In 7th grade, I shared a few classes with Thom from California.
I’m not sure what part of California Thom was from – and it didn’t really matter – because he was the most exotic guy I’d ever met. His hair was always uncombed and streaked blond from experimenting with peroxide. His clothes hung off his slender frame because everything he wore was a couple of sizes too big for him. And he said words like, “Gnarley”, and “Bitchin”….words I wasn’t quite sure that I could say in front of my parents. But I thought the coolest thing about Tom was his shoes. He wore these black and white checkerboard slip-on Vans. “Spicolis” is what we called them, and still do, because Sean Penn’s alter ego, Jeff Spicoli – from Fast Times at Ridgemont High – wore them exclusively.
(Please excuse the blurry YouTube image)
I wanted to be like Thom.
I wanted to be like Spicoli.
I wanted to have that cavalier attitude……. an attitude enhanced by such obnoxious shoes.
I wasn’t the only one. Sales of checkerboard Vans skyrocketed along with the movie’s success. They even dominated the soundtrack album cover.
No actors, just shoes.
I wanted those shoes.
They were the only thing that I wanted in a Back-to-School wardrobe even though this was Texas, where most everyone wore ropers as casual footwear. When my mother took my brothers and me shopping for school clothes, we started at the closest mall to our house, Prestonwood Mall; which was still about 45 minutes away. I dragged her to every single shoe store in the place searching for those Vans. This was all light years before you could simply do a Google search, press the PayPal button, and have your shoes drone-delivered to your doorstep in a few hours. (In fact, now you can buy them here) We had to do actual legwork in those days. A teenage clerk at some random shoe store suggested that we try the Galleria. I had never been there before, and it was huge. Still, after combing the Galleria for 3 hours, we’d found nothing……What about Valley View Mall? It wasn’t “that” far away.
I knew this quest was wearing my mother out quickly, 2 malls in one day was already 1 mall above her patience level, but still, she loaded up the car and I made my first visit to Valley View.
It was there, that we found a store called “At Ease”. I could hear the synth/rock music from the food court. There was a huge beachy, sunset-mural painted on the wall behind the cash register. It was the type of painting that’s usually on the side of a used van that any adult would rationally look at and think to himself, “I guess I could have that painted over.” Other than skateboards and surfboards (In Dallas, Texas? Really?) the store was packed with 80’s California brands; Ocean Pacific, Vision Street Wear, Body Glove, Pacific Coast Highway, and, of course, Vans. I plopped down on a sofa shaped like a huge set of red lips and slipped a fresh pair of black and white checkerboard Spicolis on my feet.
My Mother paid for them, I think they were about $30, (same price as a Swatch, in case you were wondering) and I wore them out of the store. I wore them everywhere……I still do.
That’s me and my brothers with my great-grandparents in about 1982.
35 years later, and I still dress pretty much the same; Kelly green Polo and all. (OK, I have retired the Bugle Boys)
Once I had found “At Ease”, it quickly became one of my favorite stores. Second only to the Boy’s Polo department at Bloomingdale’s.
My Mother would always wait outside the store while I shopped because she said it “overwhelmed” her. I had no idea what she was talking about…it was the coolest store I’d ever been in. Until, a few years ago when my then 14 year-old God daughter took me shopping with her at Hot Topic*.
(*The place was absolutely dreadful. Painfully so. The shitty music was way too loud, the facial-pierced sales staff had an undeserved attitude, and every single item the store sold was a piece of crap. Tights with Bettie Paige on them. Were they serious? I was standing outside in the mall waiting for Alix made her selections when suddenly it hit me,)
“This was what my Mother was taking about.”
We had to swing by Valley View Mall this past weekend to drop off a couple of boxes of shoes we were donated to a charity located there.
I read recently that the owners of Valley View Mall have finally thrown in the towel and the property will be demolished by January first.
I don’t go that far north much anymore, and I certainly don’t go to malls on the weekends willingly.
She was a sad, sad sight. The big retailers have long vacated, and the smaller retailers quickly followed them….leaving the spaces between the walled-over storefronts speckled with a few Christian book stores, and outlets, and Asian importers. Not at all the way I remember it. No Gap, No El Fenix, No Dillard’s, No Hastings’ Records.
The beautiful mosaic facade of the long-passed Sanger Harris is still there.
Malls in the 80’s were center of the teen social scene. Valley View Mall is where I spent every paycheck I got in high school at stores like At Ease, Miller’s Outpost, Judy’s, and GHQ. If you’ve never heard of these places, it’s probably because they’ve been replaced with stores like Hollister, and H&M, and Forever 21. Fast, cheap fashion. There was a day that I skipped school and went shopping with my Mother at Bloomingdale’s, we always called it “Bloomie’s”. There were live punk rock models on the cosmetic department core tops and we ate lunch in the dining car cafe in the kid’s department.
Valley View is where I did all of my Christmas shopping. Not sure if my family really enjoyed presents from Spencer’s Gifts, but they got them anyway. Who doesn’t like glow in the dark Jimmi Hendrix posters and sandalwood incense?
There was a movie theater on the Luby’s Cafeteria side where I saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show at least half a dozen times. There was an arcade too. No mall in the 80’s was complete without one.
Once, a withered old salesman at Bloomie’s told my fried Lenny and me that, and I quote,
“A lot of young men buy Polo. But they just don’t look ‘Polo’…like you two do.”
I know that he was just trying to make a sale, and he did – Lenny still has the sweater, but I have never been so flattered in my life. I wanted to put that quote on my headstone.
I was there on September 1, 1985. The very first Sunday that the malls could legally be open in Texas. Before that date, “non-essential” Sunday shopping was banned in the state of Texas. Don’t ask me to explain why….it just was. Something to do with Jesus.
It will be sad to see that old girl go.
But there’s no need to shop at Valley View Mall anymore.
After all, At Ease closed decades ago,
…..and I still have my Spicolis.
…and plenty of memories.