Kent Bernhardt column: The old man and the mall

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 13, 2021

By Kent Bernhardt
For the Salisbury Post

I can’t tell you what made me want to revisit a part of my life that I thought was long behind me, but the other day I decided to visit a large regional mall.

I won’t tell you which one. Judging from the time it took me to find an available parking place, they don’t need the publicity, and just in case I’m unkind during the course of writing this, I can avoid a lawsuit.

We’ll call it “The Mall of Memories.”

I can recall a time, maybe 25 years ago or so, when mall visits were pretty much standard fare for a Saturday afternoon. There was no Amazon or online shopping of any kind, so if you wanted something, you had to go find it. Plus malls had roofs, so if it was raining, it was a nice way to kill a Saturday afternoon.

I taught my young daughter that men shop differently than women, and I was a dedicated “man shopper.”

“Men shop the way they hunt,” I told her. “You go into the forest, make the kill, and get out. There’s no browsing.”

That was the way I shopped. If I needed a pair of brown shoes, I walked straight to the brown shoe store, found some that fit, paid for them and left.  Man shopping.

This trip I took alone. I needed specific items, but this was more of a walk down memory lane. I wanted to see what, if anything, had changed at the old mall. And it was nice to get out among people again in one of my old haunts.

But there was nothing old about it. It looked squeaky-clean new. It was brighter than I remembered, and full of new stores. Even the food court had experienced a complete makeover. The Chinese food that used to be over here was now over there. And that little pizza place I loved so much was in the dustbin of history.

Many malls have fallen by the wayside in recent years, abandoned and forgotten as shopping habits moved online, but this one appeared cocked and loaded for the future. I was honestly impressed.

I quickly surmised I was the oldest person present that day. Not surprising. But what did surprise me was that I moved at a much brisker pace than the average 30-year-olds in attendance.

Young families meandered through the main walkways, half shopping and half scoping out their phones. They appeared confused, lost and distracted.

I created a nice breeze when I passed them on my way to my “man shopping” destination. I knew where I was going and how soon I wanted to leave.

They must be impressed by this spry older gentleman, I thought to myself. Maybe they were, until they caught a glimpse of his untanned legs and knobby knees. Long pants. I should’ve worn long pants. Oh well, too late.

I found the items I was looking for and made a quick exit, navigating around more slow, younger traffic outside. They had Instagram pages to update while they walked. I had a car waiting, and an exit strategy that would steer me away from heavier traffic.

Again, part of my man shopping plan. All men know a faster way home, whether it really is faster or not.

I don’t really know that I need this experience again in my lifetime. I’m much more at home in smaller local stores where gentle people pass the time of day, and longtime clerks always seem to know exactly what you need.

But it was nice to see people again. Even the four-year-old who sat on the floor and cried like her life was ending because her father made her put her shoes back on.

Such is life at The Mall of Memories.

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