Monday, January 23, 2006

COLUMN: Mallrats

Johnny Marx, one of my fellow columnists over at the Dispatch/Argus, often refers to working for our papers as "Perfectjobville." I won't pretend that I don't get my share of warm fuzzies from this gig -- I mean, were it not for the Leader and the Dispatch/Argus, the only audience for my ramblings over these years would have been my late cat, and even she thought a ball of yarn was occasionally more exciting than my insights.

But "PERFECTjobville"? As much as I love it here, the last time I checked, I was NOT being paid to watch reruns of "Friends" while Katie Holmes massaged my back. THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is PERFECTjobville. So the papers will have to settle for "GREATjobville," which still means that my favorite hour of the workday is, in fact, the LUNCH hour.

And it was on one of these fateful lunch hours last week that a very strange hankering hit me. I've been fighting some awful insomnia lately, so while I was climbing into my car in my sleep-addled state, the last thing I expected my brain to say was "Dude. Chick-Fil-A." Oh, brain, you had to be kidding. Chick-Fil-A's all the way in the middle of the mall. That requires, you know, WALKING and stuff.

But when one of these hankerings hits, there's nothing to do but obey. So that's why I found myself loping into Southpark Mall last week, in search of the perfect chicken-&-pickle combination.

The thing is, I don't go to the mall too often. Like I said, when given the option, I tend to prefer NOT to walk. Yet as I drug myself through Southpark for the first time in over a year, I suddenly felt nostalgic for the glory days of mall culture. Poor Southpark, what has HAPPENED to you? Where once things were booming, now things are startlingly vacant. Where once stood impressive chain clothing stores that caused me and my folks to drive up from Galesburg every school year, now stand kitschy home-spun antique stores.

Stop yelling at me right now, kitschy home-spun antique store owner-operators. I'm certain that your goods and/or services are nothing shy of fantastic, and I'm also certain that your sales would improve with expanded advertising right here in these well-read pages. It's just that, since when did antique stores and Avon outlets become mall culture? To me, malls should always represent youth culture. Video arcades, greasy food, record stores, oh-so-trendy hipster clothes. Malls should be exactly as we first came to knew them -- in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High."

Where are the gangs of trouble-making kids? The tables covered in sugary, caffeinated residue? The pervalent stench of Orange Julius and Karmelkorn? The glorious, rayon-draped oasis that was Chess King? (I used to get CHRISTMAS CARDS from the Chess King corporation, if that tells you anything of MY teen years.)

The answers hit me on the way back to work. Returning to the Dispatch/Argus offices in downtown Moline, I took a good look around. Once upon a time, downtown Moline was a thriving place. Now? Well, since I've worked here, the building across the street has been everything from a coffeeshop to a Mongolian barbeque to an antique store and now I think we're back to a coffeeshop again. Vacant storefronts ache to tell stories of the glory days of yore. The history books that our papers publish show a downtown full of commerce and life. It's just all part of change.

Cities evolve, it's what keeps them fresh. Downtown begat 23rd Avenue. 23rd Avenue begat Southpark Mall. Now, Southpark Mall itself has fallen to the wayside of the new developments along the John Deere corridor and the epic mess of 53rd & Elmore in Davenport. Sadly, the charge is probably being led by me and like-minded souls who prefer curbside service to walking through malls.

Still, though, I'd love to step back in time and take over Southpark and make it all 80's-retro kitsch. Stick a roller rink in that puppy and fire up "Whip It" on the stereo. Line the halls with beat-up arcade games like Centipede, Track & Field, and that one that used to yell "HA HA HA! I AM SINI-STAR!" so loud you could hear it in your car.

Oh, but so long as we're reconstructing the mall from scratch, let's somehow put a drive-thru at Chick-Fil-A. Even if it's kitsch and 80's and fun, I still might not want to, you know, walk.


Wendy said...

Speaking of changes downtown - the OT Johnson building burned down last night here in the 'burg. Main St. is closed from Prairie to Cherry Streets.

-shane- said...

Ya I saw that on the news. That's completely nutso. As if Galesburg doesn't look weird ENOUGH when I make it back home. Sad, kinda. I hate change.

Wendy said...

I've not had a chance to see the damage except pictures - no time. It will be strange with almost the whole block gone now. The one remaining wall was blown over the other day and landed on another building.