05 March 2008


It was a hypnotic time in Washington DC today, particularly for those of us that live in the Columbia Heights neighborhood.

The blogs were buzzing with DC-USA's grand opening of its flagship retailer, Target. Other than Lane Bryant, Target was the only tenant open for business at this point, but the local media were determined to chew this cud repeatedly until it became a fine, milky paste that glazed over us, causing us to fall into a mad shopping coma, dribbling credit cards and mumbling about kitchen appliances...

I was determined to keep my cool, stay away for a few days, and let the other bloggers tackle it first. The City Paper's blog ran several posts about it. Prince of Petworth landed a coveted spot at Target's pre-opening party, thus robbing me of that competitive first sprint for the bulk tube-socks. But that's cool.

I find shopping malls and big-box stores deeply troubling.

That doesn't come from some high-minded concept about macro-economics or sweatshop labor or whatnot: Just the simple experience of walking into those places, as a human being, to get a thing done: They are creepy as hell. I slip into an annoyed, melancholy state where the human race becomes a suicidal zombie mob, with their colorful boxes of frosted sugar-bombs and plastic trinkets and vacant, medicated stares...

So whenever I need to hit these places, it's like a military operation: Get in, do the job, get the hell OUT. And now one of those places is here in the 'Heights.

It doesn't seem that long ago that I was living around the corner from the site. There was no Metro stop then, and this DC-USA place wasn't even a dream yet. The Tivoli theater was still slumbering in a bed of barbed-wire fences and decay. So I'm not idealizing the "good old days" here: there was a deeply real neighborhood spirit but after dark, it was a no-man's land.

And that is why the DC-USA development inspires a bittersweet confusion. Sure it's good for the neighborhood, the local economy, jobs, all that. And it IS a rare treat to walk ten minutes to get things I'd normally schlep out to the suburbs for.


I was lulled by all the media attention and decided, screw it. I might as well go after work and just see the freaking place. I had nothing in mind to buy. But yet I found myself going inside. Just...to see...

I saw scores of people milling around in a daze, probably like I was... One couple (white, young, affluent) wandered onto Target's escalator, simultaneously mouthing an obvious *W*O*W* as they gazed around them at the interior of....a Target store.

Now, uh, Target is a fixture of every suburb in this country, right? I don't understand the wonder and amazement. I was reminded of the old Mondo Cane footage of the cargo cults: a distant tribal society that, upon seeing large cargo planes for the first time, formed the logical conclusion that they were giant, god-like birds from heaven.


People wandered around the aisles of Target, touching things with gentle fingers, bumping into each other, talking in whispers as if they were in church during a High Mass...

I was crawling insane by this point, so I grabbed the most logical thing I could think of, a Magical First Purchase, to commemorate this great occasion:

Gomez adored the smell as they cooked. Marian and I munched our chicken corn dogs in reverential silence, contemplating the wicked, wonderful place that delivered them to us.

And now I am left with this gigantic building a few blocks away, sitting there, mocking me. It's just a complicated relationship. Perhaps it'll be better once the gym opens. We'll work it out.


Reya Mellicker said...

Mondo Cane? I haven't thought about that movie in decades.

What a post! Yes, shopping malls are sooooo creepy! YUCK! I panic and just want to GET OUT whenever I find myself inside one of them.

Have you read "White Noise" by Don DeLillo? There's an incredible scene in it in which the family goes shopping at a mall. Fantastic.

I wonder what energy flow is causing all the reverence. Might be the neighborhood ghosts who, no doubt, never travel to the suburbs. I bet they've never seen anything like it. Maybe the shoppers are shamanically dancing with the land spirits there.

Also makes me think about that famous story of Khrushchev when he first saw an American Safeway store. He burst into tears at the bounty.

Now I'm intrigued. Gotta get up there. Maybe Saturday.

epota said...

I think the bigger news that you failed to mention earlier is that the Pawnshop Roses played on January 25th (per the flyer in your photo shot) and nary a peep was mentioned. Or maybe all of the hype was for Justin Jones? :-)

Alex said...

I like Target. I'm usually not a fan of malls, but they made enough effort to make the building open to the street that it is not a "big box."

If there is awe, I'm guessing it's because 14th Street in Columbia Heights has been a blighted wasteland since the 1968 riots? It's not like this development is driving out small businesses -- they were long gone.

I also like DC USA because it comes across as so egalitarian -- it clearly is aimed at all residents of Columbia Heights, not just the newest crop. I'm not really keen on seeing this neighborhood turn into "Logan@The Heights," and Target and its brethren will help keep it grounded.

Anonymous said...