I visited one of the most fabulous friends today for an afternoon of playing with our children, six between the two of us. It was a visit complete with dangling costume jewelry and Darth Vader capes. An excellent afternoon of adventure if you ask me.
My friend lives about 30 minutes from our house so it was a little road trip with tollway driving in Chicago to get there. Those of you who live in big cities can relate. You sail along at a safe but respectable above the speed limit pace. Fast enough to feel like you are making good time but slow enough to not be nabbed by your nearest highway patrol person. As you cruise along you wince every time you see red brake lights ahead. You wonder, “is this a merely a slow poke changing lanes or am I about to hit traffic that will rob me of the next two years of my life?”
Thirty minutes and sans traffic jams we pulled off at my friend’s exit. Just a few blocks from her house we passed a new strip mall called Brookside Marketplace. A spacious parking lot filled with a few box stores, drive-thrus and chain restaurants. Nothing notable. What attracted my eye was the sign. “Brookside Marketplace.” This sign came complete with a metal sculpture of three children on their tip-toes, arms out to the sides, balancing on a log. It was designed to look as though three children were gingerly crossing a brook to find adventure on the other side.
It was a gorgeous piece of art actually.
Sitting at a stoplight I stared at it wondering where the inspiration came from. As the light changed and my engine moved us forward I saw a small brook that hugged the backside of the mall. A deep groove in the ground with ridges of ice and snow mixed with brown grass ran parallel to the backside of a big box store. I mumbled to myself, “this must be the brook.”
With my kids in the car I wondered if they would ever dabble in creeks and brooks the way the children in that sculpture did. You see, we live in the suburbs of the third largest city in the nation. With over 8 million people in the Chicago metropolitan area, we can find a strip mall in a blink. A brook with a log to teeter across? Not so much.
The irony slapped me in the face. To sell me on the fact that I should shop at this mall the designers used a whimsical little statue to lure me in. Never mind the fact that the brook itself was shoved to the back, out of sight, and fenced in to keep out any intruders (like playful children).
And it is easy to act all superior here, like I am above the Brookside Marketplace, until I realize that even in my ever-greening life, I still shop at a few of those stores. They sell cheap toothpaste and diapers and I can get a birthday gift for someone in less than ten minutes. My own desires for convenience, combined with millions of others, make the marketplace more desirable than the brook.
So I was reminded again today of how very important it is to shop locally whenever and however possible. If I shop local, I can walk to the store, I can support a local business owner, and the building that houses that store (at least in my town) is usually 100 or so years old. No strip mall, granted, no brook either, and no one making me feel like I can hop a stream on my way to a fast food joint.
So I ask myself again, as I do all the time, can I really see the valley from the Valley View Center? Can I really hop a creek at the Creek Side Plaza? Is there even a mountain in sight at the Mountain Vista Mart? Probably not. Shop local when you can and if possible, don’t shop at all. Instead, take a day to hop a few creeks, take in the views, and spend the day outside in the real places.