Wandering The 2020 Christmas Shopping Wastelands

Mall Walking.

Deck the malls with melancholy, fa la la la la, la la la…la?

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: it’s a very special pandemic Christmas! Wait, no, not “special”. I meant “panic-stricken”.

This year I was determined to do as much of my Christmas shopping in person as possible, which worked well for me last year. Comparing 2019 to 2020 is like comparing apples and cyanide pills, but here I am anyway, trying to buck the American trend of relying on Amazon for any and every human acquisition need like a newborn infant relies on its parents for basic feeding and sanitation. So far in 2020 I’ve ordered from Amazon four times, my lowest total since 2008. The fact that Amazon keeps that information on file so I could actually fact-check myself is kind of creepy and further justifies my decision to pursue other shopping venues regardless of the added cost.

Further detracting from the online shopping experience is the wretched package-handling performance of our United States Postal Service, who in Indiana are apparently up to shenanigans again after allegedly repenting for their previous 2020 malfeasances. In addition to local news coverage of their ludicrous holiday backlog, I heard much the same consternation from my brother-in-law, who runs a mail-order business that’s experiencing multiple complaints entirely the fault of the USPS blockage, resulting in part from shutdowns of some of their in-state distribution hubs. He has tracking numbers for all his pending orders, some of which he shipped off Thanksgiving weekend but are still sitting in the USPS’ central Indiana clutches according to their own website. Not cool.

We’re attending zero Christmas gatherings, but for the sake of my fellow household members and the one (1) other relative I’ll get to see in person this year, I’d very much like to have objects in hand for them to unwrap on the duly scheduled days rather than postponing until May because USPS. That meant I had to take acquisition into my own hands the old-fashioned way: hunting and gathering. Or “Christmas shopping”, as the staunch traditionalists put it.

That meant going out in public. Naturally I took steps to minimize the risk. It goes without saying that I wore a mask and dodged other humans as much as possible. I prepared my checklist in advance, got into the stores, got what I wanted, and got out. I did not dawdle, dilly-dally, linger, loiter, languish, hang out or hang around. Browsing was kept to a minimum, and cut short whenever someone else tried to peruse the same shelves as me.

Another key part of my survival strategy was choosing a time frame and a place likely to have the fewest possible shoppers clogging the aisles and fogging the air. Tuesday morning seemed a good bet. For a starting location I chose downtown Indianapolis, still a ghost town thanks to the combined tsunamis of COVID-19 and springtime looting. Our downtown mall, in business in 1995, was among the deadest malls around going into 2020. This has not been a year for anyone to call anything a comeback.

Scooters Everywhere.

My path from the parking garage to the mall took me past three other pedestrians, a dead steakhouse, and the CVS that was burned down at the end of May. Scooters still available, though.

Numerous storefronts were deserted. Some storefronts were occupied but closed anyway. Fortunately for me, the precise business I’d hoped to visit was indeed open, albeit in a different storefront than they’d used in the past. The food court showed signs of life as a smattering of downtown employees waited for their takeout lunches from the restaurants that have thus far defied the natural selection process. I swerved around the occasional other walkers who were apparently doing laps to stave off existential ennui. At times I felt as though I had the mall to myself.

Family Fun Closed.

One of several stores not yet barren but not welcoming anyone at this time.

Family Fun Still Closed.

Beyond the gate, entertainment is denied and fun goes unhad.

Family Fun Super Extra Closed.

“Why won’t anyone play with us? WHYYYYYYYY?”

Regal Cinemas Closed.

The Regal Cinema on the fourth floor has been closed since at least October. By then they were alternating new films with repertory fare such as Despicable Me and Magic Mike. They tried.

Fourth Floor Mall.

Their fourth floor has the best architecture, but not much going on.

Video Arcade!

The lone bright spot on the fourth floor was the arcade, among the mall’s few constants since its 1995 grand opening. I saw one player taking on Dance Dance Revolution — possibly the employee on duty — and a pair of women carrying bags, walking around, and probably starting every sentence with “Remember when…?”

Escalator Repair!

Escalator repair is easier if you’re not in anyone’s way.

From the department of more encouraging news, I can report the Auntie Anne’s pretzel stand, which had been emptied out back in June, was reopened for business and had both a clerk and a customer. Life will find a way, one hopes.

From the mall I walked over to Monument Circle for a quick jaunt inside a candy shop. I passed Hilbert Circle Theatre, home of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, whose doorstep is now a sizable homeless camp but whose populace left me alone. Inside the shop, the one customer left as I walked up, leaving just me and the clerk. He welcomed me graciously while I grabbed a few things — far less than I’d expected, as half their merchandise tables were empty. While he rang me up, we sang along through our masks to Donna Lewis’ “1000 Miles” tinkling from the ceiling speakers.

Santa Batman!

Unlike the entire mall, the candy shop decorated for the holiday in their usual pop-hodgepodge style.

Christ Church Nativity!

Across the street, Christ Church Cathedral kept the faith with their Nativity scene.

My shopping list was far from finished, but downtown could help me no further. I hopped on the interstate and headed out to Plainfield, which has an outdoor shopping mall where I usually do the bulk of my Christmas shopping. Despite the open-air design that should be a major selling point for those hoping to avoid the Coronavirus chorus, their situation wasn’t much different: empty shop-holes and emptier sidewalks where commerce should’ve been happening in a brighter timeline. Many proprietors are limiting their hours and days, and have judged a 2020 Tuesday not worth the expense. (My local comic shop has done exactly the same.)

Worst of all, no one told me (or Google Maps) that their candy store went out of business and has been replaced by a restaurant that specializes in salads, which feels awfully spiteful to the dead candy shop. I mourned their passing by walking farther down and grabbing a burger for lunch.

The outdoor mall had a bit more of what I was looking for, but not everything. Unlike our downtown mall, at least they spruced up for the season.

Metropolis Christmas Tree!

Theirs is among the largest trees we see out on the west side each year. Off in the distance, the AMC Theatre where we watched Tenet is…well, they’re still trying.

I made three other stops after the two malls. I would rather not relive those. Suffice it to say there was much ducking and weaving around the meandering, milling masses in their varying states of mask compliance and competence. I tried to be the best moving target I could be.

Tonight my legs are sore from all the walking and the evasive maneuvers, and not for the first time this year I pray the mask and the enforced standoffishness were sufficient preventatives. If any consequences surface within the next five to fourteen days, I’m confident the two malls were not to blame.

On the bright side, my Christmas shopping is officially finished. Now I can go back to hiding from the outside world and keep deleting those Amazon emails unread, though perhaps with a jitterier hand than before.

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