Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Mall

Day 8 of Fun-a-Day. I chose blog-a-Day for the month of January.

Today, during an empty half hour before my farm business planning class started, I decided to take a tour of the local mall, just next door to Montpelier and down the street from the Extension office. I wandered into a bookstore on its last legs, closing at the end of the week, and asked about this suburban oasis. She said, We call it the Hall, referring to it's walkway design. I also think she might have been referring to its emptiness.

There were maybe 40 people there. I walked down the hall and looked in at a vast mattress showroom, almost completely empty of people. I saw one salesman, turned away from the entrance, balancing on one leg as he held his blackberry. He looked as precarious as this mall felt.

There was a Walmart and JC Penney anchoring the hall, and a couple of other chains sprinkled in between local shops. All were pretty much empty. There were some folks eating food, or walking strollers down the hall, but the emptiness, the sense of failure was palpable to me. I did not stay for lunch, or buy anything.

When I was a teacher, the trip to the mall was one of the most popular for the students. Whole busloads of young consumers would pile into the mall, wanting to just get away from the campus that housed them as boarding school students. I couldn't blame them, but wished there was somewhere more real they could go. I would sponsor trips to Ethiopian food and movies in Philadelphia for a taste of freedom and reality. Not the mall.

As I walked out, I had this sense memory of all the hours I clocked in Rhode Island and Warwick Malls in my day. Yes, there were two malls in the town where I grew up, or rather next to the town where I grew up. Before I got my driver's license, these were the places I went with friends or romantic interests. I remember that the mall was the first place where I got to go alone. Maybe I was in 7th grade the first time I went to the mall without an adult? It was so exciting, so exhilarating to be alone with a boy or girl I wanted to kiss, to find a private spot to grab a smooch. This was where I got my ear pierced. This is where I first started to see how void-filled life can be.

Rhode Island Dead Mall
I walked out of there, remembering being a pre-teen, and was struck that this was a dead mall in the making. If you haven't seen this site, it is well worth checking out.  This model of enclosed economically derived community is bankrupt in many ways, and this site documents the places where the mall has died, and what has been left behind.

One of my old stomping grounds is on the site, too. Closed in 2011 because of flooding, at the end the Rhode Island Mall only had 4 stores. I guess what they say is true. You can't go home again.  Thank God.

Maryland Dead Mall
Really, the dead mall is an emblem of both what went wrong and what is right. What is wrong is developing an enclosed and exclusive space for shoppers, where freedom of speech is not allowed--the mall IS private property-- and where music, atmosphere, and all are controlled centrally, and reflect a completely fabricated reality.

But the dead mall is also a symbol of what is right. These photos offer valuable images of the completely unsustainable model and machination that is the mall. They also appeal to the post-apocalyptic in me. They create a palimpsest, where nature is writing over the decay and uselessness that is the mall.

Needless to say, I will not be visiting the mall again.

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