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How We Got Here - Chapter 5: It's All In the Mall
August 16, 1994
In a painting, there's a spot at which the parallel lines—a river or a ribbon of road—appear to converge. Artists call this the vanishing point, that place in a drawing where things seem to disappear into the distance, often creating the illusion of a horizon. And so I find myself at the vanishing point of this story: I am standing, atremble, before the largest shopping mall in America. This is the horizon. All lines converge here.
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August 16, 1994

How We Got Here - Chapter 5: It's All In The Mall

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In a painting, there's a spot at which the parallel lines—a river or a ribbon of road—appear to converge. Artists call this the vanishing point, that place in a drawing where things seem to disappear into the distance, often creating the illusion of a horizon. And so I find myself at the vanishing point of this story: I am standing, atremble, before the largest shopping mall in America. This is the horizon. All lines converge here.

So vast is the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., that the area in which I've parked is labeled P5-WEST-BLUE-NEVADA-D-6, a mantra I have desperately repeated since abandoning my rental car in the world's largest parking complex. Even by itself this would be the consummate postwar American dream: the 13,000-car garage. But the aptly named Mall of America says so much more than that about the desires of modern society.

The Megamall, as it is known locally, is built on 78 acres and occupies 4.2 million square feet, but publicists prefer more grandiose international imagery to convey its knee-weakening scope. The Mall, therefore, could comfortably contain all the gardens of Buckingham Palace, is five limes larger than Red Square and. contains twice the steel of the Eiffel Tower. Most telling of all, it is 20 times larger than St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. For its visitors, who have come from virtually every country in the world and number 100,000 a day on average, the Mall of America is indeed the One True Church.

Mind-boggling sports analogies have also been employed to describe this edifice. "Seven times the size of Yankee Stadium," said The New York Times, adding that it has "88 football fields worth of [floor] space." Such comparisons are especially apt at the Mall of America, which was built on the site of the former Metropolitan Stadium, longtime home of the Minnesota Twins and the Minnesota Vikings. In 1982 the teams moved from the Met to the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis. Ten summers later the Mall opened, constructed as a square donut, at the center of which is an indoor, seven-acre amusement park called Knott's Camp Snoopy.

In the northwest corner of Camp Snoopy embedded in the faux-stone floor, is a five-sided plaque that evokes home plate at the Met. In fact, it more closely resembles a tombstone, bearing as it does the legend METROPOLITAN STADIUM HOME PLATE 1956-1981. five hundred and twenty feet away, in the .southeast corner of the amusement park, affixed to a wall three stories above the floor, is a fold-down seat, looking down like a lifeguard's chair. The seat is in the approximate spot where Harmon Killebrew deposited the Met's most prodigious dinger, on June 3, 1967. If Killebrew were to hit the home run today, it would carom off Hooters.

Next to the Mall lies the derelict rust-hulk of Met Center, erstwhile home of the Minnesota North Stars, who now play in Dallas—a hockey team in the buckle of the Sun Belt. Minneapolis officials, in the wake of the Stars' departure, are trying to lure another NHI, team to the gleaming downtown arena in which the NBA Timber-wolves now play In June the NBA denied the Wolves permission to move to New Orleans, where they would have been owned, in part, by a Houston attorney named fred Hofheinz. You will recall that he is the son of the Judge, who built the Astrodome, which spawned the Metrodome, to which the Twins and Vikings moved, thus clearing property for...the Mall of America.

Of course, before building the Astrodome, the Judge had planned to Wild an air-conditioned shopping mall on Westheimer Road in Houston. Instead he sold that property, which was developed in 1970 as the Galleria, a mall that thrives to this day with what once seemed a wonderful novelty: an indoor ice-skating rink at its center. The Mall of America, meanwhile, was developed in part by brothers Mel and Herb Simon, owners of the Indiana Pacers, late of the American Basketball Association, the first rebel league of Gary Davidson.

In America's Original Sports Bar, on the Megamall's fourth level, patrons watch games on the 55 televisions that pull in action from around the planet. But the most telling snapshots of sports and society today are to be seen in the Mall's more than 400 stores: in Kids Foot Locker and Lady Loot Locker and World Loot Locker, in Footaction USA and The Athlete's Loot and Athletic X-Press, in Sports Tyme and Team Spirit and The Sportsman's Wife, in No Contest and Golf for Her and Mac Birdie Golf Gifts, in Big Leagues and Going to the Game and Wild Pitch. A friend once counted nearly two dozen Megamall stores in which one can purchase a Starter jacket. There are, meanwhile, two bookstores in the place.

In sports-addled ancient Greece, citizens created the agora, the marketplace as a center for social exchange. Socrates said, "Having the fewest wants, I am nearest to the gods." In sports-addled postwar America, citizens created the shopping mall, the marketplace as a center for naked commerce. Social exchange? An official Mall of America T-shirt says SHUT UP & SHOP.

It is fitting, and perhaps inevitable, that last winter's most unrelenting sports story unfolded each day from a shopping mall in America. For what are big-time sports today if not a boundless marketplace? And so there was Tonya I larding, week after stupefying week, blithely turning triple Axels for the television cameras on skating rink at the Clackamas Town Center mall in Portland. She was preparing for the Olympic Games, another invention of the ancient Greeks, suitably adapted for our times.

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