Walkabout. Art Smith Mall Walker Edition.


I’m not as good as I once was, but I’m good once as I ever was. Age has beaten me up a bit, but I still have my knees and my boyish good looks. The ground is harder and the summer heat, hotter. After hiking the last two mornings, I was feeling the effects of the sun as I headed out to a dentist appointment at 8. The time of the appointment threw off my ability to get out early and hike, and by the time the appointment was over at 9, it was too hot to walk. I drove out to the mall.

I had heard that old timers, as well as other, normal people, walk the interior of air conditioned malls for exercise. I had never participated in such an activity, but the thought of traipsing around a shopping mall with a bunch of antiquarians frankly terrified me. But after an hour long soliloquy by a new hygienist about her life story, replete with photos on the screen on the ceiling, I had no choice but to leave my humility in the backseat as I walked past Chompies into Paradise Valley Mall.

I quickly figured out that the rules were that walkers veered to the right, and I fell in behind an old guy with a bum leg and an old lady wearing head phones and swinging her arms race walk style. There were solitary walkers, walkers in pairs and in groups. There were walkers with canes, and walkers with walkers. There were old guys with their shirts tucked into their high-waisted shorts with knee high white socks and women with matching shoes and outfits. There was a guy decked out in hiking boots, a floppy brimmed hat, a back pack, and a pair of walking sticks. There was an old lady tooling around in a motorized wheel chair. I didn’t ask why. As I got into my rhythm, I easily passed the guy with the bum leg and the race walker.

Actually, I buried them. I was moving out, now, taking the longest, widest route, but moving at a quick pace. Some of the fat guys just sauntered aimlessly down the middle of the mall like gray haired zombies lost in thought. I was really moving now, when all of a sudden, some wrinkled vixen in pink short shorts and cranberry red hair breezed by me. What the? She looked straight ahead as she passed me and cut me off! What? I pocketed my pride and fell in behind her. She was moving really fast, but she wasn’t about to drop me. Did I tell you that my knees are still good? We flew by Macy’s and then Dillards. She was still leading me out, but I was right on her tail and I was starting to figure it out. Besides the walkers with walkers and women with strollers, there were obstacles to negotiate.

Groups of yackers would force walkers to have to swerve around them. Some walkers, individualists no doubt, walked against the flow, like salmon on a spawning mission, creating havoc and roadblocks. Every time I tried to pass cranberry head, she sped up. Seriously. I started to get ticked off. I started watching up ahead, planning my move. We approached two Asian women walking ahead of us. They spoke loudly and their arms gestured wildly. Some old codger in a walker was approaching from the left. Cranberry head must not have seen him because she moved to the left to pass the women and slammed right up on him. She couldn’t move to the right because she was blocked by the Chinese ladies. I spotted an opening to the right of the ladies. A thin slice of space and fresh air. I accelerated and skimmed by them, scraping along the window of Fuzziwiggs on my right and I took a gesticulating hand shot across my forehead. But I slipped through. I looked back and cranberry head had come to a complete stop.

Yes! I now moved with a vengeance. At one point I was so far ahead that, although risky, I helped some old lady with a walker who was having trouble getting in one of the outside doors. I lost a good bit of distance by my act of generosity. But later, when I passed an old man sitting in the photo booth who looked like he was having a heart attack, I kept going. One of the patrolling guards will find him if he lasts that long, I hoped. I became lost in thought. Mall walking. Mall racing. Mall racing as an X game. Distracted, I had another scare.

You understand that as long as I was ahead of her, when I quit, I won. You get that, right? I think we were by Penney’s. We had been slogging out this duel for a while. All of a sudden I started seeing strollers. Little strollers, big strollers, huge strollers. Strollers with little babies and strollers with three kids who looked like they should have been in school. And moms. And nannies. And high end athletic shoes. And brightly colored workout clothing. And pony tails and head bands of all colors. I got distracted. There must have been twenty of them. As we moved around I could see they were lining up the strollers. Was this a race? Some odd convergence of wheeled babies and moms? I had no idea what it was, but I could feel cranberry head breathing down my neck.

On the second time around I saw the moms, frog jumping in unison in the center of the open space that was surrounded by the strollers. I faltered but I didn’t lose my pace. Exercise class, I presumed, but who knew. Maybe it was a performance art piece for the Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. I have no idea what it was, but I regained my composure and, once and for all, set out to drop cranberry head for good. Unfortunately, morality and fair play, even with today’s seniors, seem to be a fleeting concept. Last lap. The shops were opening. The aisles were getting crowded with shoppers. Rounding the corner by the playground, my victory was close. I could taste it. Then cranberry head did something that sickened me. SHE CUT THROUGH THE PLAYGROUND! SHE SHORT CUTTED ME! THE BITCH! When she emerged on the other side of the playground, she probably had 25 yards on me. She looked back once and then turned the corner. I sped up. But when I came around the corner she was gone. Vanished. She was nowhere in sight.

Dazed and confused, I stopped and tried to find her. I looked everywhere but she was gone. Shoppers eyed me with suspicion. I gathered my composure. I finished my lap. Spent and somewhat deflated, I exited the way I had come. As I pushed through the door, I followed an old timer in a red shirt with the phrase Old Guys Rule on his back.

Not today, I thought. Not today.