I’ve never really thought of myself as a “man about town” type, but in the last few days, I’ve realized how much time I used to spend just… running around. And how much I’m currently missing that lifestyle.
I find myself fantasizing in vivid detail about roaming a mall I used to hang out at when I was in my early 20s, Cottonwood Mall over on the east side of the valley, a mall which no longer exists.
I want to go for a pizza, but not just any old pizza. I want to go to a pizza place called Gepetto’s, a funky old relic of the early ’70s that was built into an old bank, a place where I went on countless dates with Anne when we were young and pretty. A place where the house salad dressing was as remarkable as the pizzas. It’s not there anymore.
I picture myself browsing a bookstore I used to frequent back in college, a converted house called Waking Owl. Later, it was a CD store called Graywhale. The house is still there. Waking Owl and Graywhale aren’t.
I want to browse through a bin of bargain-priced DVDs and check out all the latest movie-related toys at Media Play. Or maybe Suncoast. Remember Suncoast? I can’t recall if there was a Suncoast at Cottonwood Mall, but there was one at Crossroads Mall, located in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City. I loved Crossroads when I was a teenager… five stories high, with a food court and a movie theater at the bottom of a central atrium. I liked to ride the escalators to the topmost floor and stand at the railing looking down that atrium through the center of the mall, feeling that little zoom of vertigo. I saw E.T. in that theater. The theater, the food court, Suncoast, the atrium, even Media Play… all gone now.
There are so many movie theaters where I saw personal landmarks… I can picture them all in my mind and I want to revisit them all right now. I saw The Black Hole at the Fashion Place UA; Tron at the Regency on Foothill; Lawrence of Arabia and Dazed and Confused at Trolley Corners — I really loved Trolley Corners, which had a massive mural of the artwork from the original Star Wars painted on one wall, left over from when the film played there in 1977, and glass panels with portraits of various classic stars hanging from the ceiling. Then there was the Family Center Trolley, where I saw Superman II as a kid and a re-release of The Terminator in my twenties. The Creekside 5-6-7 (Star Trek IV). The Sandy Starships (Mother Lode, Aliens, Beverly Hills Cop, The Breakfast Club). The Cottonwood fourplex (most of the rest of the Star Treks, through Insurrection). The Star Wars trilogy at The Centre, then again decades later in an all-day marathon at The Villa. So many films at The Villa. Alas, The Villa is now a Persian rug gallery and all those other theaters have either been remodeled into office buildings or ground into the dirt.
I’d like to grab a pint at Port o’ Call (gone) or a martini at Green Street (gone), or see a blues band at the Dead Goat Saloon (gone) or any other kind of music at the Zephyr Club (closed nearly 20 years ago, the rotting hulk of its building demolished just this week).
More than anything, I want to sit in a restaurant booth with cracked vinyl seats and a sticky tabletop drinking shitty coffee into the wee hours of the night. A place with translucent-orange plastic dividers between the booths, the height of fashion in the 1970s but old and tired by the ’90s. I can’t find places like that anymore.
Notice a theme in any of this? As we sit at home in this time of crisis, hoping the plague passes by our door like the flowing green mist in The Ten Commandments and feeling the restlessness growing in our hearts, what I’m missing the most isn’t just physical places I can no longer go, but a time that’s gone as well… specifically my young adulthood, my twenties, the 1990s. A time that was fraught with all kinds of insecurity and anxiety about career and love and life decisions that I never did get around to making. But also a time of possibility and irresponsibility… a time when the existential threat of the Cold War was behind us and we all knew that we’d never face that kind of crippling fear again. A time when I was old enough to do adult things and young enough to not think too much about them. The whole world was out there in front of me and I couldn’t wait to grab hold of it and see and do and feel all of it.
Now the whole world is out there and we’re hiding from it. And when all this is over, things are going to be different and we can’t yet guess how… only that a lot of what we took for granted will be gone. Just like the things I used to take for granted: malls and restaurants and bars and theaters. The ones I really loved were all older than me. They’d been there forever, it seemed, and surely they would always be there. And then suddenly they weren’t. Same as the world we had only a few months ago. Before the virus. Before COVID-19 and “social distancing” and “self-isolation.”
And the world we had 20 years ago, before 9/11. We were frightened by the world then, too, and we never did fully recover. I’m not sure we even partially recovered.
I hate the 21st century. I really, truly do.