Thursday, January 17, 2008

Downtown!

Like that song says, I was alone. And life was making me lonely. So I went…uh, to Schaumburg.

(Wait, first I have to say I thought the song started "When you're alone and life is getting you down," which sounds better to me. I do try to check everything I quote here. I'm still haunted by misquoting the title of a poem in a zine I wrote nearly 4 years ago. Second, this post is extremely link-heavy, but the links are safe for work, and not depressing.)

DK offered to drive us out to Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg to see the Lego store. This link and this one will explain the necessity for such a trek. I'd visited the Michigan Ave. Lego store recently, to buy this Advent calendar, but I don't think I'd ever been to Woodfield, or anything in Schaumburg except IKEA years ago.

I like visiting suburbs. I've got a Flickr set called "Suburbs aren't that bad." I especially like the real City of Destiny and Evanston and Oak Park, which are basically like Chicago anyway except for their refusal to be annexed. But Schaumburg, at least what we saw of it, IS THAT BAD. The mall, some extremely dull tall buildings, a shopping area of fake-quaint-vaguely-Italianate-pseudo-storefronts...

The mall is okay. Strange half-levels with walkways everywhere. No bookstore, as far as I could tell. We visited a Cubs merchandise store (no books about the Cubs, but 897 or so styles of hats) and the Apple Store. Didn't visit Sanrio. We went to K-B Toys (I hadn't been in a while; most of their Chicago stores closed). Finally I got to show DK a Barbie aisle (I've been a Barbie collector for years) but the selection was uninspiring.

We looked at toys encouraging housekeeping (a microwave), war (grenades), and financial irresponsibility (a pink ATM "just for girls." Actually, it seemed to be a bank, so that's not so bad, certainly not like this infamous Barbie toy with the commercial proclaiming "And you never run out of money!"). There's now a High School Musical version of the Mystery Date game. (I'm not linking, but the Amazon page says "Is Ryan steppin’ up to take you dancing? Or will Troy be ready for your karaoke date?” Yikes.) I'd recently looked at Lynn Peril's great book Pink Think, which includes a picture of the original Mystery Date's "The Dud," the (bad-boy-esque) date you supposedly didn't want (he's actually called "The Pest" in the game). (Peril used to put out a zine called Mystery Date.)

Then I brought up the 1960s Barbie Queen of the Prom board game, which has a dud/nerd actually named "Poindexter". "Teaching little girls to hate nerds," grumbled DK, justifiably. ("Poindexter was so dreaded. We always used to scream when we got him. In real life, Poindexter would have become billionaire Bill Gates, while Ken would have peaked in high school and become a drunken car salesman." says "Claudia" in this discussion of the game.)

But of course, I go to Dating for Nerds sometimes. So you know I like nerds. I'm fond of geeks. I'm fine with shy people. Introverts too (can't find a link that isn't a cheesy self-help book). And even loners.

Anyway, back to Lego. The store at Woodfield wasn't nearly as big as the Chicago one, but DK says the brick selection is better, and I enjoyed the model of an old-time movie theater, and the grain elevator/railyard. And I bought some clearance housewares and this amazing bag, marked down. Look at the utterly superfluous 8 zippered pouches on the front! This made the whole trip worthwhile! The sets DK's interested in weren't in yet so he didn't buy anything.

Wandering around, DK said:
“You know what they should have? A big store that sells everything. In departments. And it should be downtown.”
Me (finally getting it): “I’m sure someone’s working on it.”

We ate at McDonald's, where my meal cost much more than the sandwich/fries/pop I'd had the day before at Benny's Grill (Argyle Street near Sheridan. Another on the list of grills/family restaurants I hadn't tried yet). And then the long drive back.

So people who know me know I love Arcadia history books. And DK has even written a few . I mentioned that there's a new one called Schaumburg’s Woodfield Mall and we joked about it. I mean, Arcadia books are usually full of late 1800s/early 1900s photos...is Woodfield "historical" enough? Then, after I DID go downtown in the evening for an event at the library, I stopped at Borders to look at it.

Wow. This book is, um, well done for what it is, I guess. The bibliography includes A Consumer’s Republic and Suburban Nation, which almost makes up for the fact that it includes several photos of the Rainforest Cafe. I learned that Woodfield opened in 1971, was America's largest mall in 1973, and with 2.7 million square feet of shopping space and 27 million visitors/year today, is the "#1 visitor destination in Illinois" (and despair overwhelmed me). The "village" of Schaumburg's humble beginnings, with 130 people, were in...1956. Today, there's 75,000 people there. Sadly, DK and I didn’t eat at A & W, which the book calls “a fixture within the mall,” but there is a photo of the McDonald’s we ate at. And the Apple Store. But not the Lego--why?! The last chapter is titled (unironically, I believe) "The Permanent Grandeur." These photos were the grandest things I saw there, aside from Lego displays.

I guess Woodfield has historical signficance. Sort of. But why not a book about Chicago's first mall, Evergreen Plaza, which was built in 1952, and, as I learned in researching this entry, has just been put up for sale and is faced with redevelopment or demolition? I'd also like to thank Claire’s blog for pointing me to this blog I've just started to look at, "That Mall’s Sick and that Store’s Dead!" Evergreen Plaza (actually, it's been "The Plaza" for years) is quite depressing, but I hope it doesn't disappear entirely.

All this mall stuff is getting me down, so let's go back to that idea of the big store downtown where you can buy everything. On my must-read list: Downtown: Its Rise and Fall, 1880-1950 and Downtown America: A History of the Place and the People Who Made It. Also, The New Downtown Library: Designing With Communities, a book about architecture, urbanism, AND libraries, whoa! If only the Chicago Public Library owned a copy of this book. They don't, even though it's been out a year and the Harold Washington Library Center is one of the case studies.

Apropos of nothing, did you know that the Magnetic Poetry "innuendo" edition uses "I’d like to revitalize your downtown area" as its example on the box? So many jokes I could make from that, but won't. Anyway, I enjoyed visiting Woodfield, but sorry, Schaumburg, I will be sticking to places like this, where yes, the lights are much brighter...

4 comments:

Saramedic said...

Hi! I have a couple of questions about urban exploration in Chicago... please send me an e-mail at rnandmedic@gmail.com. (Last time I'll ask, I promise.) -Sara

Anita said...

Thanks for the mention.

-Anita from That's Mall's Sick and That Store's Dead.

Mike Doyle said...

It's sad, you know, Schaumburg had a rich history--it was Ground Zero for the German community for many years. It used to be known for its huge farms and its tight village life.

But in the mid-1900s, the landowners sold off all the farms to developers, one by one. They did it out of economic necessity, but what we got in return is Woodfield Mall, Hoffman Estates, and the worst suburban sprawl between L.A. and New Jersey's Routes 1 & 9.

The Chicago History Museum had a temporary exhibit on Schaumburg last year. You might try to find it online. It was depressing to hear the details of what the place use to be.

More depressing, though, is that village leaders since the 1950s have been staunch supporters of suburban retail sprawl and the severe separation of homes, businesses, and shopping that is the over-auto-cultured hallmark of the village today. Very short-sighted planning, I think.

Kofi Bofah said...

Mike Doyle, your analysis is thoughtful; although I may not agree with it.

I-90, the NW Tollway does remind me of the NJ Turnpike. Just, not as ugly.