At the Mall

They built it, and everybody came.

From the moment Ridgedale shopping mall first opened its doors in 1974, it became the place to see and be seen. All the kids went there.

Where downtown Minneapolis—with its whirling Mary Tyler Moore Show backdrop—was once the hangout destination, Ridgedale immediately displaced it. It’s crazy to even imagine now, but our parents thought nothing of letting us hop on a city bus to spend a Saturday afternoon downtown rifling through books at B. Dalton, grabbing an ice cream cone at Baskin-Robbins in the IDS Crystal Court, or taking in a matinee at the Skyway theater. As long as we were home by dinnertime, everything was cool.

But Ridgedale shook things up. Since I worked at Super Sam’s evenings after school and weekends, I wasn’t always able to take the Dartillac, Mom’s car. If Steve was working at Koney Island, I’d catch a ride with him in his new Camaro, or with Chad in his Triumph TR6. But when those weren’t an option, I got on the bus.

On Thursday, Oct. 6, 1977, I rode the bus to Ridgedale for my 7 p.m. shift, then Mom picked me up at 10:30. That night I reported in the diary I was falling behind in my homework. The following Saturday Dad drove me to the mall in his yellow International Scout, where Joe and Matt worked the back line with me. Mom had the pickup shift later that afternoon.

Obviously the mall lost a lot of its original appeal after I started at Sam’s. In late summer the folks sent us to Ridgedale to shop for new school clothes at The County Seat, or the swankier Chess King. Mom often came along to make sure we weren’t wasting time playing pinball or foosball at Piccadilly Circus, the amusement parlor with video games like Pong and, later, Space Invaders.

After Piccadilly, there were three other favorite places. You needed a crowbar to pry me out of B. Dalton Bookseller. One time I gravitated toward a two-volume softcover set of The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci. The notations, translated from Italian, along with detailed illustrations, captivated me. I had to have those books! After I’d saved up the money, I still remember the day I proudly made the purchase.

The second stopoff in the pre-Sam heydays was Schmitt Music Center. I’d play piano until a sales clerk shooed me away, or join Mom when she was debating whether to trade up our upright piano for an organ. When she’d decided the organ was less “percussive” (read: noisy) than the piano, it was a done deal.

Finally, no trip to the mall was complete without visiting Spencer Gifts. Ridgedale shoppers were immediately assaulted by black lights, gag gifts, and amazingly cool rock t-shirts. I, however, made a beeline to the magic section. Once, in junior high, I lingered over a set of magic playing cards. I recall getting ribbed by Dan Rogers after I’d scored them. That brought on the shame and self-doubt: Had I really made a wise buying decision?

So I’m reminded of advice Ray Bradbury once gave after boyhood friends convinced him to destroy his beloved Buck Rogers comics: “[It was] like giving away my head, my heart, my soul, and half a lung … I grieved and I cursed myself for having so dumbly tossed aside what was, in essence, the greatest love of my life. Imagination. Romance. Intuition. Love.”

Maybe magic wasn’t “the greatest love of my life,” but it aroused my curiosity. And curiosity at a young age is fleeting at best, especially with all the insecurity that comes with being a teenager.

High school life was like a mall you walked through: it’s there, built for you—with distracting people and things, but it’s also where you discover new passions and interests. …That is, until someone tells you they don’t think they’re right for you.

Later, you’re a working stiff, all so that you entirely forget those passions and interests.

That’s the point when you can’t wait to get back on the bus and get the hell out of there.

[Above image “Sultan’s Castle” © 664030 via Flickr]

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~ by completelyinthedark on July 21, 2012.

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