And the grand prize goes to parking space #6,401

Aug. 15, 2013 @ 08:21 AM

If you asked me on any given day, really, where in the world I would least like to be at any given time, the mall – any mall – would rank right up there with a men's athletic locker room, and anywhere in Yemen. Give me an old-fashioned “shopping center” any day. In fact, if there were a shopping center with a grocery, a hardware store, a pharmacy, and a T.J. Maxx – oh, and an ABC store – that would be the consummate shopping experience for me.  Sometimes, however, as hideous as it may be, I am forced to go to a mall with a friend who actually likes malls ... and who may have accompanied me to a bridal fashion show once, OK twice, like years ago, OK last March.  (I adore all things bridal, you see ... like brides ... and grooms ... and cake.)

So, last week, my friend Leesa asked me to go to the opening of a new mall up in the mountains. At first I balked, because we all know a Grand Opening is just a hideous mall experience on steroids. But she said that if we couldn't find a good parking place, I could just circle the parking lot while she ran in to see what all the fuss was about, although there would be lots of free stuff I'd miss, but whatever – no more than 20 minutes, she swore. She wasn't far off: It took 20 minutes to get from the off-ramp to the mall entrance (a distance of 13 feet), and we did circle the parking lot for another 20 minutes, after which, at a mall that is proud to claim 6,400 parking spaces, we creatively made it 6,401! (I figured if someone protested, I'd just tell them we thought it was valet parking, and then I'd cry a little or tell them I was pregnant ... shut up.
We didn't have a destination in mind, simply strolling – she just wanted to look around, I just wanted to get free stuff. But, with approximately 50,000 people there, it was like being sucked downstream. I saw the same woman all over the mall throughout the day, always on her cellphone, apparently talking to a friend who was in another part of the mall.
“Cheryl, can you look to your left and see Belk's? You can't? Well, you're in the wrong place!”
“What store are you in front of, Cheryl? Kojay's Coffee? Get me a double latte, and stay right there! Don't you dare go to Nordstrom's without me!”
“Oh, my God, Cheryl, I got us free Apple T-shirts! Jerry's gonna die! Meet me at Ann Taylor! Don't worry about the car. If there's a problem, you can cry, and I'll tell them I'm pregnant ... shut up, Cheryl.”
I wandered into the food court, which was filled with men and children. The kids were playing, screaming and eating, and the men were bonding -- man in khakis sitting with men in overalls, men in suits talking to men in shorts – all with the same desperate look in their eyes. 
Occasionally, a cellphone would ring and a man would answer it hopefully, then, “Yes, the kids are fine, but ... yes, we ate, but ... no, I don't need any underwear, but ... (and here his shoulders would droop) yes, dear, we'll be here.”
Then, we went over to the new Apple store, where I'd heard there would be an “expert to answer high-tech questions.”  I had written all my questions down, and was planning to ask the ones that are on everyone's mind: “Can I learn to make liquor on the Internet? If an older laptop were to get accidentally heaved off that mountain over there, let's say, just as an example, during final exam grading, will Apple give me a new one? Who do I call if I think Steve Jobs was my father ... uh ... son? Can I change my age on Whitepages.com?” 
But, when we got there, the expert was gone. He'd apparently been there all morning answering whiny queries from tech-unsavvy women like me, and was now rumored to be hiding out with the other men in the food court eating tacos and reading People Magazine.
Leesa and I entered so many contests that I don't plan to leave my phone for at least the next few months, because I have a feeling my ship is coming in – loaded with clothes, cosmetics, jewelry, cars, furniture and assorted spa services.
Speaking of which, I had heard that there were free makeovers at Nordstrom's, but the line was so long and the poor “beauty representatives” looked so horrified and distraught that I feared any minute an unsuspecting “before” would be attacked with an exfoliating scrub, and I scrammed outta there. It's OK, though – I'll bet you can get a free makeover at Nordstrom's any time, especially if you cry, or tell them you're pregnant.

Vicki Wentz is a local writer, teacher and speaker. Readers may contact her at chh@heraldsun.com, or visit her website, www.vickiwentz.com.