My Drift

photo by Matt Cornelius
photo by Matt Cornelius

Today’s 10,000

“I’m not walking at the mall.”

My walking buddy’s tone made it clear that no argument could convince her otherwise. Heeding the advice to strive for 10,000 steps every day, our intrepid group had been walking every morning since February when the June heat shut us down completely. It was just too hot. I had brought up the idea of walking at the mall, and she had shut that down, too.

Eventually, my need for my daily steps drove me to announce to the group that I would be walking at Central Mall the next day, and anyone who wanted to join me was welcome. To my surprise, our nay-sayer showed up. As we headed to the parking lot an hour later, she enthusiastically suggested we return the following morning. Clearly, she had enjoyed it.

I asked her what it was that made her think she did not want to walk at the mall. “I thought it would just be a bunch of old people,” she replied.

A little background to put her comment in perspective: She and I can both remember the Eisenhower administration. I wanted to ask her if she had checked her driver’s license lately, but I thought better of it.

We had indeed encountered some fellow seniors on our walk. Some were even older than we are, and a few made us feel downright youthful. There were, however, plenty of walkers of all ages there that day, the quest for 10,000 steps not exclusive to any particular age group. Some were strolling, and others were walking at such a fast clip they made little whooshing noises when they passed us. There were singles and pairs, with one couple walking sweetly hand-in-hand. Some were in groups of five or six, engaging in animated discussion punctuated by raucous laughter. They all greeted each other—and us—like family.

Though the stores were not yet open, the lights in the mall shone brightly. The temperature was perfect, and the walking surface was even and smooth. The presence of a friendly security guard made us feel safe. There was music, as well as a restroom. It was sort of a walker’s nirvana. We were hooked.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has called walking “the closest thing we have to a wonder drug” for good health. Regular walking can cut your risk of heart disease by thirty percent and reduce your risk of diabetes and cancer to boot. It can lower your blood pressure while elevating your mood. It is known to fend off osteoporosis and is thought to prevent Alzheimer’s Disease.

You might ask, why walk at the mall when there are so many beautiful walking paths in our area? To be sure, walking outside has added benefits. You can get a little vitamin D from the sun and a mood boost that, believe it or not, results from surrounding yourself with greenery. All of that is not lost on me, and when the weather is gorgeous, you’ll find me out on the trails soaking up the great outdoors.

Seventy degrees and sunny, however, is not a year-round occurrence here in northeast Texas. Many is the morning excess heat, bitter cold or pesky rain make nature less appealing, and I seek shelter at the mall. My late afternoon walks are almost always at the mall; I can do three laps without breaking a sweat, thereby avoiding the need for a pre-dinner shower.

The concept of the shopping mall arrived in the United States in 1956 with the opening of Southdale Center in Edina, Minnesota. Designer Victor Gruen envisioned it as a communal gathering place where people would shop, drink coffee, and socialize. He used art, tropical plants, and fountains to create an intimate, soothing atmosphere. Developers across the country built on the idea, and eventually, malls were everywhere.

Central Mall is definitely a gathering place, its atmosphere resulting largely from the aroma of baking cookies. It is a true microcosm, offering just about anything you might need. You can get a pedicure there or a foot massage. You can snack on a pretzel, an eggroll, or a taco, not to mention the aforementioned cookie. Need a drum lesson? You have come to the right place. Haircuts, tutoring, and banking are all on tap at the mall, as well as arcade games, a play area, and kiddie rides. A convenience store stocks cleaning supplies, which is handy if you are out of Windex. You can even open a pop-up shop with a short-term lease if you want to try your hand at retail.

I would be remiss, of course, if I did not mention the shopping. I frequently have to return to the mall once the stores are open to purchase something I have admired in a shop window on my morning walk. The mix of merchants results in the availability of just about anything you can think of. I have acquired, among other things, a white denim jacket I wear all the time and a periwinkle Panama hat that I never wear but love owning. There is a certain symmetry to the fact that I even procured my walking shoes at the mall.

I think all of us who walk are grateful to the management at Central Mall for making their space available to those of us who choose walking as our fitness regimen. We realize that the lights, climate control, and security are not free, and we appreciate management’s generosity in providing them. The early morning appears to be a time they use for maintenance and setting up special events. It is always fun to watch them move cars in the giant doors on the south side and then maneuver them slowly around the mall. Signage for new stores goes up periodically, and the change of seasons brings the installation of colorful décor befitting whatever holiday approaches. Fall is the prevailing theme right now, but it will not be long before they start putting up the Christmas decorations and getting ready for Santa.

To say walking at the mall has changed my life would be a stretch, but it has changed a few things about my life. My doctor says my gait has improved, and I have developed an appreciation for audiobooks that has expanded my love of books in general. Have I pushed osteoporosis a little further down the road? Maybe.

At my age, you never know what is going to hurt, and one morning I found myself limping a bit as I made my rounds.

“I have a hitch in my get-along,” I said to a passing walker who eyed me with concern.

“You just have to crip on,” she replied with an encouraging smile.

Indeed. See you at the mall!


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