To Bonnie Doon

January 14, 2008

If you’ve ever been to Bonnie Doon mall, you know the place has that “barely afloat” feeling. The mall seems to be perpetually on the brink of folding. There are three anchors: Safeway, Zellers, and a low-rent Sears. Following are a bunch of 2nd tier stores and a few interesting one-offs. Paush shoes is a staple for the more “mature” set. Sensible shoes that either zip up or slip on – your choice of black or brown. A few weird-ass clothing stores thrown together with cheap fixturing – discounted ladies wear with red signs, always on sale. There’s a HMV (surprisingly good selection) and a well-respected Shopper’s Drug Mart1 to round things out.

By far the most entertaining area of the mall is the infamous food court – home to seniors, punk kids, the lonely and disheveled, and miscellaneous misfits alike. Bonnie Doon has a rep as a gray-haired mall. The food court is – at any time of day it seems – about 30% seniors. Groups of men shoot the shit with their crumbling cronies; women take coffee and tea and gossip with their caffeine-leveled hens. The rest of the crew are a blend of people that defy easy labeling. “Diverse” might cover it. There are a few tables of four older men each. Bespectacled all (those thick, plastic-framed numbers), dark brown winter coats, a few with mesh-backed caps, some with faux-fur Russky numbers, a few displaying downright deuteronomous combovers. They talk loudly, about politics mostly, and sometimes they gesture wildly with rumpled fingers. I figure that in 35 years or so, that’ll be me and the old friends. We’ll talk about the good ‘ol days of whiskey and racing in the street.

Similar tables of women are also present. Each wearing knit sweaters and strings of beads, sensible flats from Paush, sturdy wireframed glasses – some with the round-the-neck chain. Some were sirens in their day, I’m sure. They all drink steaming cups of coffee, some take Earl Gray. Everyone’s hand curves around a paper cup full of the black (free refills from a select few vendors – all well-visited). Occasionally, the men banter with the women. Playful jabbing seems to be the order of the day, judging by facial reactions. I wonder if pick up lines are dished out. Maybe advances are made. Possibly, couples form and relationships are forged. Maybe certain men have to explain to their cronies why they don’t show up for the daily coffee binge and gossip rundown any more. The women might not have to explain to the others. It would be obvious.

Taking a good look around, other mall species are present – some rare, some all-too-common. There are several pairs of foul-mouthed, skinny-legged teenagers demolishing ungodly portions of poutine (ah, to have that Formula One metabolism again). The mom with the three kids is over there, trying to keep the four year-old from feeding a Teen Burger to the baby. There’s a guy with a metal pegleg eating a sub, proudly displaying his socked, plastic foot. A few genuine bums sit in the corner, bags full of their lives beside them; ancient, stained coffee cups in hand. A guy with wild, fro-like hair sits by himself in the middle of the place. He’s wearing a flannel shirt with suspenders, eating a plate of carefully-segregated Chinese food. Looks around with a paranoiac gaze, like at any moment someone will hold him up at knife point for a spring roll. A security guard talks to a mall worker, the lottery line is long with hopefuls, the video game store is empty save the slovenly clerk, and the salon is open on Sundays 12-5. The guy at A & W is flipping out. His onion rings were served cold.

There are higher echelon malls to visit. Kingsway, WEM, and Southgate rule their respective parts of the city. Bonnie Doon rests somewhere between those champs and the sad sacks that are Capilano and Westmount. My mall is a fair step from the bottom but far from the top. That’s OK. Bonnie Doon has everything a family needs. And the food court? If you’re an observer of humanity you’ll be hard pressed to find a more interesting spot to while away a few minutes. Who knows, you might even see me there curled up with a cup of the good stuff, shooting the shit with my colleagues. We’ll be talking music, though. Not politics. Leave that kettle of fish to the elders.


1 Call me crazy, but I find drug stores, especially Shopper’s Drug Mart, to be soothing. All those neatly-faced, well-organized aisles provide some sort of bizarre comfort. Within all the chaos and hectic activity in the world, I can walk into a Shopper’s – anywhere in Canada – and find peace and order. A beautiful thing.

Vignette #245

5 reader comments (closed)



Glad to see you’re feeling good enough to be posting again, Michael. I hope you heal faster than expected.

Jan 14, 2008 • 23:29



Thanks, Karen. It’s pretty cool to have the energy to write again. One day at a time…

Jan 15, 2008 • 11:29



your footnote, about finding comfort at the drugmart reminds me of a poem i love by evelyn lau (well i love all her poems, but that’s beside the point…)

The Mall

Today I choose it over the ocean.
Over the trees, their fall leaves
a flock of orange parrots perched on branches.
Over the chandelier of sunlight broken
on blue waves, over flowers
shaped like teacups or trumpets,
over the jade garden where once I dreamed
I wore a green velvet dress
clasped tight at the waist
like the grip of a man’s hand.
I walk towards it like a Zombie,
this strange planet suspended in time,
a space station in the rainforest
inhabited by teenage girls wearing glitter eyeshadow
and slippery lipgloss. I skate
along its arid walkways
as if on an invisible track, away
from my life. Here it could be day or night,
the walls stripped of clocks,
music moaning a mindless refrain,
not a window in sight.
The stores hold their mouths open
like seductresses, radiating heat and light
and a bright array of wares,
a sorbet rainbow of merchandise
delectable as pastilles.
Outside, the lives of grasses
and insects and breezes go on.
After a day at the mall,
stepping back into what’s left of the world,
the sunlight will sear your skin,
and the gallons of fresh air
will pour over you like pain.


Anyway, it’s nice to see that you are well enough to write a little… without you… who would record the ongoings lurking in our cityscape….?

Jan 16, 2008 • 14:47



Nice! Thanks for that poem, Mandie. Whenever I go to WestEd I feel that way. Numb. Like none of it is real. I don’t know. I look around these days and wonder what many things are for. Why do we do what we do? I find myself asking lots of questions.

Jan 16, 2008 • 16:48


french panic

Your description of the BD food court is interesting, as it seems almost hopeful. I have long found food courts to be very depressing places – but fascinating, too. My boyfriend did a series of photos (not online, unfortunately) of those old forgotten geezers in the malls (southgate, BD and downtown specifically, I think). I played spy/fake model to fend off zealous security guards – people get freaky over cameras!

Bonnie Doon has a strange, sick, magical quality for me. My aunt used to work there – in the food court. I applied for many jobs there many years ago- rejected by HMV, Coles, Second Cup. It was a strange refuge during junior high (my school was close), and I would kill time there before having to head to a piano lesson. My parents used to cringe at the thought of facing retirement and ending up in the food court – now my mom walks there most days, 45 minutes to get there… just for the exercise. And to check out if Zellers has any specials. But she still refuses to drink coffee and exchange meaningless chatter with other aging, abandoned souls.

Feb 01, 2008 • 11:21

Bonnie Doon Mall entrance, January 2008

Bonnie Doon Mall entrance, January 2008



StreetRag is an urban weblog and podcast about the city of Edmonton, which is located in the province of Alberta, Canada. It is authored by Edmonton-based writer, web advocate, and poet Michael Gravel and is updated frequently with written urban vignettes, amateurish photographs, deuteronomous audio material, barely coherent musings and rambling ecumenical treatises. StreetRag is a love letter to a lonely prairie burg struggling with its big city ambitions and small-town feel.

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