I'm proud to announce that my hill climbing abilities have improved significantly since I wrote this - so conquering "the hill" is not such a big deal these days... Here's to progress! Hope you enjoy this piece!
Riding in Circles – Memoirs of a Suburban Upbringing
The Villa Italia Shopping Mall.
It was the crown jewel of the 1970’s suburban shopping experience, and the center of the known universe as far as I was concerned. The Villa Italia was the biggest mall between Chicago and California.
It boasted faux marble floors, planters with fake plastic plants, a Walgreens with a penny candy aisle… it was the stuff that childhood dreams were made of.
|Alas- I could not find a picture with the original floors - this is a more recent shot with a significant facelift from the original early days|
It had a Baskin-Robbins and an Orange Julius stand.
It was the place where I first met my childhood idol, Blinky the Clown.
|RIP Russell Scott - AKA Blinky the Clown|
|Oh yeah, I’m the fashion plate with the glasses and the dress that’s several sizes too small. I fear this black and white photo doesn't even give you the full impact of that outfit in all of its red white and blue glory.|
|Photo by eleda_1 on Flickr|
We spent an entire summer plotting and planning for our ambitious trip to the Villa. It took a great deal of endurance training before I could master “the hill” on my lime green banana-seat bicycle. but I was a determined child.
It was an arduous task, but we finally achieved self-propelled transportation to the Villa, and whole new world opened unto us. It was one filled with sugar laden trips to See’s Candy stand, whoopie cushions and other eccentricities purchased at the gag gifts shop, and countless afternoons watching teenagers making out behind the fake foliage.
It seemed that as I got older, my life became intrinsically intertwined with that shopping mall.
I saved up my allowance to buy my first soccer ball at the Villa.
And it was the place I cashed in my paper route money for the world’s coolest tennis shoe roller skates, complete with pink pom poms! (This is actually my Photoshopped rendition of those skates. The originals were destroyed years ago in order to protect the innocent.)
The Villa was where I got my ever-important Levis 501 button fly jeans and Nike tennis shoes. Items no teenager in the ‘80s could be without!
And of course, it’s where I conned my poor mother into spending a ridiculous amount of money so I could have the dress for my senior prom. Oh baby, Molly Ringwald had nothin’ on me!
But inevitably, the years rolled on and so did I. I left my hometown, traveled throughout Europe, lived on the East Coast, and when I finally did return home it was with a great disdain for shopping malls and all that they represented. Suburbia was a thing of my past, and I now frequented the bars and coffee houses of Denver’s underground music scene.
|Paris on the Platte Coffee House - Photo by louderthandam on Flickr|
And I suppose the world moved on too, because they tore down the old Villa Italia, as it was quickly joining the ranks of America’s “dead shopping malls”.
But the years passed, and my coffee house crawling gave way to a primordial yearning for dirt and a garden. So I became a homeowner in the “land of cracker box houses,” a neighborhood with an uneasy mix of working class folk and recent Mexican immigrants, speckled with a few little old blue haired ladies, the original owners of their homes, who looked upon their immigrant neighbors with the same fear and distrust I saw in my mother’s “over the viaduct” expressions.
And while my neighborhood is culturally worlds apart from the one I grew up in, geographically, it is only a stone’s throw away.
So when I decided to fully embrace my “greenie” status, and made the commitment to use my feet and pedals as primary modes of transportation, it became necessary to find a nearby source of organic and locally grown food. And as fate would have it, there is now a Whole Foods and a Farmer’s Market where the old Villa Italia used to be!
|Photo by bradleygee on Flickr|
And so it is that here, thirty-some-odd years after David and I spent our summer trying to conquer “the hill” to get to the Villa, I find myself back on my bicycle, trying to plot a route to the same destination.
Of course there are several new hills to be conquered.
And I’m approaching it from a different direction, with mature knees and the somewhat sobering knowledge that any hill I go screaming down on the way there will have to be painstakingly pedaled back up on a bicycle heavily laden with organically grown locally produced goodies.
But the irony does not escape me. Perhaps there’s some sort of existential magnetism in that recycled concrete from the old Villa, something that irresistibly attracts the fibers of my being, forged in the crucible of that shopping mall. Or maybe it’s just that life inevitably comes full circle.
|Train rides at the Villa Italia grand opening in 1966|
Here's a fantastic video on the Belmar redevelopment if you're interested: