Until this weekend, I had not been to a shopping mall for more than 3 years.
It’s not that I was ever such a big-time mall shopper, but there were regular visits; you could say we were well-acquainted. In addition to rainy-day retail therapy, there was birthday/wedding/new baby shopping, sales and all the other usual reasons one goes to the mall. I always had a secret-squirrel parking spot that I parked at that magically put me close to a little-used mall entrance (just outside the lingerie department at Macys).
Then COVID came along and those field trips to the mall were no more. When the mandatory masks came off (the first time), I barely had enough time to get used to the idea and go to the grocery store without a mask before Omicron and it’s successors had the mask proponents shaking their heads ominously. I chickened out, not daring to brave any sort of crowd without a mask (crowd being newly defined by me as more than 1 masked person standing 6 feet away from me).
This weekend, while the rest of the West is suffering through a 20-year drought and my little corner of Oregon is so wet that the sidewalk squishes when I walk on it, I decided to chance it and go to the mall. I mean, I’m vaccinated four times over and I’ll be masked up with my hand sanitizer handy. Why not?
Gotta say, it’s a big mall, and I hadn’t been there in a long time. There was a lot of traffic. The Nordstroms wasn’t where it was in my memory. Neither was Macys. In fact the place I thought was Macys was closed up and dark, and there’s now a big foodie court in the parking lot where the cars used to park. I figured Macys must have been a pandemic casualty. Such a shame.
I couldn’t exactly remember the location of my secret squirrel parking spot. But having committed to the mission, I wasn’t about to back out. I parked right outside Nordstroms and walked in with my eyes wide with excitement.
I am not saying I expected to be greeted like Norm when he walked into Cheers, but I did expect to feel like you do when you revisit your old high school. A sense of nostalgia, mingled with a bit of ‘oh yeah, I’m back’ and maybe an encouraging smile from the woman behind the cosmetics counter?
But no. Instead it was overwhelmingly busy. Sooo many people! Way more than you’d see even at Safeway on a Friday evening. Salespeople sooo busy. Sooo many products and counters and racks and displays with goods offered in such a profusion, the eye cannot settle on any single thing, but instead flits to the next and the next and the next…leading you deeper into the bustling hive.
And the noise. Somehow, after three years of online shopping, I’d forgotten how loud everything is at the mall. Virtually everyone on their phone or calling to their kids or significant other from the escalator. Children screaming incessant bloody murder louder than a car alarm at 4am. And I must confess, stepping onto an escalator for the first time in three years was a bit intimidating.
After about twenty minutes, all I wanted to do was leave, but I wouldn’t let myself. I had all this pent-up desire to be OUT, and I wasn’t going leave. My accustomed hermitry would just have to adjust. I was determined to follow through and at least walk the length of the mall.
I exited Nordstroms and merged in to a sea humanity, like salmon, fighting their way upstream, with rapid changes in direction to enter or exit the stores lining the mall. I also changed lanes, as I kept thinking I was going in the wrong direction. In my memory, you always walk to the right, but on this day everyone seemed to be walking and running every which way and stopping and turning around at random. Oy.
I took refuge beside the mall map, and scanned the directory. So many of the stores I was accustomed to seeing there were gone. Where was Mrs. Fields? Where was the Cheesecake Factory? The Disney Store? I caught sight of a familiar name and did a double take. Macys was still there!
But not where I thought it was. I must’ve driven in from a different direction. Apparently, Nordstrom is on the opposite side of the mall from Macys. I tried to tell myself that maybe Macys had moved to the other side of the mall during the pandemic. But that didn’t seem likely. The Cheesecake Factory was still right next door, where it always had been.
With my bearings now firmly set, I gathered my resolve to get to Macys. Whatever else happened, Macys would be my grail-inspired destination for the day. I would do it. I set out with fresh determination and vigor.
Rush hour traffic on the freeway is less mind-numbing than being bumped and jostled repeatedly by people who are all around you and not paying any attention to what they’re doing or where they are. By the time I got to Macys, I was numb. I toured most of the departments, and managed the escalator like a pro, but the store itself was all a blur. I couldn’t wait to get out of there.
I don’t really remember much about the hike back to Nordstroms; only that I was worried I wouldn’t be able to find my car. I’d parked on the second level of the parking garage, but after the Macys fiasco, I’d lost confidence in my sense of direction. And memory. But the car was there, and I got home safe and sound. Next time, I’ll start with something smaller, like Target.
I promptly ordered a couple of tee-shirts online and then lay down for a nap with the dog.