Saturday, July 11, 2009

Isn't Life Grande..?

Penned May 6th, 2007

What really got me was the pure and utter convenience of it all. I've never been situated near one of these things before. In fact, I've tended to the opposite, tried to get as far away from them as I possibly could. But now that I've been situated so near one, virtually on top of it, I've been given a new perspective. If you were in my position, you'd understand, too: how perfectly damned convenient they are. You really gotta hand it to them. They made one hell of a shopping centre.

It's just a stone's throw away. Literally. And I don't mean an Olympian hurl. I mean a lolly-gagging lazy Saturday sort of upward toss that you might have done while pacing yourself down a gravel road on the way to the corner store to buy candy as a child. And where that stone would land would be on asphalt, in front of the London Drugs, which I can see from my window. Behind it is the Save On Foods, which faces a dollar store, across the pavement from the local pub, which is itself northeast of the Cinema, butted against Totem Lumber, which is adjacent to the local Wal-Mart (McDonald's included). This is ringed by a liquor store (open until eleven), a post office, a health food store, Future Shop, Rogers Video, MoneyMart, and Payless shoes. Past the nearby intersection there is a gas station (serving an *ahem* environmentally conscientious 6% ethanol blend), and to its left, another fueling station, Starbucks, with drive through [italics and correct spelling added], and Burger King. Facing its back, a Staples/Business Depot/Bureau en Gros, ninety degrees to a Mark's Work Warehouse, from which, if you were to cross the street to the east, you would be standing back in the place where you'd thrown your stone, on the campus of Grande Prairie Regional College, facing the Rio-Can power centre.

It's crazy, really. It has everything I could ever need. Please don't misunderstand me. I am usually the first to rail on suburbia, and everything it represents: the automobile, cultural homogenization, pavement, communal fragmentation, and aesthetic crime. But, when you think about it, you really have to acknowledge, that man, they have got this shit figured out.

From a market standpoint, it's a win-win-win situation. The consumer fulfills all his wants in one place for a low cost. There are enough overlapping niches that it prevents the monopolization of any one product type, so I don't have to go to Future Shop for a webcam. Wal-Mart has them, too. The sellers themselves have a complementary advantage: someone comes for paper, but leaves with rice, petunias, Jim Beam, and a DVD player (it was only 59.99). kaaa-ching. The property owner just collects cheques and plows snow. In this way, numbered pieces of paper are pushed around, people get stuff, and savvy businesses capitalize.

A major caveat people have against these megaplexes is that they aren't designed to be pedestrian friendly. And I'll admit, indeed, that the walker was not in mind when the Rio-Can was built. But that in no way means that you cannot get around on foot. Granted there may not be the urban luxuries of sidewalks and crosswalks, but there are ample grass medians which practically connect with the concrete strips in front of all the buildings. And, yes, the stores themselves may not be that close together, but let's be frank: Practical stores aren't that close together in the city, either. When you go out on foot to do errands downtown, you will need to plan properly, bring a backpack, and probably walk a number of kilometres between stores over the course of an afternoon just to get all the things that you need to carry on a functional and happy existence. The same applies to car-free shopping at a power centre. There's just not so much shit in between.

And far from being threatened, pedestrians at the Rio-Can are regarded by drivers with the caution and novelty of a black bear: something perhaps unwanted, but unfamiliar and therefore unpredictable. Thus, due diligence is applied, and right of way is given to the pedestrian, even when undue.

Of course it doesn't have that Parisien cobblestone allure, but then, it never pretended to. When planners set about making the Rio-Can, they didn't sit around a boardroom and say "how can we fool people into thinking this isn't a modular chain-based retail centre?" No, they just looked at a map of the exploding city of Grande Prairie, and said: "People need food, clothing, shelter, and love. We can't sell them love, but we can make damn sure that they get the first three, and a DVD player." And so the Rio-Can was born. It provided people with all the things they needed in the city, but in one central, easy to navigate location.

In a way, they've already done my shopping for me. I hate trivial decision making, and this eliminates that for me. I don't have to decide where to go to get what I need. It's all there. If I needed a pair of steel-toed boots, I could get then. If I wanted to get a flame broiled veggie burger at midnight, I could get it. If I wanted my C-41 black and whites printed in sepia-tone on Agfa paper (glossy, no borders) in duplicate with high quality .jpegs copied to a 256 meg flash card that I just got for 5.99 - I could do that, too. Really, at the Rio-Can, there's nothing I can't do.

The sheer convenience of it, how there's everything I would ever want, right there. It's kind of reassuring… That I'll never be left in want. That all hell could break loose, and I'd still be able to get turnips, TVs, and T-shirts. Like it was designed to provide me with what I need. A sense of ownership is almost implied. The Rio-Can centre. My Rio-Can centre.

We could do it all, the Rio-Can and I. The doors of ownership flung open, the world would be my oyster. Boundless entertainment, epicurean delight, material possession, it could all be mine. I would have no need to go anywhere else. My home-work-outing loop would be completed, and all of it within one kilometre of where I sit. Spectacular convenience, the product of generations of human toil and the education of trial and error, the better life for their grandchildren for which our grandparents worked the soil until knuckles bled. So this could all be mine. And it could all be mine.

It could all be mine, if…

If only…

If only I could cross the street to get there.



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