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.
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.
The city is Edmonton. It's a subject, not a passion. E-Town is almost universally derided by outsiders as an unlivable tundra wasteland populated by oil-hungry redneck conservatives who despise the arts. All of that is true. But it's not the whole story. There is beauty here. Dusty snowfalls. Brilliant summers. A stunning river valley. A diverse arts community that flourishes. It's a place that inspires a gray relationship - not all good, not all shitty. For that reason alone it is lovable, for what is life but a grayscale?