general) and Barbara had to cadge a couple of sheets of photo paper out of the assistant manager. Then we had to convince one of the sales guys that we wanted to buy a printer and that he had to go get one out of the stockroom (maybe I was wrong about the folks knowing their sales). But after such dicey moments, we got our printer and we survived the mall, even if we did get soaked in a sudden cloudburst. Not a half-bad experience. And as much as I'd like to, I can't blame the rain on the mall.
Oh, yes I can. Malls suck. They're a drain on the lifeforce of American culture. I never go to malls.