Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Hangin’ Out at the Mall

Driving west on I-4 for a little over an hour takes me to a giant shopping mall called Mall of the Millennia. Like most malls, this one too has what seems like a hundred stores on two levels, including three department stores (Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s and Neiman-Marcus), an Apple Store, Montblanc, the best of all hamburger restaurants, valet parking, and a million people. Visitors from Japan love this kind of thing, so we made a day of it this Monday.

Kumiko and Ikuko arrived at the mall with stars in their eyes, comfortable walking shoes on their feet and a stack of credit cards in hand. One minute inside the main entrance and there was a gasp on either side of me as the Ann Taylor store came into view. I didn’t need words to understand that it was time for me to leave them to it, while I went off to Apple and Montblanc. We agreed to meet later for lunch at Johnny Rockets.

The Apple Store at Millennia is design-wise nothing special, little more than a big rectangle with hardware on tables, and software, along with accessories on racks along the back half of the store; Genius Bar at the far end. It’s nowhere near as cool as the Manhattan glass cube store, or either of the two Tokyo stores, one of which features a glass spiral staircase leading to the upper floors, and the Ginza store which occupies its own multi-storied building. On visits to an Apple Store anywhere chances are you will find it crowded, but now with release of the iPad and the iPhone 4, you almost have to wait in line to get inside. To meet the surge of curious browser-buyers, Apple has increased the number of store personnel greatly. There were at least thirty blue-shirted employees in the Millennia store today, but unlike earlier days, not all of them are Mac professionals. They are all friendly and quick to help, but I talked at length with four of them today, and two impressed me as still learning the Mac architecture. No complaint intended. Mac professional or not, they are still good sales people and managed to separate me from almost $200.

Entering the Montblanc store, I crossed over the gates of heaven. It is the ONLY place within a hundred miles or more where I can handle and sample fountain pens and ink, and you can be certain I did that today. First on my mind was ink, and I had a deep down hope that the Millennia store would somehow have an unsold bottle of either Racing Green or Turquoise. But I got a quick no on that request. Still, there were unfamiliar colors for me to sample. Surprising to see that the bottles, boxes and color names are different from what you find in Japan. For example, what in Japan is called Deep Violet is called Lavender Violet here. The bottle in Japan holds 50ml, while the bottles I sampled today hold 60ml. The familiar rounded end opposite the cap is not rounded but square. It looks more old-fashioned, and that I like.

After playing around with half a dozen fountain pens and several colors of ink, I settled on an elegant, aristocratic-looking gray ink named Oyster Grey, and a twin to Montblanc’s Sepia, here called Toffee Brown. For reasons I haven’t figured out, the company is using different ink names here and in Japan. Samples of the Oyster Grey and Toffee Brown will be upcoming in a later post.

Johnny Rockets retro 50s hamburger restaurants are located in sixteen or seventeen countries, and thirty-one states in the US. For a long time it has been my favorite place for hamburgers, and since it is not in Japan, I wanted to introduce rocket burgers to my guests. The whole experience is a throwback to the kind of hamburger shops that were popular in the 1950s, and the burgers, though now offered in combinations wider than the lettuce, tomato & pickle hamburgers of long ago, have that great flavor I remember from high school, nights at Hoppers and curb service. Strange as it seems, we had a waiter today who grew up in Japan, so amidst all that 1950s Americana we ordered our lunch in Japanese.

After lunch we separated again and when next we came together I could hardly find the two ladies behind all the shopping bags. And so, with the trunk filled, we joined the late afternoon traffic on I-4 heading east.

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America