MIND ON THE RUN: “Memories of Tomorrow”
(Musical Accompaniment: “Stardust” by Hoagy Carmichael and Mitchell Parish.)
With all due respect to the great musical team of George and Ira Gershwin, I think the ending lyrics of “The last time I saw Paris” need revision. Substitute “The last time I saw Paris HER heart was young and gay” with:
“The last time I saw Paris MY heart was young and gay
No matter how they change her, I’ll remember her that way!”
* * * * * * * * * * *
So let it be with the current demolition of the North Hills’ iconic Northway Mall. Opened in 1953, it boasted the first indoor mall in the state of Pennsylvania. Over the past 60 years, the enterprise has been anchored by the likes of many American retail institutions: Isaly’s, A&P, Borders Bookstore, Hermann’s Sporting Goods, Dahlkemper’s, Dick’s, and Mama Lucia’s (at the storefront of which was filmed “The Jacksons: An American Dream.”). Our family’s favorite was the Aviary — a huge floor-to-ceiling birdcage. The exhibit was free, the chirping of its inhabitants echoed throughout the mall’s lower level, and every kid prayed that his favorite inmate would become a civic hero by virtue of either a stupendous public poop or a stealthy escape from captivity.
But over the decades it was the anchor stores that, one-by-one, escaped, often relocating to the mega Ross Park Mall, located several miles down the same artery, McKnight Road. On top of that, liquidations and bankruptcies. As a consequence of declining occupancy, the mall assumed a depressed state to the point where, currently, much of it is empty, except for the ghosts of the old anchor stores which could not bear to leave.
Of course, the fading mall was grist for ambitious new developers and its refurbishment is underway. First step: demolish the old façade to create a new identity for the newly-designated “Northway Collection.”
For me, the demolition had started taking place years before, as the vicissitudes of my life reflected those of the mall. My fondest memories remain those of an important place and time for both of us.
Our four kids were young, restless, and hated being with their parents to varying degrees. My daughter insisted on hanging out with her friends at the mega-mall. My sons hated Northway because the birds were gone, their parents still liked it, and who wants to go out with your parents anyway when Grandma and Pap-pap create free special Saturday night entertainment at home? Whatever the motivation, it gave me and my wife, Mary, license to spend the evening at Northway.
There were three major attractions there in those days of little money and high stress. First, an escape to a “clean, quiet,” (the birds were now gone) “well-lighted place.” Second, the bargain food court with only two or three options for ”gourmet” dining. We usually chose the Chinese place, which I think was called the “Jade something-or-other.” Cheap, fast, tasty, and best-of-all, we became friendly with the proprietors.
Finally, the Dollar Movie — all the new showings for a buck. Short lines. One of my old patients named “Nicky” was always there; he was a preadolescent who hung out with the teenage ushers who let him work along with them as an apprentice. He was a wonderful lad with a ready smile whose father had recently died. I imagined that he was like the little patron saint of the movie house, which had become for him (as for us) our second home. As the place fell on hard times like the rest of the franchises, the movie closed, heralding the end of our Saturday night dates at Northway.
Now, fifteen years later, much has changed. Nicky has a good job and a loving family. My kids have grown up and left the nest empty. Pap-pap is in a better place. And Grandma, who babysat for so many years, lives in an old-age residence within a stone’s throw from the mall. It is we who entertain her on Saturday nights, taking her to church services and to Aldi’s — also a stone’s throw from Northway.
When we drive past the site of demotion, I try not to look. But I can hear in my mind the chirping of the birds, I can smell the Chinese food, and I can see the shadows of the ghosts of Northway. They remind me of how much Mary and I were in love and how, for a couple of hours on a simple Saturday night, we were free of worry about the past and the future. As Elton John sang in “Crocodile Rock”: “I never knew me a better time and I guess I never will.” Those times were the closest thing to heaven on earth… and Nicky was there.
“The last time I saw Northway my heart was young and gay
No matter how they change her, I’ll remember her that way.”
PS: “Mind on the Run” had its origins in a way at Northway Mall. The first race I ever ran started at the site of the present demolition in ’99. After the race, the runners enjoyed pizza at the food court; these days I treat myself after races to M and M: Mylanta and Motrin.
I now have so many race shirts that I don’t know what to do with them. Anyway, the only one I really cared about I gave away to a special person.