• Jessica Anshutz

The Valley of Malls: Flannelkimono visits Monroeville Mall and Pittsburgh Mills

(originally written in a notebook that I carry in my purse, August 2021)

We're going to see Low Cut Connie tonight, somewhere around Pittsburgh. That's the thing about Pennsylvania that mystifies me sometimes: there are all of these tiny, tucked away, similarly named little towns. And I never know what counts for Pittsburgh proper, so me, everything's Pittsburgh.

Anyways, my ineptitude with geography aside, Pittsburgh gets all of the good shows, and their free community concert series had bigger names than we get at home. So, we decided to go to see two of the free shows, within a week of each other. First, we met up with friends to see The Jayhawks; they played in an open field that had a stage towards the back of it. We sitting in our little groups of people, drinking beers out of coolers, remembering what it felt like to feel live music wash over my body again. Most free shows in the Akron area include things like Motley Crue tribute bands and eating steamed hot dogs by a stinky body of water. So, I'm glad my first show back was in a field, drinking a Millie and hearing those harmonies that only the Jayhawks seem to know how to hit, and feeling something approaching hope in what felt like forever.

Shows. God, I miss shows. We have tickets for some shows in the fall, but we'll see what happens, I guess.

We decided to leave for Pittsburgh a little early, just to get outside of the apartment and enjoy the outdoors, but also so we could make a few pit stops and enjoy the great indoors. We packed sandwiches and other delicious snacks from DeViti's, because why mess with going inside of a Sheetz to get food if you don't have to.

The only malls that popped up on my map that were on the way to the venue were Monroeville Mall, and Pittsburgh Mills. Neither one really grabbed me, but I wanted to go anyways, since we're out this way and I haven't seen a new mall in a while.

Pittsburgh Mills was in the middle of absolute fucking nowhere. Just up a bunch of tiny roads, hills and stuff. You come around a corner on the highway, and the faded sign of Pittsburgh Mills appears over the horizon. I feel that familiar "what am I gonna see in there" feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Sometimes we go to a stinker of a mall, and Pittsburgh Mills was definitely that. It felt like I had to reallllllllllllllly stretch my imagination to come up with any angle that wouldn't look like it could double as a for lease photo on an industrial real estate website. Most of it just felt vast and stuffy and bland. I liked the playground area, but I much rather go back to Cincinnati Mills and take pictures of the exact same playground in better light. The chairs shaped like baseball mitts were fun to take photos in, and the weird NASCAR themed area made the entire trip worth it. Truly a liminal space. I could smell the grease from the french fries mingling with the grease from the racetrack, only neither was there.

I also spotted a photo exhibit in an empty storefront; someone had dressed up their cat and took photos of it. That's fucking art. I felt very thankful to have seen that; animals doing people things always makes me smile, and frankly, not much has made me smile until the past week or so.

Monroeville Mall was a mall that I was already familiar with. My sister and I did extra work in Zack and Miri Make a Porno in 2007. We were extras in a Christmas shopping scene; we rode up the escalators behind Seth Rogen and Craig Robinson a bunch of times and in all, spent like 14 hours in the mall that day. The zombie movies had been shot there, too, but I think I've grown out of my zombie phase.

There's something extremely unsettling for me about the Monroeville Mall food court. I don't know if it's because the space used to be an ice rink. Or, if it's because there's something unsettling about being in it--it reminds me of what my memory thinks the food court at Parmatown Mall looked like. Or maybe it was the old one at Great Northern. So many fucking malls.

We shared a cheesesteak and fries, because Charlie's was one of only two restaurants open, and a cheesesteak at the mall is always a decent meal to share. I tried to warm up to the food court, and it was just unnerving. I didn't take any photos of it. Honestly, my brain just wanted to forget it immediately.

The skylight in the end of the mall where all the movies were made was cool, although challenging to get a good shot of due to time of day. It's a very unevenly updated mall, with some nice exterior shots of the department stores. I was more than ready to go and watch Low Cut Connie, which we ended up watching in the rain, and it was still amazing.

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