I arrive each day, always determined to better my time. I stroll deliberately through the Sobeys’ entrance or, when the weather is inclement, the Wal-Mart doors (because that’s the closest anchor store to the coat closet my 15 bucks a year as a member of the Champlain Mall walking club buys me).
Over the past two-plus years I’ve nailed down this routine as fine science: Wake up, write a column about some absurdity in world affairs, check my time, review my weather app, ascertain which starting line makes most sense, and proceed to said launch point. And, then – having pulled up the stopwatch on my iPhone – I’m off.
On a good day, I can do four miles winding in and out of the mall’s main thoroughfares and minor egresses in just over 45 minutes (averaging 11 minutes and 30 seconds a circuit).
On a bad day, my time is more like 13 minutes a mile. Bad days invariably arrive during the high Christian holidays (Christmas and Easter). On those excursions, I am a canoeist in an unruly river, strewn with rocks, logs, drifting branches and sudden, unexpected eddies.
“Um,” my wife and walking partner often tells me as she senses that I am about to sprint through the rapids of humanity obstructing my straight shot adjacent to the food court, “please try not to knock anyone down.”
I sniff and snarl at the mere suggestion. After all, I have become a voyageur of the mall. I know, instinctively, where to duck and weave, when to zig and when to zag. My paddles are my arms; my vessel is my butt.
I can’t say the same about some of my fellow travellers in the “domed domicile”.
One guy in a motorized cart, festooned with flags of Canada, New Brunswick and, I think, the old American Confederacy, zooms by so fast, you’d think the cops were hot on his tail.
Beware ambulatory folks: Death by rocket-powered wheelchair is a distinct possibility in this place where most still walk, not run, to their final destination.
Postponing that last walk is, of course, the point of it all. And that makes the routine in the credenza of consumer delights – that most secular, coarse and crass of all places – almost sacred. How much more life can you squeeze for yourself from the simple act of staying active, regardless of the means and the venue you choose?
Then, of course, there’s the secret life of the mall, itself, when it’s quiet on, say, a Sunday afternoon, in mid-July, when no one’s around except the blessed night people who tend to the mechanical rooms and underground passageways – the ones who make the whole thing tick before the wallets and purses arrive, and long after they’ve gone. When you’re a serial walker, you get to know them, after a while and in a fashion. And they get to know you.
“How’s your time today?” a security guard asks.
“Not bad,” I yelp, “though the shin splints are acting up.”
“Yeah. . .That’s because the floors beneath the surface are solid concrete. Here. . .l’ll show you where you can stretch. . .”
And he does.
Here comes the UPS guy, just in front of Purolator man. I know them both (though not nearly as well as they know each other). Still, they seem to enjoy asking me for reports from the front lines of their regular routes – their time, in this mall, being more valuable than mine.
“So, where are the bottlenecks this morning,” the UPS guy asks me, as he hauls a lorry loaded with goods and merchandise for any number of retailers.
“Stay clear of the Sears-aisle bathrooms,” I advise. “Major water-works there. . .Lots of people milling around.”
“Good to know,” he barks congenially.
And I proceed, happily chugging away past the ladies’ apparel stores, the tea shack, my dentist’s office; past the cell-phone kiosks where the merry techs spend as much time solving luddite problems as they do pushing product; past the HMV, the quilt store and, finally, to the coat closet by the Wal-Mart, where I literally bump into my club’s president and indefatigable cheerleader.
“Where’s your lovely other?” she asks, referring to my wife.
“She’s already done,” I laugh. “I’ll find her.”
I check my stopwatch and smile.
It’s been a good day.