The Mall of America purports to have everything, and maybe that’s why we went, just to see what “everything” could look like. The Mall is less than twenty years old, and boasts 4.2 million feet of shopping and entertainment. But we weren’t going to buy anything—we were going to be somewhere completely different. Hyde Park had become cold and unpleasant, with finals looming like the terrifying monstrosities they are. The exact reasons that we took an overnight bus to Minnesota are unclear, even to us. But we found ourselves at Union Station at ten on a Friday evening, waiting for the double-decker bus that would transport us across the great Midwest, towards the consumerist American dream. Whether we found it or not is as obscured to us as our reasons for seeking it in the first place.
The Mall of America at 10:30 in the morning on a Saturday, a half-hour after it opens its doors, is a strangely perfect place. Shoppers mill, in sweaters and coats, rosy cheeked as they shed scarves and mittens. They wait in line for tickets to the amusement park rides and lounge on the benches under the atrium, which floods the entire gallery with natural light. The Mall of America is located in Bloomington, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis. A mall like this could only really exist in the suburbs. It’s expansive, overwhelming, and completely innocuous. Despite having a wedding chapel and an indoor theme park, the Mall doesn’t have the flashy, sexy glitz of Vegas. Instead, the Mall of America looks almost exactly like whatever mall was closest to your house growing up—huge chain stores, lots of light, about a dozen coffee shops with holiday special drinks like Spiced Gingerbread Latte and Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha. Small retail carts abound, selling massagers, silver jewelry, and every color of Crocs. Except for the roller coaster roaring at a snail’s pace above our heads, there was little to differentiate the Mall from any other.
When we rode the too-slow roller coaster at the Mall, we saw into its most visible guts. The theme park is set to become Nickelodeon-themed in the near future, and the building leading to a massive Sponge Bob ride carved out neutral, sand-colored holes which dotted the atrium. But aside from these strange footprints, even the smallest things were eerily perfect—there are no rowdy teenagers in the Mall of America, and mall security rarely appeared during our visit. When they did, it was at the entrance, turning away un-chaperoned youths as afternoon slid into evening. Families with children swarmed the tamest of the rides and the McDonald’s in the food court. A huge Christmas tree loomed in the entrance, and the line for Santa’s Village snaked around the indoor trees and plywood walls for the construction pits. The Mall of America is self-heating—the temperature maintains itself from the light in the atrium and the extra energy generated by the visitors and the operation of the stores and restaurants. In the winter, during peak shopping season, the Mall sometimes runs air conditioners despite temperatures far below freezing on the outside. Almost everyone in the Mall of America looks unbearably happy, or unbearably bored. Rather than making trouble, the teenagers stand in line to ride rollercoasters, and scream loudly at the most basic of twists and turns.