A tale of two malls

It’s the middle of winter in 2007. My children are restless, and I am out of ideas on what to do to keep them entertained. It’s too cold outside for them to play, and too boring in the house. I decide that we need to take a trip, somewhere fun. So I load the kiddos up into our mini-van and hit the road. Destination: the Westminster Mall.

Perhaps a mall doesn’t sound like a fun destination. There are probably a dozen different places in the Denver metro area that offer entertainment for parents and children. Why did I choose the Westminster Mall? To answer that question, I must provide a little bit of backstory.

I was raised in a small town named Trinidad. It’s situated on the Colorado side of the border between Colorado and New Mexico. The town was (and still is) very small. During the first ten years of my life, the retail section of Trinidad consisted of two grocery stores, two department stores, two five-and-dimes, and a line of mom-and-pop specialty stores. Retailers knew their customers by name, customers sat at the soda bar for friendly banter. It was the quintessential small town, and it was great. Unless you needed to actually buy things. For that, a trip to Pueblo was required.

Pueblo, Colorado is a big town/small city located 80 miles north of Trinidad. It was big enough to have “real” stores, for example clothing stores that sold more than two sizes of boy’s clothes. In Trinidad, when you needed to buy clothing and supplies and such, you would take a shopping trip to Pueblo.

As a little boy, I used to look forward to our major destination in Pueblo: the Pueblo Mall. I don’t think I can describe how magical the mall was to the 8 year old me. We walked into the mall and I was almost overwhelmed by sensory input. It was like we had walked into a carnival or a festival. There were lights in a rainbow of colors and cascade of shapes throughout the mall. There were the sounds of hundreds of people talking and walking and laughing. Music flowed through the mall, enchanting to the ear. I remember the buttery taste of the KarmelKorn, the icy citrusy taste of an Orange Julius. Everything was so wonderful, so exotic.

Walking through the mall was an adventure. Every section of the mall held surprises: a magic shop! a pet store! a video arcade! And people, people everywhere the eye could see. The mall wasn’t a place to shop. It was a magical destination. It was my Narnia, and I relished every moment that we were there. Three decades later, memories of that mall are still cherished, still magical.

Fast-forward to 1989. My first solo road trip. I drove from Trinidad to Westminster to see a college friend. Due to a communication issue, I ended up arriving in Westminster a few hours early. I started to explore the town, and stumbled upon the Westminster Mall. I had to stop – there was no way I could pass up a mall. Especially one that big!

I walked into the Westminster Mall, and immediately I was again an 8 year old boy walking into the enchanted Pueblo Mall. I was back in Narnia. All of the sights and smells and sounds were exactly as I remembered – taken up a notch. The Westminster Mall is larger than the Pueblo Mall. The Westminster Mall is built with a central open court and four long shop-lined arms extending from it. Each arm was the length of half of the Pueblo Mall.

The 8 year old inside of me took complete control that day. I walked up and down that mall, finding different paths to follow, hidden benches and sitting areas, multiple nooks and crannies to explore. There were hot air balloons rising and floating slowly downwards into the fountain at the very center point of the mall. There were twice as many people in the mall, twice as many candy stands, more restaurants in the food court, more video games in the arcade, more clowns walking around with balloons. It was truly amazing.

Back to the present: In my mind’s eye, I can still see every detail of that mall. The nostalgia is still very strong within me. So when it was time to find something to keep the kids entertained, of course I would want to take them to the Westminster Mall! I would share that magic with them, and the memories would then be shared. My children could look back and remember how special it was to go to the mall with their father. It would be a perfect day.

Reality often doesn’t work that way, and that was the case with our trip to the mall. Time has not been kind to malls; that is especially true of indoor malls. Great Denver-area malls have fallen by the wayside. The former Cinderella City is now a civic center. The Northglenn Mall was re-purposed as an office complex. The Southglenn Mall has been razed and turned into an outdoor shopping center, as has the Boulder Mall. Indoor malls are a dying breed, and unfortunately that is true of the Westminster Mall.

The kiddos and I entered the mall via the main entrance, which opens up on the central court. The fountain was exactly as I remembered it, hot air balloons and all. Each of the legs leading off the center had shops open and teeming with life. There were fewer shoppers than I expected, though, which was really odd for a weekend day. The mall was also quieter than expected. I wasn’t sure what to think, but I knew one thing: things were a lot different than the last time I had been there.

The cause of these differences was immediately obvious once we started walking down one of the legs. After the fourth or fifth shop, there were nothing but empty shop locations on both sides of the aisle. Most of the shop locations in the mall were vacant. No sounds, no lights, just dark emptiness. We walked on to the food court; I was crossing my fingers hoping that there would be no major changes there. Shoppers have to eat, after all.

Unfortunately, the food court hadn’t been spared. There were two stands open, one was a Chinese food buffet, and the other was a Subway. The other 6 spaces were dark, empty with no indications of what had been there before, aside from an abandoned “Pizza” sign and a painting of a Greek building on a wall.

Seeing all of the vacant shops in the retail area of the mall had made me sad, but there was something heartbreaking about the food court. The food court was the embodiment of the mall’s slow demise. It was depressing to see such a cherished place – a cherished memory – fall into disrepair, abandoned.

On the other hand, my children were having a very fun day. They loved being able to run as fast as they could through the empty corridors. They loved yelling to hear the echoes returned. They even really liked the food from the Chinese buffet! Their enjoyment helped raise my spirits. After all, I had succeeded in my goal: I shared one of my cherished memories with them. It wasn’t how I envisioned doing so, but the end result was the same.

As we drove away from the mall, I realized again that things change. Everything changes. Including us. We constantly evolve. We constantly change our world, and we change along with our world. Our perceptions and memories change with time and age. The Westminster Mall will always have a fond place in my heart, not just for the nostalgia from my first road trip, but because of the fun day my children and I shared there. Those memories will last long after the mall has been knocked down and replaced with a Super Target and a massive parking garage.

I think I am okay with that.


Postscript: It is now 2012, and my predictions from 2007 have come true. The Westminster Mall was torn down. I don’t know if a Super Target is going to be built there, but there will definitely be a parking garage. My memories of the mall are fading, slowly but surely. I no longer dream of walking into the arcade at the Westminster Mall, pockets filled with tokens, holding an orange julius and a bag of KarmelKorn from the Pueblo Mall.

I have to admit, I miss those dreams.

If You Feel Compelled to Act, Hesitate First

This is most excellent advice, advice that I personally need to do my best to remember and to follow in the future!

[We] all have those few bad decisions that seem like they were made by someone else. This regrettable decisions are often a product of your “fight or flight” response, which really wasnt designed for much in modern society. Its also something you can easily override.

via If You Feel Compelled to Act, Hesitate First – Lifehacker.

Cruise memories: Cozumel

Mural map of Cozumel Ah, Cozumel!

What a wonderfully crazy port. And what a crazy experience! Cozumel provided us with one of those vacation horror stories. But I am getting ahead of myself.

We had really rough waters the morning that we pulled into Cozumel. And some dreary, rainy weather. that was a bit of a surprise to me. I figured that the Caribbean was always very temperate and sunny, no matter what the season. I hadn’t packed anything that was close to being warm. I did have a long-sleeve shirt for my excursion. I wanted to protect my arms from nicks and scratches in the jungle. Otherwise, though, I had no protection from the elements.

The rough waters didn’t really subsist until we pulled into port. We have a couple of videos that we shot as we were approaching the island, and you can see both the cloudy, rainy sky and get a feel for the choppy sea. Fortunately the sun would break through, and within a few hours we had our sunny, temperate day. Amazing what difference a couple of hours can make.

We were both looking forward to Cozumel. It’s one of those places that everyone who has been there talks about, almost always in good ways. Sure, a lot of those are about drunken memories, but people also mention how beautiful the island is, and how much fun stuff there is to do. Now that I’ve been there, I completely understand. Cozumel is a gorgeous port.

As I said above, though, our first glimpses of Cozumel were less than ideal:

As we were gathering to depart, we got a rather upsetting piece of news from the cruise director. Apparently, a crew member from a different cruise line had been lured away to a remote location, severely beaten and murdered. I think the general idea was to tell us that bad things can happen, but that was a very rare circumstance. And secondary, to remind everyone to be security-conscious. What it mostly ended up doing, though, was scaring the crap out of everyone. Erin even mentions it in this video, taken as we were departing the Eclipse:

Of course, part of what contributed to Erin’s nervousness is that we were splitting out on our own for the day. We were each doing separate excursions. Erin really wanted to swim with dolpins, while I really wanted to go on an ATV tour through the jungle. Since I can’t swim and Erin doesn’t like ATVs, it seemed like the perfect time to split up and go our own way. Our goal was to meet up at a local spot in Cozumel (Las Palmeras) after our excursions.

See them thar ATVs? I'm about to ride one of those through the jungleSo we said goodbye, and headed off on our ways. My excursion took me off to a secluded spot in the jungle. There was a location set up there, with covered huts, a building housing restrooms, and a parking area for ATVs. There were dozens of ATVs there, more than enough for a large group of people to go at the same time.

As we set out from the loading space, we were given a few instructions. And one of my questions was answered: they would let us ride pretty fast if we wanted to, but first they would order the riders. So they let us ride for about 10 minutes single-file, and then started having people who were holding up the line move back in the line. Eventually, the fastest riders were in the front, and the slowest in the rear.

An iguana-gatheringI ended up third in line, which was just about perfect. I didn’t have the pressure of staying ahead of everyone, but I was far up in line enough that I could really keep the hammer down.

And that we did! we were flying through that jungle, splashing through puddles and riding through muddy, bumpy, rocky streams. Within a few minutes, my lower half was drenched with muddy water. It’d be days before my shoes dried out! I simply cannot tell you how much fun that was. I was cackling madly, and along the way realized I was not the only one. This was an amazing, exciting adventure!

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get any video while we were actually riding. I didn’t want to risk dropping our flip! As our tour guide put it at the start of the ride: “If you drop your phones or your fancy cameras, make sure that you hold up your four fingers, so you can wave ‘bye-bye’ to it.”

Of course, barreling through the jungle was only part of the excursion. The other was stopping to see some of the Mayan ruins in the area. The combination was what got my heart set on doing the Jungle ATV Tour, actually. I was very happy when we stopped at the first of the two ruins:

As you may have noticed, the tour guide – Jaime – was both informative and funny. He made the tour fantastic, and I learned a lot about the Mayan culture on the island of Cozumel. Jaime gave another information session at the next ruin, and practically had us rolling in tears we were laughing so hard:

I did have one fairly-close call. It was towards the end of the tour. We had to ride through a gated section. As we went past, I glanced over towards the gate and noticed that there was a concrete block there. I thought that is weird, then looked up to see a tree headed straight at me! Damn those trees, always hopping out at me when I am driving distracted! I pulled the ATV into a hard slide and managed to avoid the tree.

Of course, that made me laugh even harder!

I survived! And ended up a wet, muddy messWhen the ride was over, I was a complete and total mess! Jeans drenched, mud up to my knees, mud splatters up to my noggin’. The bandana I’m wearing in the pic was a mess. There was mud on my glasses. Still, though, it was more than worth it. It was fun getting muddy, it was interesting learning a little about the Mayan culture. All in all, it was a brilliant excursion!

I headed back to the ship for a shower and a change. My shoes and socks were drenched, so I had to leave them there. We had bought a really cheap pair of flip-flops in Georgetown. My only other choice was a pair of formal shoes that we rented on the boat. I figured that the flip-flops would be less likely to hurt my feet than the formal shoes, so I put them off then headed back to shore for a while.

I had some time to shop before Erin’s excursion was over, so I checked out the various local shops. That’s where I tracked down some Xtabentún, a delicious liqueur made of rum, honey and anise. It was SOOOOO good! Security actually let me bring it to my stateroom, which I didn’t expect. Giving me access to a rum-based beverage? That’s like putting a picnic basket in front of a bear. You’ve gotta know what the outcome will be.

Living statueAnyway, after I packed away all of my goodies from the shopping trip, I decided it was just about time to head to downtown Cozumel and meet up with Erin. I realized that I didn’t know where Las Palmeras was – and for some reason I couldn’t remember the name – so I started to freak out just a tiny bit. That is actually when the day started taking its down-turn, actually. Little did I know that it would head as far downhill as it did.

I had almost no cash with me, just enough to get a taxi. Or so I thought. I had $6 USD, none of the taxi drivers would take me for less than $7. At the time, I figured “no problem, I’ll just hit an ATM machine.” But there were no ATM machines anywhere along the damned pier. Tons and tons of shops – a tourist trap, most definitely. But no ATM machines, and no merchants willing to give cash back on a credit card purchase. I felt trapped!

One might wonder why I didn’t just go back to the ship at this point. The reason was: the flip flops were already killing my feet. And I was already running late. A walk all the way back to the ship would make me super-late, and I didn’t know if I’d be able to walk much more in the flip-flops. Instead, I headed back to the taxi stand.

What would a Mexican port of call be without a Mariachi band?The merchants in Cozumel were amazingly pushy. They would try and cordon you off into their shops – sometimes actually physically nudging you! I decided to follow their example, ‘cuz I was basically desperate at this point. I went up to where the taxi drivers were milled about and started negotiating. “C’mon, I have $6 American! You’re only missing out on a dollar. You can take me, can’t you? If not, I will find another driver who will. There’s no one waiting for cabs out here. Do you really want to turn down $6?” Finally, the taxi driver said “OKAY! Enough!” and agreed to take me into town.

The first thing I did was go looking for an ATM machine. I was totally screwed at this point if I didn’t have money to get back to the ship. I figured that Erin would probably have enough cash for a cab, but I didn’t want to take that chance. Not with how screwy things were turning out. So I started walking around the square in downtown. I had a couple of men who were following me when I left the 7-Eleven there, so I made a couple of extra stops, trying to be all super-secret spy and lose them in the crowd. [grin]

An octopus wearing a sombrero? Ah, Cozumel!Oh, one super-side note: you can buy alcoholic beverages at the 7-Eleven there. I don’t mean beer and wine, I’m talking about rum and whiskey. In convenient 12-oz cans, nicely chilled in the beverage aisle! There are some things I really love about Mexico…

Anyway, I got some cash, then figured out my destination was actually Las Palmeras. Which was nice, ‘cuz there were great big billboards giving easy directions to the restaurant. I was there in just a few minutes – that’s one of the only things that went right that afternoon. I walked up, grabbed a table, and ordered a nice, big planters punch (a wicked rum-based cocktail). That was such a yummy drink! I hadn’t had lunch yet, so it was going straight to my head.

After a bit of time had passed, though, I started getting nervous. It was getting fairly late in the afternoon, and Erin still hadn’t shown up. I kept expecting a taxi to pull up and let her off. I finished off my drink and most of the tortilla chips on the table, looked up and noticed that the waiter was losing patience with me. I didn’t want to leave our agreed-on meeting spot, though, so I ordered another planters punch.

Note to self: two planters punches are probably not advisable without a big meal to help absorb some of the alcohol.

Time kept on passing, getting closer and closer to last call to board the ship. I was very frantic by this point. I was trying to call her on the cell phone (we had them turned off most of our trip so we didn’t get any international rates). I was constantly checking the walkie-talkie. And then I decided that I couldn’t just wait any longer, that it was time to try to find her.

I stood up from the table and almost fell on my butt. Those drinks were made strong, strong enough that I was very drunk. That made getting across the street to the taxi stand something of an adventure. It would’ve been more fun if my wife weren’t lost in a foreign country. I actually had cash, so it wasn’t a problem getting back to the port.

As the taxi was getting us to the port, a million thoughts were going through my head. How would I find Erin if she weren’t on the boat? Would I be able to talk the ship’s crew into waiting? If not, where was the closest law enforcement agency I could talk with? How would we meet up with the ship? Where should I start searching?

We were within a couple blocks of the port when I heard the sweetest sound ever. First, a crackle from my walkie-talkie, and then Erin’s voice. I couldn’t hear much through the static, just “…Mikey…” I hit the button on my walkie and said “sweetie! Sweetie is that you?” And then we were babbling. When I got off the taxi we ran into each others arms. We were both shaky, and I am not ashamed to say that some tears were shared. We made our way back towards the pier first with arms around each other, and then holding hands. I walked most of the pier holding my flip-flops and swaying drastically, all the while clinging to my wife, glad that we had not actually lost each other.

Ah, Cozumel!

Cozumel Sunset

Jay Marvin health update

Everyone, say a little prayer or positive vibes or well-wishes to Jay Marvin, talk show host on the local Progressive talk radio station, AM760. He has been out for a long time, in the hospital for most of that time with an unknown ailment. There’s more info at the link below: Jay’s wife called in to the radio show to give a health update on the big man.

This is scary! Good luck, Jay!

(Jay is on Facebook, search for Jay Marvin. His producer and friend is also on Facebook, search for John Turk.)

The wheels on the bus go round and *CRASH!*

So you know, I tend to take the bus in snowy/icy weather because I feel safer. Or at least I feel more relaxed. I get really, really tense driving in bad weather. As anyone who knows me or has worked with me can tell you. It’s to the point that I really don’t want to drive in that crap at all, unless I have no other choice. I’ll sit in the bus, listen to my iPod and read a book on my PDA, and leave the driving to the person getting paid $10 an hour to do it.

Anyway, it snowed like a mofo here Friday; by the time I got off the train, all of the roads around here were a mess. Icy, snowpacked… enough that our bus was 20 minutes late. I couldn’t wait to get into that bus. I was freezing, and freaked out. I hopped into the back back of the bus, and settled in for the ride.

Or so I thought.

The bus driver had to make a stop about half-way up a big hill. When he started trying to get back onto the road, the wheels on the bus started slipping, and the bus started sliding. There was one other person in the back of the bus with me. We both looked out the windows on the passenger side of the bus and noticed that the bus was sliding right towards a light pole. We looked at each other, exchanging identical expressions that said, “HOLY FUCKING SHIT!” A split second later, *BAM*

Amusingly, hitting the light pole gave the bus enough traction or momentum to start moving up the hill again. After a couple more minor fishtails, we were up and running, and didn’t have any more issues.

But seriously: the bus hit a fucking light pole! WTF was up with that?

Banning gay marriage == banning love

There’s no secret that I am a huge Keith Olbermann fan. His Special Comments are always insightful, even though they are also kinda pompous and arrogant. But this is one of the first (that I can remember) where he is emotional instead of angry. Olbermann speaks with feeling and humility directly to those who oppose gay marriage. It is a poignant point he makes, asking why anyone would/could choose to ban love. How anyone could claim their religion would emphasize unhappiness and penalize love.

It’s a must-see, especially if you think that gay marriage should be banned. Perhaps this can help give you a better perspective on the issue.

Wassup – updated

Whoa, these are the actors from the original Budweiser “Wassup” commercial, updating the bit for 2008. And throwing in a plug for Barack Obama at the same time. I would mark this a true Must See.