Highland Mall

Requiem For a Mall

Highland Mall

Highland Mall on closing day.


Like most people, I hadn’t been to Highland Mall in ages. In fact I was surprised to read that it was still operating at all. It always looked closed, but then yesterday I read that it was actually closing for good after 44 years. I knew I had to pay a final visit to what had been Austin’s first indoor shopping mall and a surprisingly poignant catalyst of memories. Judging from comments from friends and all the people there yesterday taking pictures and looking nostalgic, I was far from alone in this feeling.

Highland Mall

Highland Mall

For many, there seemed to be a lot of memories of working there at various points or going there as long time Austin residents. For me, its place in my heart was very specific: It was a place I used to love to go with my late aunt, Trish and my cousin, Casey. I’ve written a lot about them before but let me summarize for the uninitiated: they are two of the single most important people in my past and in the very DNA of who I am today. From when I was a kid on into adulthood, there were very few things I looked forward to as much as my time with them. They would come to College Station for holidays, I would spend school vacations here in Austin, which I found to be a magical wonderland because of it. Trish was like a second mother and Casey was like a little brother. My time with them remains a formative and defining time in my life. Last year, Trish went on to wherever our energy goes when our bodies are done here and Casey has long since pretty much ceased being a part of my life (even before he was married with two kids, which I’m sure is more than a full time job) but I still think about them both many times daily. In addition to Peter Pan Golf, Westgate Lanes bowling, going to movies and staying up all night playing video games, going to the mall was one of our favorite things to do and it started at Highland Mall.

Highland Mall

I think there used to be an arcade here once, long ago.

For whatever reason, we loved going to the mall (something that would definitely change in my adult years), and before Barton Creek came along, Highland Mall was practically Disneyworld for us. Spencer’s Gifts, video game and movie stores, arcades, the food court, toy stores, candy stores, ice cream vendors, movie theaters and many boring things we didn’t care about like clothing stores (until later when I thought parachute pants were the coolest thing ever), it was just this microcosm, this entire world and ecosystem all self-contained like some underground science fiction colony.

As soon as I walked in those doors yesterday, it all came back with startling familiarity like I had been transported in time. Even the music echoing through the mostly empty space through tinny, dated speakers seemed trapped in time, and strangely loud without a bustling mass of bodies soaking up the sound. All music I would have heard back then. I noticed a strange preponderance of ELO during my hours there. And yes, I spent hours there. I walked both levels of the entire mall three, four, maybe five times.
Highland03 I touched the work railings knowing very well they may have been the exact same railings we had all touched so many years ago. Used every single staircase and escalator, retracing the steps of so much past. When we would go there, Trish would often go off to do her thing and leave me and Casey to do ours. I remember we would methodically walk the whole mall to make sure we didn’t miss anything. I remembered and retraced some of the exact routes. I took in this ghost mall that once been so filled with such a din of life almost as if it were a living organism. Now there were only a handful of shops, and 3 vendors still sold food in the food court until the last hours of this last day. Many people snapped photos. I had a brief conversation with a stranger who was there for the same reason as I was, saying good be to an old friend from many years ago. You could just see the look i people’s eyes that they were just there, remembering one last time.

Highland Mall

Highland Mall

I think I tried to leave at least twice and then turned around and went back in for another pass. I actually texted with Casey a little bit, which made me smile to have him there a little bit and read other’s comments on my Facebook page about their memories of the mall. I remembered specific tables where I had sat with Trish and Casey enjoying fast food. I considered getting one last meal there but then decided against partaking of whatever happened to be left at this eleventh hour. At one point I saw an abandoned establishment that piqued my curiosity. I can’t remember the name on it but it was non-descriptive. There were signs to “Pits 9-20” and a note about not crossing the orange line without proper safety equipment but that spectators were welcome and encouraged to ask questions. It seemed like it had been some kind of action/sport type venue, but the real mystery that baffled me was this sign:
sign I still have no idea what this means. It’s like some kind of crazy, paranoid, conspiracy theorist rambling. “That’s how they’re gonna get us, man! The robots can diguise themselves as skateboards, man! They’re all around us and we’re just letting it happen, man!”

I’m not sure exactly why we stopped going there and started going to Barton Creek. I don’t know if it was closer to where Trish and Casey lived, or just perceived as a better, newer mall or what, but it seems that was the trend for most of Austin. Highland Mall fell into decline and for whatever reason, time passed it by. I was glad I’d read about it closing so I got the chance to spend this final day there, with Trish and Casey in my mind and heart. I was glad I got to say my goodbyes. As I laid in bed last night trying to sleep, I thought of the mall, empty and dark, finally “asleep” for good. The building or land may will back as part of Austin Community College, but Highland Mall is no more. No more than the memories so many of us will always carry and the little bits of who we are today that were shaped, formed and altered, even if almost imperceptibly, by our time there and the people who shared it.

Highland Mall

Epilogue: Revisiting Barton Creek Square Mall

Middle Earth: Austin

Elly and I just mapped out Austin as Middle Earth just based on names. Dwarves live on Oltorf. Common Elves on Woodland. High Elves on Riverside. Hobbits on Pleasant Valley. Orcs on Slaughter. Sauron’s fortress in Mordor is in The Domain. The Ents are at Arbor Walk. And there’s a major defensive fortress at Rundberg where the renowned Riders of Rundberg reside. Beware the Balrog in the Mines of Manchaca. Gondor would be The Capitol.

Luke Olajuwan

The Startling Realization That I Don’t Have Many “Friends”

How do you define “friend”? It can mean a lot of different things in different contexts. A conversation with Elly yesterday made me realize that I don’t think I have many friends at all. I have a lot of acquaintances, people I love and care about and who love and care about me. This isn’t any kind of sad sob story or call for validation or anything. It was just an observation that kind of caught me by surprise. I don’t really have many “friends.”

Again, my life is beyond bountiful and filled with amazing people but aside from Elly, there is no one that I talk to or hang out with regularly or frequently. There are very few people that I feel I could easily and comfortably have any kind of deep, open, vulnerable conversation with. I racked my brain thinking of the people in my life that really fit what seemed to be “friend” beyond “acquaintance.” I came up with 5 people and I don’t see or talk to any of them often. They generally have their spouses, families or what not and spend most of their time and energy within the walls of that individual castle.

This is all a strange thing to talk about because I don’t want to discount or lessen the meaning of all the wonderful people in my life or make anyone feel left out or like they mean less to me. That’s not the case. In fact there is an overarching theme in my life of always feeling like I like and value people certain more than is returned and that’s definitely the source of a lot of whatever pain and insecurities I may have. I had an epiphany about a family member who has always meant so much to me and is a part of my DNA and my best memories and it always seemed mutual when we spent time together but I always had to be the one making it happen and over the years I just saw them less and less until I’ve pretty much just accepted that they are not in my life any more and never will be. Almost like a mini death or a living death.

Now another angle of this is that I have never been the best friend in some ways either. I can isolate myself and retreat into my cave and not keep in touch very well. My certain kind of shyness and desire to be unobtrusive and not bother people may come off as aloof, or stand offish. My approach is often too passive which is not always fair to put the onus on everyone else to take the initiative. I find the closest and longest lasting friends are the one who have a similar mindset and are very low maintenance. We can go months without speaking and then pick right back up as if no time has passed. I have no tolerance for guilt trips, or high maintenance people. So I’m sure I have a part in this scenario of “not having friends.” I do not deny any responsibility.

I’m not really looking for answers or anything, it was just something I felt like observing and chronicling. It really took me by surprise because I do feel like my life is full and full of absolutely stunning people but when we really started talking about the details, I was hard pressed to really find anyone who fit the profile we were discussing. I think this is why I enjoy social media so much. It has allowed me to grow and foster many relationships that probably would have faded away without it. The whole social media subject is an entirely different subject though. I am completely pro and for it and don’t believe the whole “it’s bad because people use it as a substitute for real interaction.” I think it’s a handy tool and addition, not a substitution and allows us to actually have discussions and interactions we wouldn’t normally be able to have due to time restraints and life responsibilities. It’s like we are always in touch. A virtual party where we can interact whenever we want or have time.

I don’t really want to get into a social media debate though. I don’t really know how to end this post so here’s a picture I made of Hakeem Olajuwan piloting an X-wing and getting his torpedoes right into the Death Star exhaust port. Nothing but vent!

Luke Olajuwan

Luke Olajuwan

Who’s The Real April Fool?

I despise April Fools’ Day. Seems like I’ve had a lot of discussion about it this year so I thought I’d collect my various thoughts here in one place.

It’s a day when most people seem to think simply lying is somehow witty or funny. A day when I can’t trust anything anyone says or anything I read. Weeeeee! What fun!

It takes no intelligence or wit to lie to someone. If I tell you I’m engaged, or moving to Alaska, or have cancer, or whatever, none of these things are witty or funny and I didn’t really “get one over on you,” I just lied to you and you believed it because, why the hell shouldn’t you? “Haha! You trust me to be truthful! Sucker!”

It’s just annoying. Some people like Thinkgeek, Google and ACL have done funny things in the past but they were funny because they weren’t actually trying to “fool” anyone. They were ridiculous humor.

If Google was like “We are introducing free internet and global wifi coverage! APRIL FOOLS!” That would not be funny.

As my friend Lauren said “April fools day is to comedy what St. Patrick’s Day is to Irish culture.” I just see a lot of annoying lies being pawned off as “Haha! I got you! I’m so clever!”

No. No you’re really not. There is no intelligence or wit involved. The only April fools are those who think that simple lies and taking advantage of people’s trust equates to humor, wit or intelligence.

C25K

I have been appalled with the state of my health lately. I can’t seem to kick my food demons or get on any kind of regular exercise regimen. My willpower and discipline seem non-existent but that won’t stop me from continuing to mount the battle. This is the worst shape I have been in since getting my diet under control around 2004 and dropping 60 lbs. About 30 of it is back. I need to get to yoga far more often as well as stopping regulating my fuel (i.e. STOP SHOVELING SO MUCH QUESO AND OTHER CRAP IN MY FOOD HOLE).

So today I started week 1 day 1 of “Couch to 5K.” What’s baffling to me is that I have always hated running. It was always my absolute least favorite form of exercise ever and something I didn’t want to do unless I was being chased by an axe or chainsaw wielding murderer or a zombie, but then again I probably could mosey away from a zombie without anything really resembling “running.”

For some reason I’m feeling myself drawn to this C25K program. Something about it just feels right at this time. Maybe it’s because there’s some weird sadistic part of me that likes to find weaknesses in myself or things that are difficult for me and instead of avoiding them and playing to my strengths, I like to try and overcome them to become a better, more rounded individual or something.

Day 1 felt like just the right amount of challenge for my out of shape blubbery mass. Challenging but not debilitating or discouraging. I imagine that to anyone in better shape than me (which is probably most people), it would have been a piece of cake. Mmm, cake.

The Movie Called “The Hobbit”

Quick summary for the impatient: cool, inventive, fun action sequences. Little else. It should have been called (Some Other Title): Very Loosely Based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit.”

I loved the Lord of the Rings films. As a huge fan of the books, I thought they were about as good of a translation to films as could be done, mostly. Some changes that made sense for the films, etc.

Now, I went into The Hobbit not having read the book, so I got to see it without that bias. However, I also then got to hear about it from someone who loved the books and it was interesting to experience both sides. My own unbiased experience was that apart from the fun, inventive action sequences, there wasn’t much to speak of. I found a lot of it completely lacking in subtlety of dimension. Some baffling story points and two dimensional characters along with a lot of obvious audience emotional manipulation like a war hammer to the head.

Now what I found interesting was that when discussing it with Elly who loved the books and knew exactly what was different, I found most of my biggest complaints turned out to be the things that Jackson and company completely fabricated for the film. Turns out that apparently Jackson and company aren’t as good at writing as Tolkien. To be fair, the best parts of the films (the action sequences) were also almost entirely fabricated and not at all based on the books, so I guess they get that credit.

Basically this wasn’t The Hobbit at all. Thus why it should have just been called something else “loosely based on The Hobbit.” Unlike LOTR, the changes they made seemed completely unmotivated, really bad ideas. It also really only needed to be one film. Two at the most (while LOTR probably could have actually used more time to get more of the books in).

A fun, if mostly empty ride.

Dream Theatre 23

I was visiting my friends, Sean and Jen and Sean was telling me something about how his neighbor a few houses down, Muammar Gaddafi, was one of the most awesome, genius video game visionaries ever. Apparently Muammar had mellowed in age and turned into a really great guy.

I went a few houses down to visit him to talk. He lived in a tiny one room house. Like literally, one tiny room. Just big enough for a single bed, a small chair and TV tray in the corner, and a small TV on a stand in the other corner. He was lounging on his bed, completely naked, which was a bit awkward. I can’t remember for sure, but I think there may have been a woman present at least at first. He was laying at such an angle, that his junk wasn’t in full view, thankfully, but it seemed quite large.

He got up while we were talking to get dressed and put on some loose fitting beige pants that strangely had one large, flapped pocket across the butt instead of the normal two.

That’s all I remember really.

Tom Cruisin’

I recently had the idea to make a rap/hip-hop song using every Tom Cruise movie title to date, in case he ever decides he has mastered acting and wants to go into hip-hop. Call me, Tom. I need you to record your vocals and then we can shoot a video.

Here’s the song.

And here’s a simple video I made to go along with it.

iPhone 6 Mini Review: Love It!

I’m one of those geeks who got up at 2am to order the new iPhone. After 5 phone calls to mostly incompetent AT&T representatives due to various order issues, I did indeed receive my phone on release day!

I’d always wanted an iPhone that was a little bit bigger but not too much. The iPhone 6 is perfect for my tastes. I was worried that I would wish I’d gotten the Plus but I’m happy I went with the regular. The Plus does have even more battery life since it has a bigger battery, but even the regular 6 has the best battery life of any iPhone yet.

I love the feel of the phone. Something about the glass of the screen feels better than any iPhone before it. Solid and smooth and just nice to touch and tap on. I was surprised how much bigger the phone seems than my 5. I didn’t think it would be much difference but it really feels larger in the best possible way. The screen looks far better to my eyes as well. Everything just looks sharper, more detailed and more vibrant. The whole phone just feels very well made, sturdy and very high quality. While I do like the new form factor, it can be difficult to pick up off of flat surfaces due to the rounded sides, but I don’t mind. We will see if this changes when my case gets here. It’s so thin, that I don’t think adding a case (which I really only do to preserve resale value when I inevitably upgrade) will really impact the general sleekness of the phone. I stopped using screen protectors several iPhones back and have not regretted the decision. The glass feels so much better and is very sturdy and scratch resistant. Your mileage may vary of course, and I am generally very mindful and take care of my phone without being too focused or obsessive about it. I’m just a little more attentive when pulling it out of my pocket to not fumble or drop it.

I’m also loving the whole touch ID to unlock the phone. I was surprised how fast it responds. I push the home button and leave my thumb there and it unlocks almost immediately. It took me a day to unlearn my muscle memory of pushing the home button and then swiping to unlock, but I got used to it fast. I didn’t use a lock code before because it was a pain. Now with touch ID, I don’t mind it at all. There have been a handful of occasions when, for some reason I wanted to unlock the phone with another finger besides my right thumb (which is the finger I used to set up touch ID) and in those cases I just have to type in the code since you can only set it up with one particular finger. I don’t know if I prefer the new power button placement on the side, but I don’t have strong feelings either way. I do find that I occasionally accidentally turn my volume down a notch with the opposite finger when pressing the power button to lock the phone with my thumb.

The speaker is also much louder and sounds better to me.

As for iOS 8, I’m pretty happy with that too aside from them taking “camera roll” view out which was far more efficient, in my opinion, than having to view collections. I just want all my photos in one big easily scrollable view. I can make albums if I want to.

Overall I’d say I am completely satisfied and love the new iPhone 6. It’s everything I wanted it to be and have no regrets not getting the Plus.

Top 10 Facebook Statuses That Have Had The Greatest Impact On My Life

I’ve been challenged by the universe to list the top 10 Facebook statuses that have had the greatest impact on me.

  1. All those “top 10 movies/books/African stomach ailments/etc. that have had the greatest impact on you” posts. Man. Remember those?
  2. “Which movie/book/food/tree/color/brand of shoe/Backstreet Boy/number/letter/flavor of Starburst/etc. are you.” I learned a lot about myself.

  3. Sports posts. It’s just like I’m there watching play by play! Whether I want to be or not! It’s like magic!

  4. Weather posts consisting of single words like “RAIN” or better yet pictures of people’s car dashboard temperature readings. Who needs weather sites!

  5. Religion/Politics/iPhone vs. Android/PC vs mac posts. So much civil and insightful conversation leading to more open minds and people changing their views! The snarkier the better! I’ve learned there’s not room for multiple opinions in the world! Like Highlander, there can be only one!

  6. Pictures of food. How did I live so long without knowing what everyone was eating? Dark times, man. Dark times.

  7. Automated posts from other services telling me what people just watched/listened to/or what exercise you just did. I’m glad the robot overlords are keeping me apprised of your every move. Exxxxxcellent.

  8. “Sky is falling” posts. I was completely unaware that every program, website, food, and pretty much everything else was going to kill me and steal my information and identity and was pretty much the most evil thing ever. But I guess it makes sense with the aforementioned robot overlords.

  9. Post about children and pets. Not just any posts about them, but when that seems to be the sum total of someone’s identity and the only thing they ever post about. This way it’s like I’m getting 2 or more friends in one!

  10. Complaint posts. I’m surprised there wasn’t more spontaneous human combustion before people could come to social media to complain about stuff. Like Social media posts. Wait…AAAAAGGGGGGHHHHH

is launched off the bridge into the chasm
the SAR-chasm?
rim-shot

*sorry if this pisses anyone off, it was just a silly idea I had spurred by some of the trending posts at the moment. It is meant completely tongue in cheek.