Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Mallrats

Mallrats
from my VHS collection

Maybe if I had grown up in the suburbs, I would've hung out at malls more. As it is, they never meant anything more to me than a place for one-stop shopping. The Queens Center Mall is no different from most indoor malls, and I can probably count the number of things I've bought there on one hand, not counting food. I once worked at a Tower Records which was part of a strip mall out on Long Island - not quite the same thing as an indoor mall. It was across the street from a more traditional indoor mall. I'd go there for lunch. 

The thing about most suburban, big-box, indoor malls that's truly insidious is the way they're usually set up: great big parking lot in front to encourage lots and lots of car traffic and little in the way of a safe place to walk for pedestrians. I remember reading somewhere once that all that parking space is meant to accommodate Christmas shoppers. If true, well, that's some ass-backward thinking.


The mall near where I live is a textbook example. First off, it's right next to a constantly-busy eight-lane highway that you have to be fleet-footed to cross (yes, there is a traffic light; I don't have to play Frogger with the traffic). Because the cars go by so fast on the highway, walking on the sidewalk can be a little unnerving, and indeed, there are always very few pedestrians on the sidewalks. The parking lot is huge. In recent years, they put up a stop sign in this one spot next to a Best Buy to let pedestrians cross the road leading to the main mall entrance, but it hardly provides one with much of a sense of security. And the sidewalk surrounding the mall proper is so small it's ridiculous, especially given the vast swaths of territory allotted to cars. There are buses that go to the mall, but none of them stop close to the main entrance, so when you get off the bus, you're forced to schlep for another five-to-ten minutes all the way to the nearest entrance. Tough noogies if you're carrying shopping bags.




In Columbus, the rise of suburban malls, a symptom of city-killing urban sprawl, led to the decline of the mall in the downtown area, one that was fairly popular for a long time. Recently they tore it down and put up a park. (Here's a City Mouse strip I did about it.) I remember walking around in it once before they took it down. It was eerie. There were empty storefronts almost everywhere, and it had a kind of haunted feel - there should have been people there, but there weren't.




And as for those suburban malls... Once I took a bus to the northern part of town, almost near the county border, just to see this one mall I was curious about. I was let out next to a wide street with cars everywhere and started walking in the direction of the mall, and as I walked, I remember thinking how peculiar it was that I was the only pedestrian around, even though it was the middle of the day. There was no shortage of cars on the street, though. This was when I first began to fully understand the consequences of sprawl. The mall itself was nothing special. I never went back there.




There's also a mall to the east of Columbus which, I have to admit, is really nice. There's the traditional big-box building to one side, but there are also areas that are done up like villages or small towns. The buildings are smaller, there are benches and fountains, the walking space is beautiful, comfortable and pleasing to the eye - and most importantly, it's separate from the parking space. At Christmas time, it's even better. This mall has a movie theater, so I took the bus there often, but I usually found other excuses to go there, such as actual shopping - I bought a jacket there once.




I don't believe malls are inherently bad; it's just the application of them that's the problem, especially when they're a contributing factor in sprawl. When sprawl happens, the population of a city is decentralized and gets spread out further, usually requiring more car travel, which leads to greater dependence on oil, which leads to less self-sustainability. That's a problem we gotta fix.


I passed on seeing Mallrats the first time it came out because I believed all the negative reviews about it. Eventually I bought it on VHS and to my surprise, discovered that I liked it a lot more than I expected, but by that time, I was already sold on Kevin Smith as a filmmaker. (There's your lesson for the day, kids: reviewers can be a guide to evaluating movies, but ultimately, you have to decide for yourself if a given movie's worth seeing or not.) The comic book-related humor helped, of course - strange that a character like Jason Lee's Brodie, presented as a typical geek outsider, can now be considered mainstream. Yes, it's unfortunate that Stan Lee failed to mention Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko when talking about his comics, but I suspect he knows better now. And as for those stupid optical-illusion images, I could never see a sailboat or anything else in them either! I think they were just a scam!

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