In a sad way, I miss the Downtown Mall.   I mean, in reality, I do not miss it at all.  It was a sh** hole.  A scary sh**hole at that…but it had a certain element of charm.  Every town or city needs that “bad part of town” for legitimacy.  Some cities like Detroit go overboard and make the whol d**n town that way…but for us our bad part of town was the Downtown Mall.

I think every parent told their kid “don’t go THERE…it’s not safe.”   Yet, we all did.  I used to ride my bike there numerous times with Paco and Pecos in search of baseball cards.  Each time I returned home with all my limbs, and not kidnapped by vagrants I felt somewhat victorious.  I had gone to the belly of the best, and returned with a Eric Davis Rookie card, and no rape by homeless people.  What else would you expect from a mall with a store called “Dickers?”

That “mall” was special for all the wrong reasons.  That mall lacked proper lighting.  On the sunniest of Redding afternoons, that mall was always 7pm.   The towering roof was built tall, I’m convinced, to place it closer to the sun, so it could effectively block out any warming, and redeeming light.   Even the parking garage was underground, and dark, only lit by the sickest of yellow lanterns.  You will shop here.  you will not see.

The mall was not laid out in a fashion that was in any way friendly to the casual shopper.  It was a labyrinth of dark hall ways each lined with an array of stores that could only be found in that mall; stores that sold jewelry, second hand clothes, and second hand jewelry.   There were pawn shops (duh), hot dog stores, barbershops with real Playboy magazines.  There was even a place you could buy leopard spotted panties called JIMMY D’S…they were all about rock n’ roll for the three months they were in business.  Redding was never much for rock n’ roll in those days.

Chain stores knew better than to plant their seeds her.  Exception has to be given to the flavor of the year pharmacy that, if only to serve the local methadone addicts their prescriptions, was required to occupy this location strictly based on being closer to customers.  There was also the pimp-named chain eatery, Orange Julius, because hey, even junkies like a steamed Chicago Dog…and whatever the hell a “Julius” is…

Above the floor of the mall sat an intricate weave of Endor-esque walkways and fort like structures.  Rumor has it a restaurant once inhabited that area.  Although Wickett, nor any other Ewok never “Yubb Yubbed” at me from the heights, I was sure that it was inhabited by the wrong class of folks who would surely cause me harm if I dared walk up there.  The long haired kids with their heavy metal t-shirts would often sit up there and smoke.  When smoking was outlawed in the rest of the state, this mall still “let” people smoke.

The mall was also home to an odd waterfall/fountain lined with blue and greenish colored tiles.  Jungle-esque foliage surrounded it, live plants in a dead mall.   People used the jungle to hide their garbage, even though there was a perfectly good trash can nearby.  The fountain sat near Dickers, and across from an orange tiled arch that led into a store that sold things I don’t recall at this time, I believe they may have been covered in Muppet fur.    I liked that fountain.  It was my favorite part of that mall.  I always threw a coin in and made a wish.  I think sometimes I wished I could get permission to ride my bike to the real mall uptown, which was much farther and crossed more busy roadways.  Other times I think I wished that the fountain would be given a new home somewhere….some place nice.  Somewhere the bums wouldn’t piss, or bathe in it.

It was these bums that made the mall more interesting, albeit more frightening.  These misfits of the pavement would use the mall as their refuge from the grueling summer heat.   They often loitered near the outdoor fountain, waiting for the bus.  I witnessed crazy sh** at that fountain; people sleeping on the rail, bathing in its cool and disgusting water, drinking from those same waters (which couldn’t be healthy), arguing with themselves and others, fighting, fornicating, and generally guarding the mall like a band of Tolkien trolls.     These same trolls would be found in and about the mall, and often their presence would suede which path I decided to take my business.

There was a shortage of restrooms in the mall.  Only a small graffiti cage covered door led to a “comfort station” where I assure you, no comfort was ever found, only pain. I recall my mother specifically telling me to never use that comfort station that “crimes happened in there”.   I used the bathroom in Dickers.  We all did.

This mall in my early year was a place I went with my mother on our weekly Thursday shopping trips.  We would spend hours in a clothing store called the Carriage House.   While my mother shopped I was dropped off in the unsupervised kids play area, when such places were still allowed.  This was where I and tens of other children would play in unsupervised chaos.  Kids ate crayons in that room.  There was certainly enough evidence on the walls to show me they had existed in there, but I never found a crayon.   This room was never (ever) sanitized and always smelled like urine…as did a majority of the mall so it was not entirely out of place.  Perhaps the owners assumed the smell had wafted in from the halls.  I shudder to think how many cases of lice were caused just from the Carriage House play room dress up items.

Sometime, several years ago there was a push to revitalize the downtown area of Redding.  The lack of business, and homeless, fountain defiling, trolls had become too much for the public to handle.  They first remedied this by taking the local area bus routes and moving their “hub” several blocks away.  This would cause these foot travelers to move locations in order to wait for their RIDE.   Taking the bums out of the mall, unfortunately didn’t bring back the customers, and one by one the stores closed up and moved out, usually being replaced by offices or other establishments that didn’t rely on a steady stream of customers in order to operate.   The few places that remained transformed and changed their name as if to say, “HEY we’re all new.  We weren’t here in the dark ages!”

When the planners realized that the darkness that surrounded the building was as formidable as the trolls that roamed its concrete halls, they removed the roof, letting in the sun to scare away any of the remaining creatures that had remained.   They only left behind the faux stained glass towers that held up the towering roof.   Those towers still stand to this day, like rib boned fossils of a creature that used to be our mall.