Tysons Corner Mall, January 31, 2009
We Jingos moved out to rural western Loudoun County from suburban Reston some five years ago. At times we find ourselves questioning the wisdom of the move. The nearest grocery store is twenty minutes' drive away; the "high-end" one takes an hour round-trip. More than is reasonable, we lose power when a tree-limb knocks down the above-ground cables. The dirt road takes a heavy toll on automotive suspensions.
But then, occasionally, we will be reminded, with no subtlety whatever, of exactly why we made the move.
Last night was such a reminder. Betty attended her school's Homecoming night dance in DC, and the rest of us decided to make an evening of it, going to Tysons Corner Mall to catch a movie and dinner while she tripped the light fantastic with her classmates. For the non-locals, Tysons once owned bragging rights as the World's Largest Indoor Mall, losing them to Mall of America sometime in the Eighties.
In those Eighties, Wonder Woman and I lived in a two-room walkup in Brooklyn. For us, Saturday night often meant an F-train excursion into Greenwich Village for an evening of wandering, grazing, and (if we could afford it) catching somebody at Gerde's Folk City or some similar venue. People-watching was a huge aspect of the trip: New York's boho districts are unmatched for amusement. The huge assortment of delightfully offbeat people who might trundle by on any given evening provided an endless supply of entertainment. Simply being there was to participate in the celebration of the diversity of humanity.
Tysons Corner Mall on a Saturday evening in early 2009 is pretty much the diametric opposite of that experience.
First, the density of the crowd made it impossible to escape the thought: For a country that has, this week alone, shed 100,000 jobs with no end in sight, there sure were a whole lot of people out spending money on fripperies. Second, what the fuck are these people here for? Where's the appeal? Thousands upon thousands of people of every age, income group and ethnic identity, aimlessly wandering among exactly the same PacSuns, Eagle Outfitters, Abercrombies, Williams & Sonomas they'd find in any other mall...for what? They'd actually packed into their XTerras and Priuses with the thought in mind that the best kind of Saturday night consists of grabbing a plate of Heat-Lamp Italian and a large Sprite, wandering the halls of America's Fourth-Largest Mall, and seeing and being seen in this plastic zocalo, this carefully-policed polis?
After the movie,* I became separated from Wonder Woman and Freddie. Without their jokey and insulating company, without sympathetic people with whom I could ridicule things and distance myself from my surroundings, I began to notice that not a single shop in the place was aimed at me. Every one of these interchangeable emporia was intended to appeal to the tweener, the young adult with more money than sense, and the self-regarding yuppie. A deep alienation set in, with notes of anger and claustrophobia. I needed desperately to get out, breathe deep some cold air, declare forcefully my independence from this awful, antiseptic temple to consumption.
This morning, I awoke in a house in a clearing in a forest on the side of a mountain. The air is cold and bracing. Brave birds, wintering over, call overhead. A small herd of deer wanders past the window -- I wonder what they're eating this time of year. The dogs ignore them, as usual. I contemplate a breakfast of eggs and bacon. And I remember.
Yes, that's why we did this.
*"Taken," with Liam Neeson as an ex-CIA goon whose daughter is kidnapped for the "white-slavery" market. About as awful as you'd expect. We had three hours to kill, and that's what was showing. Horribly edited handheld-camera action sequences, revolting racial stereotypes, plot-holes you could drive an XTerra through, and a Jack Bauer torture scene. The movie's title pretty much summarizes how we felt afterward.