#873: Super Mall of the Midway

January 8th, 2018

The clown standing by the front door chats in his off moments with the Comcast salesman. The security guard doesn’t seem to be his friend.

As the clown in the rodeo-face makeup and vest with the Christmas-colored smileys gossips with the Comcast man in his booth of flatscreens, the guard just flips through his phone and ignores the Norteña coming from everywhere and nowhere above.

A family leaves and the clown snaps back to work. Unfurling the balloon dog he kept on a balloon leash tucked under his arm, he chases the family out of the store calling “¡Guau! ¡Guau! ¡Guau!” to the kiddos’ laughter. Family gone and leash tucked back under his arm, he returns to his chat, another day at a job where you can get anything.

Anything means anything at Super Mall of the Midway. A booth sells Comcast subscriptions, another sells car decals, one in the back is a pet store filled with cages of chirping birdies, aquaria of tongue-tasting lizards and walls of English-language signs warning no photos or videos will be allowed — an indicator perhaps of the pet shop’s legality.

Anything means you can get your hair cut in the Super Mall at a cordoned off section where the men hauled in barber chairs to give tight fades. It means a stunning Latina will promise a great price if you buy the cologne right this very now. A sour-faced Indian man lures you in his cage with promises the dress shirts on the inside are more conservative than the flash-bang-pow blasts of color and pattern hanging on his cage’s outer.

Super Mall  is a mall, of sorts. It’s a market too. It’s a more familiar model of commerce on the global stage, only in certain white-laden countries its rule becomes exception. It’s Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar writ small. It’s Bangkok’s Chatuchak, Mexico City’s Lagunilla, Nigeria’s Jos Main.

It’s the old Maxwell Street in Chicago, too, before UIC and some housing developments knocked that down a thousand pegs. It’s the MegaMall in Logan Square, before that hood got too hip to let that place live.

More directly, Super Mall of the Midway — its name a nod to the nearby airport — is a giant storefront in a strip mall with the inside divvied between shops that rent the space and sell whatever they want. A booth of knockoff Chinese toys is by one of suspiciously low-priced luggage. Car stereos huddle up to team soccer jerseys of questionable FIFA officialness. The signs in an unstaffed, locked-off cage promise funeral arrangements can be negotiated during business hours. Quinceañera dresses are sold by rows of spices. You can get a sandwich here, or a tattoo.

Stopping for a moment to eye a flash-bang-pow dress shirt, some overwrought faux-diamond medallions or a Spanish dub of a Japanese anime brings out the merchants. They invite you into their cage, they ask if they can help, they ask what you’re looking for, if you want a sample spritz of cologne or to see where the old lady sews the pants.

They’re primarily Hispanic, with a few Asians shuffled in. They size in less than a glance who gets a Spanish hello, who gets English. The clientele is Hispanic too, save a pair of young black men whose conversation indicated they were there on a lark as well and a black woman slowly shuffling by the door, seemingly grateful to be out of the cold. I was the only white person I saw.

It was lovely, but my work would scoff at some of the flash-pow shirts I wanted. I had eaten a wet McDonald’s sandwich in the car earlier, so was too full for the waft of simmering torta tempting through the aisles. I didn’t want a tattoo, haircut or statue of a saint. I had nothing to say to the balloon-clown either. I left.

In the parking lot, families laughed and joked as they walked to the everything-store. The music continued its Spanish-language wail outside. At the lot to the south, there was a hotel oozing sketchiness. Or I had been trained to only accept large and corporate as anything clean.

There was a Jewel-Osco to the south too. Across Pulaski Road, a Chase Bank, a Giordano’s, a Red Lobster and a McDonald’s serving its own wet sandwiches to car-dwellers.

This was how capitalism should be run, according to the world I grew in. Calm, clean, corporate and interchangeable. I would get deals there, and the assurance that my experience there would be identical to any other location. No soccer shirts printing “Emirates” without giving FIFA a share of the sale. No tortas while you bought car decals. No Chicago-themed hoodies among the shiny synthetic suits or Mariachi gear for toddlers next to cages of chirping birds you can’t photograph.

There would be no clown shouting ”¡Guau! ¡Guau! ¡Guau!” at children when not gossiping with a Comcast guy.

I live in the world where the chain stores won, or are in the process of winning. I live 16 miles, two highways and 35 minutes from the Super Mall of the Midway.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be there again.

Visit a similar (now closed) clothing store

And another place you can buy anything

But this is what commerce is like in my neck of the woods

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You are currently reading #873: Super Mall of the Midway by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

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