Monday, May 08, 2006

Lost in the Burbs

Just back from a long weekend trip to Florida aka The Shopping Center of the Future.

The new, huge shopping centers taking over the Floridian landscape are now called Town Centers aka "Lifestyle Centers" where they hold real community events, like going to the local Mexican food chain for lard burritos at a 10% discount for children! Next month is the "Young Adult Ritilin Eating Contest" where teenagers compete to see who can down the most Ritilin without going totally psychotic. The judges are all licensed psychotherapists and yes, the 10% discount on lard burritos still applies!

These Town Centers go through building phases. Phase One attracts the big names in retail. During Phase Two they actually build cookie-cutter condos around the massive shopping mall (units starting at only $240,000!). During Phase Three they build out more stores, especially mega grocery stores. At one point during my endless driving throughout the region, I saw Mecca in the distance as I began my approach to the towering Town Center that stood before me like the Disneyfied version of the Lost City of Atlantis. What is it really?, I wondered. Why, it's a cluster of huge mausoleums and churches with names like Dillards, Walmart, Target, and Home Depot (always the "superstore" variety) - as well as smallers stores like "Artsy Abode" where you can buy your midbrow designer objects for every room in your exburbian McMansion or, if you are lucky enough to be a Lifestyle Center aficianado, your brand new condo. The Walmart Superstore is actually a shopping mall in and of itself, and houses all kinds of smaller stores under its roof. Once inside this megalopolis, you can buy your Silk soymilk, your nephew's Bar Mitzvah card, three quarts of oil for your Chevy Silverado, a Tazo Green Tea Latte from the Starbucks kiosk, a University of Florida orange and blue t-shirt, and the latest Toby Keith CD.

Of course, the folks in the condos are not supposed to walk to the stores, a mere five minutes away - instead, they drive. But with gas prices being what they are, I actually did hear a few people say that buying a condo in a Town Center could be an advantage as they would only have to drive a third of a mile to do most of their shopping.

One interesting side note: every house or condo I spent time in, as well as one hotel lobby, was playing the Stephen Colbert show whenever it was on the Comedy Channel. Some of the people watching I know for a fact are diehard Republicans, and they love his show as well as the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. The question is: are they laughing with us, or at themselves? When it comes to the Republican sleaze masters, you are either with us or against us.

While watching these fake news shows, whenever there was a commercial break, the Floridians would inevitably talk about gas prices, although a couple of conversations with arch-conservatives eventually moved on to the really hot topic of the weekend, Hookergate.

What do you get when your cross a CIA Director resignation with a room full of prostitutes at the Watergate hotel in Washington D.C.? London's Financial Times has the story as does TPM and the NYTimes.

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