Sunday, February 01, 2009

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.


Anonymous said...

No, we are not the demographic anymore.... Marketers jobs are to get the tweens to turn into spenders for the rest of their lives.... Grotesque, I preach to my kids daily.... Daily, I ask them "This...or college...?" They're still saying college most of the time... (and yet I'm beginning to sweat how'm I gonna pay for THAT?!)

Boldly Serving Up Wheat Grass said...

I worked there... Moved to Falls Church after college & worked at The Museum Company for a few months until I finally got a "real" job. Funny thing was, I was making about $6/hour at the mall. The real job paid $16,500/year, which isn't terribly much more than that. Today, these 22-year old whippersnappers come out w/ their BA degrees & get 40K + benes right out of the gate!

Neddie said...

(and yet I'm beginning to sweat how'm I gonna pay for THAT?!)

Mighty, mighty sore subject these days, Gigs. We've got a high-school junior and a sophomore, and their college fund is very nearly goddamned shot. Yikes.

Anonymous said...

When the TC mall first opened, it wasn't nearly that awful. There were the usual regional department stores (Hechts, Woodward and Lothrop, etc.) and quite a few unique, locally-owned businesses.

Seibt's Konditorei used to be a great bakery and coffee shop.

Unfortunately, sometime in the 80s it was yuppified and mallified to the point that it's interchangeable with any other mall anywhere else in the U.S.

Yodood said...

what the fuck are these people here for?"

gee, Neddie, it wouldn't be near so much a mystery if you could bring yourself to realize that you are one of them smack in the middle, but then what would there be to bitch about? Such webs we weave …

Neddie said...

Ain't wove no web, Yodood. I wasn't there voluntarily, as my post makes pretty clear; given my druthers, I'd have been home making Purity Goodness Pie. My daughter's Homecoming dance is a once-in-a-year event. We tolerated it for one night.

I don't believe I'm obliged to enter your Virtue Sweepstakes. Thanks for the offer, though.

Anonymous said...

In my family it’s referred to as joining the’m all.

I live in real fear of becoming deceased while being made to wait in a mall. So much so that I have made my 10-year-old son vow to drag my body out, disguised if necessary, and tell people I passed on elsewhere...

Will Divide said...

I think such crowds indicate a certain sympathetic human need to congregate somewhere. I will also propose that the main difference between you and them was that your dread managed to make itself known to you.

That 60 years of consumerist capitalism has come up with nothing better than a mall to house the agora is, well, an indictment of something, no doubt about it.

Unknown said...

While no expert on the local fauna, I'd venture that variety of palms ain't local to Northern Virgina either. What is it with that? Really brings home that "place that is no place" feel, like replacing Time with something less unnerving.

Bobby Lightfoot said...

Great mall stores that somebody is gonna make a killin' openin':

Douchebag Heaven

Cat Julius

Th' Prosthetic Pavilion

Ocean State Ass Plug Job Lots

Kidney In 'n' Out (shop all day w/ voucher!)

Carrie's Colostomy Counter (so many colors!)

Real Laser Tag (can you target yer buddy's cellphone induced brain growth?)

A Place For Dads (bored mall fathers get happy endings, peep shows, opium smokin' w/ wooden headrests and all that, snuff movies on demand and more more MORE.

Anonymous said...

Carrie Ann's Patented Goat Smegma IS available now in the convenient 8 oz jars with the happy kid on the top. Don't wait, supplies are limited and the price has recently gone way, way down.

Goat Smegma, don't leave home without it. Got Smegma?