A few weeks ago I worked at the House of Comedy inside the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota. It’s a large mall – the largest in America. It famously has rollercoasters, and two Abercrombie & Fitches. It also has four caribou coffees, and one store called “Corda-Roy” that sells bean-bags that turn into beds. This is a store that survived the recession. It’s a bean-bag, and then it’s a bed.
I’m not a mall person, so upon entering I felt dizzy and caged. Similar to how I feel in casinos. There is something soul-crushing or spirit-draining about the sounds and sights of hard-earned money being poured down the collective retail chain drain. They do something with the lighting and colors that puts you in a frantic “buy” mode, and that feeling was validated when I sold through most of my merchandise in the first two nights. There was a guy who didn’t even go to the show who stopped by my table and bought a t-shirt. I’ve never seen people that happy to part with money.
Aside from finding my way around, the biggest challenge is not getting bumped in to by the aimless mall-walkers. There’s something about the escalators and winding paths that make people lose the ability to walk in a straight line. I had to flatten myself against a wall to avoid one particularly indifferent group of window shoppers. People walk backward, like tour-guides leading a group. I wanted to go, “You know you can’t see where you’re going right?” One guy right in front of me was walking and mid pace, stopped and spun around no his heel, so that I had to dodge. No “excuse me” from anyone, just grunts and mumbles.
My hotel was right next door, and on Sunday I decided I needed to get away. That’s when the the blizzard hit. The weird thing about a severe blizzard in Minneapolis, isn’t so much the severity as much as how little it seems to affect anyone’s day. I was in Atlanta a few months when the roads froze over, and it was a ghost town. I walked down the middle of the street at noon on a business day, and didn’t see a single person. Meanwhile, Minneapolis is getting dumped on, and there are cars on the highways at full speed. The main difference is that when your car gets stuck in Atlanta, people walk by and go, “That’s what you get for driving out here dumbass.” If you get stuck in Minneapolis, people in boots and friendly accents come out of the woodwork and starting pushing. They don’t even talk, they just push, and you wave and you’re on your way. I think this is where Minnesota “nice” comes from – people helping each other out, because if they don’t, they die of frostbite.
I didn’t have a fridge in my hotel, so I had to go to the mall for supplies, and by supplies I mean lunch, and by lunch I mean Panda Express. Food courts always put me in the mood for Chinese. I sat alone, bombarded by lights and screaming kids (literally ten year olds who scream in between bites) and vacant eyed shoppers. The food court is up on the fourth floor, and looks over the following view:
You can imagine the level of noise, between the screaming and the roller coasters and the metal ceilings. I needed to escape to a happy place, so I put on my headphones and listened to Marc Maron’s WTFpod. Coincidentally, in the episode I picked, he talked about working at the Mall of America, and how depressing it was to be surrounded by such mass consumption. A feeling of warmth washed over me.
The next thing I know, I’m at one of the two Starbucks, sitting across from Tom Wilson, who is popularly remembered as Biff from Back to the Future. I was working with him that week, but had barely talked to him, when he walked up and took a seat. Again, this is the largest Mall in America. The odds of Tom Wilson seeing me on the 2nd floor/East Wing/Starbucks at 2 pm on a Sunday are pretty low. We had a nice conversation. It wasn’t until he left that the Biff thing hit me, for the first time all week. I had a flash-back to a third-grade class room, where the teacher took one of those “I need a time out” sessions, and the class watched Back to the Future. I suddenly remembered sitting at my desk, in the dark, watching the Biff scene, and the “Make like a tree and get out of here” line. Flash to now (the future) sitting across the table from him at a Starbucks, talking shop. Then back to me in 3rd grade – there he is on TV, getting knocked out by Michael J. Fox. Sometimes a memory feels like it just happened, and that’s what I felt. I had a Back to the Future moment, made weirder because it was a back to the future moment, ABOUT the movie Back to the Future.
It must be bizarre to be remembered for a role you played when you were so young. If I did something when I was sixteen, and twenty years later people are still going, “Hey, it’s YOU! From that thing!!” I’d be like, “I BARELY remember doing that!” He’ll be eighty years old, in a nursing home, and lunch will end, and someone in a wheel chair with that corny old-man humor will look him right in the eye and go, “Time to make like a tree and get out of here, eh Biff? He-he-he.” Old man Tom will slowly put his napkin down, reach over, firmly wrap his hands around the man’s neck, and not let go. I imagine you can only take, “Hey it’s Biff!!” for so long. That being said, he seems like a very nice and well-balanced guy, so props to him.
This week I’ll be at Side Splitters in Tampa. If you’re there, you’re family. What?