One of our vendors calls me “Dr. Crank Monster.” It’s nice to be appreciated for who you truly are deep down in your cold, dead heart.
I’m thinking about this now in connection with my reaction to the knowledge that Northgate Mall is going to be redeveloped, right about when the light rail line reaches it. This cranks me up.
The press releases are blossomy. They’re going to add greenery. There will be at least one hotel, and office buildings, and not one but three ice rinks for an NHL team. The whole place is going to look like a campus. Whoop-de-freakin’-do.
Remember that idea they came up with 40 or 50 years ago? “We’ve got all these shops all around each other, but it rains every single day, so let’s put a roof over the whole thing.” That sure was popular, wasn’t it? Who needs grass, birds and squirrels when you can walk among 125 stores entirely out of the stupid weather? If I want to see a squirrel in a campus environment I’ll take some nuts to the university and make a jolly afternoon of it.
I love indoor shopping malls. I’ll never forget the first indoor shopping mall I ever saw. It was at Worcester, Massachusetts, and it stood on only one-tenth the area of Northgate Mall but it had three floors surrounding a center plaza, a Santa Claus and possibly the first homeless person I ever met, hanging out near the entrance.
That’s one of the things I love about shopping malls. They’re almost democratic. You’ve got no free speech there. If you try pamphleting or petitioning, you can get escorted out by armed guards. But as long as you keep your mouth shut and you’re willing to move every now and then, you can sit on benches all day long under a roof.
I’ve long had this sort of quasi-apocalyptic vision in which the world doesn’t end in fire or ice, or a bang or a whimper. Instead, it gets turned into one worldwide, enclosed-shopping-mall-and-storage-center Valhalla, where all us humans hang out by day in the mall spending government money on tennis shoes, T-shirts and blue jeans, and by night all our purchases are taken away and we’re stored in cabinets. Then in the morning, we’re released with new government money. Similar to the Heat Death of the universe, time will be frozen on a Friday, the date will reset every morning. There will always be a Gap.
In the meantime, until we come to that end, there would always be an enclosed Northgate Mall.
When I learned Sound Transit was going to extend Seattle’s light rail line to Northgate soon, like in about two years, I was giddy. I was going to be able to take the train to the once-and-future Valhalla and split my time between the Chipotle Mexican Grill and the Red Robin, vanquishing burritos and burgers.
Then began some bad news. To get the tracks there along the Interstate 5 corridor, something like, maybe,
6 zillion trees, which would be in the way, would have to be torn out of the earth and recycled as mulch. Oh well, I thought, that’s super bad for the trees, but as long as I get my train to enclosed Northgate Mall, it will be worth it. Besides, the trees will all be replaced, and the new ones will be just like the old ones were by the year 2050, just not in the same places.
But the redevelopment is the killer. I get the train to the mall as promised, but just before it gets there they’re going to tear down 60 percent of it, open it back up to the elements and put in a hotel and a mini-business park. What we have here is a bait and switch.
I live downtown. I only have to walk two blocks to see gleaming glass office buildings. There must be 100 hotels between me and Pike Place Market. I wanted to go to my shopper’s Valhalla; the one I was promised the train would take me to. I wanted to hang out inside amid 125 stores. Now I’ll be lucky if I get to hang out at a measly 50 of them.
The end times no longer look like a world of Northgate to me. They look like a world of South Lake Union. Someone else’s wealth, someone else’s world.
At least the old apocalypse felt like it belonged to me.
Dr. Wes Browning is a one time math professor who has experienced homelessness several times. He supplied the art for the first cover of Real Change in November of 1994 and has been involved with the organization ever since. This is his weekly column, Adventures in Irony, a dry verbal romp of the absurd.
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