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Mall bonding 

If you had asked me a few days ago where in the world I would most not want to be this weekend, the new Streets at Southpoint would have been right up there with the Tarheel locker room and anywhere in Afghanistan. And yet, something drew me there--a sick fascination for potted plants and elevator music, I guess.

I'd called a friend who owed me a favor, and asked her to go with me. At first she balked, but I said she could drive, and if we couldn't find a parking place, she could just circle while I ran in to see what all the fuss was about--no more than 20 minutes, I swore. And, I wasn't far off. It took 20 minutes to get from the off-ramp to the mall entrance (a distance of 13 feet), and we did circle the parking lot for about 20 minutes. They say there are 6,400 parking spaces at the new mall. After 20 minutes, we creatively made it 6,401. I figured, if someone protested I'd just tell them we thought it was the valet parking area, and then I'd cry a little or tell them I was pregnant.

We didn't have a destination in mind, just strolling. But with 50,000 people there, it was more like being sucked downstream. I saw the same woman all over the mall throughout the day, always on her cell phone, apparently talking to a friend who was in another part of the mall.

"Cheryl, can you look to your left and see Belk's? You can't? Well, you're in the wrong place!"

"What store are you in front of? Barnie's Coffee? Get me a double latte, and stay right there! Don't you dare go to Nordstrom's without me!"

"Oh my God, Cheryl, I got us free Apple T-shirts! Jerry's gonna die! Meet me at Ann Taylor. Don't worry about the car. If there's a problem, you can cry, and I'll tell them I'm pregnant."

I wandered into the upper level food court, which was filled with men and children. The kids were playing, screaming, and eating, and the men were bonding--men in khakis sitting with men in overalls, men in suits talking to men in shorts--all with the same long-suffering look on their faces. Occasionally, a cell phone would ring and a man would answer it hopefully, then: "Yes, the kids are fine, but ... yes, we ate, but ... no, I don't need any underwear, but ... (and here his shoulders would droop) yes, dear, we'll be here."

Then we went over to the Apple store, where I'd heard there'd be an "expert" to answer high-tech questions. I wanted to ask the ones that are on everyone's mind: "Can I learn to make liquor on the Internet?" and "Do you know if Bill Gates is looking for a mistress?" But, when I got there, the expert was gone--it was rumored that he was hiding out with the men in the food court.

We entered so many contests that I don't plan to leave my phone for at least the next few weeks, because I have a feeling my ship is coming in--along with a new car, cosmetics, clothes, a computer, CDs, furniture and assorted spa services.

Speaking of which, I had heard that there were free makeovers at Nordstrom's, but the line was so long, and the poor "beauty representatives" looked so horrified and desperate, that I took pity and left before one of them could attack a customer with the exfoliating scrub.

But, I'll be back!

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