Monday, October 19, 2009

Strip Malls

Thanks to Daniel Greene for the photo

Strip malls have always held a certain sad mystery for me. The center of small town activity, beaten up and painfully hopeful.

They bring to mind sun-cooked parking lots, over-designed laundromats, and fake-Chinese restaurants that feature, of all things, smorgasbord. The small-time fast food franchises trying to take hold. The Salvation Army, the runty clothing stores that seem to only carry 'depressingly working class attire sure to draw ridicule in the big city' clothes. The perpetual 70's decor and aesthetic.

It's full of a weird hope because it has so many small business owners scrabbling for success.

It's the juxtaposition :

1) nameless, dry hand of capitalism figuring out traffic flows and population densities and demographic consumer habits then deciding to make COMMERCIAL MULTI-UNIT MIXED-USE ZONING FOR 18.2% PROFIT GIVEN CURRENT FORECASTS.

2) The undented, shining and perfect ambitition of individuals.

They're both the same thing, in a way, but one goes about it in a decidedly sterile, Overpowering Empire sort of way, the other is the elbow grease and sweat and tears and hiring your own teenagers to mind the shop path. The Empire and the Rebel make odd bedfellows.

Isn't it part of any kid who grew up in the suburbs? That's sort of your first hang out, I suppose. Chewing on hyper-sweet corn-starch infused ADHD revving candies and chugging a small tub of pop. Trying to figure out what you wanna do ('what do you wanna do?', 'I dunno, what do you wanna do' etc). The hazy crawl of everyday commerce sluggishly pouring around you. It's there that you usually fall upon the realization that your hometown is 'a hole' or 'a ditch' or whatever colourful euphemism comes to mind when one equates safe neighbourhoods, low crime rate. and middling public school standardized test scores to the heaving quicksand of staid small-town boringness.

It's the place of so many first jobs, when that kid in your realizes how much work sucks, and how much suckiness awaits you in adulthood. Deep-fat fryers, the drone of gossip, the unbearable idealism of high school car wash fundraisers.

It's a weird juncture, a strange porthole from one world into the next. Sad. Mysterious.

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