A Night at the Mall HELL of America

We were supposed to have a frost on Sunday, but I don’t think we did. I wouldn’t know, you see, because I was SLEEPING AT THE MALL OF AMERICA on Saturday night.

Not for fun.

You see, a son of a friend won a ‘contest’ where he got to take 3 friends and stay all night at the MOA, the evening culminating in a preview of A Night At The Museum II on Sunday morning.

I’d never SEEN my friend’s son so excited, and I was excited for him!

I was even proud of my kids who – when they realized that the group of 4 would pretty much be made up of my friend’s family – were still so “atta boy! You did GREAT!” and showed no signs of, “Gee, I wish I were going…” to mar their friend’s excitement.

That was last weekend.

This weekend it seemed that my friend’s son’s dad did NOT want to participate in the event. My friend’s daughter had made other plans, and my friend’s pregnancy (she’s due shortly) just made the thought of her staying over at the MOA insane.

So she asked if my kids would like to go, which they did (did they ever!) and somehow I ended up in a car with 3 kids driving to the mall on Saturday evening with sleeping bags and pillows piled in the back.

(note: I did not in any way feel pressured, I volunteered. After seeing her son’s face when he won and my kids when they found out they could go, too, how could I not?)

This was the first time they’d done something like this at the Mall, I was told, and all the parents were looking warily at each other at the check in. We glanced sideling at the benches as we were told we’d be sleeping on the hard, hard marble of the Rotunda. It just seemed mean to make us walk past the Sleep Number kiosk on our way in.

We were also told that once we checked in, if anyone left the Mall they would not be allowed back in for the main event, the MOVIE, at 9:00 am on Sunday.

There was mini golf and video games for the kids and then a showing of the original Night At The Museum on the jumbo tron in the Rotunda at midnight.

I was a little hungry by then – we all were. Chips and bottled water were supplied, but all the coffee shops had closed by then, and I didn’t feel like hiking to Hooters and shelling out $5 for a cup of coffee. Man, I could have used a cup of coffee!

I sat up and knitted as long as I could, then I just had to sleep. So I tried the floor and lasted about 10 minutes – my back (pinched nerve a few weeks ago, remember?) just would NOT allow me to stay down. I noticed a large ottoman-type thing, a big 6′ x 6′ square, uphostered bench.

It was empty, and just 10 feet from the rope that marked off our sleeping area. I crept over with my pillow and blanket and [bliss] fell into a pretty quick sleep. Aaaaaahhhh! This was obviously what Joseph Campbell was talking about. I was happy.

Until the Mall Cop woke me up and told me I had to go back, “Behind the ropes, Ma’am.”

– “Why?”
– “Because they don’t like you laying on the furniture.”
– “Who’s They?”
– “The Mall.”

Arguing wasn’t going to get me anywhere, so I asked if I could just sit up on the bench. After some thought [!] he told me, “Yes, as long you don’t lay down.”

I wasn’t told how many degrees my body would be allowed to lean before I was officially “laying”, but I figured it was better than the floor.

I tried to stay upright, really I did. But I found myself down on my side, asleep, with the Mall Cop nudging me again.

– “Ma’am, you really can’t sleep here.”
– “What?” [I was still asleep]
– “You’ll have to move behind the ropes and sleep on the floor.”
– “My back hurts. I had a pinched nerve.”
– “I sympathize, ma’am, but you’ll have to move.”

Sympathize my left eyeball. This 19 year old rent-a-cop had never had so much as a muscle spasm.

So I moved.

I felt so manipulated by the Mall of America, so angry. And yet I was so tired that I could do nothing but nod, pick up my pillow and blanket and head over to yet another bench and try to stay upright. I sat up and tried to stay awake so I wouldn’t fall asleep and lean over too far.

I have never felt quite so much like a bag lady in my life. Sleep deprivation is a painful thing.

And I began to fume. What friggin’ difference did it make whether I laid on the floor or on a sofa 10 feet away? The MALL were the folks who told me I couldn’t leave without breaking my kid’s hearts (they REALLY wanted to see this movie) and now The MALL was telling me I had to either stay awake all night or sleep on a floor?

BTW, there was no mention of this floor-sleeping in the “You’ve won!” mailer we were sent. We sort of figured there’d be cots or air mattresses of some kind. Stupid us.

After about an hour (now it was 1 am) I gave up and tried the floor again. When the pain became so bad that I knew I’d be moaning soon – and not in a good way – I sat up and noticed that someone was sleeping on MY 6′ x 6′ bench. Damn!

I walked around a bit, went to the bathroom (paper towel free, yippee, so I can’t even get a good face-wipe in…) and ran into one of the organizers of the event back by the Rotunda. I asked why I couldn’t sleep on a bench, and he comiserated – and pointed out a second upholstered bench which was open. He said, “If the Mall Cop gets you up, tell them Chet said it was okay.” Magical Chet. I’m going to try that every time I get in trouble – “Chet said it was okay!”

So back over to the bench, all tucked in with blankie and pillow, when the Muzak started.

Actually, it was probably going all night, but between the Thumpa-thumpa strong bass music from Hooters and Cantina 1 (which closed at 2am, I think… ) and the mini-zamboni floor cleaners that zoomed around and around the pile of sleeping parents and kids all night (backing up, honking their tiny little horns – it was obvious the drivers thought it was hysterical to watch the sleeping parents jump up in awakened confusion), I hadn’t noticed the delightful loop of EZ listening heavy-on-the-sax 1980’s smooth jazz sountrack.

Now, I like Spyro Gyra as much as the next person (if the next person is having the early bird dinner at Denny’s) but it gets REALLY insidious after the 10th song in a row when you’re trying to sleep under American Girl Doll Store and Bubba Gump Shrimp banners. Long may they wave.

I think I finally drifted off to sleep at around 4:00am. At a little after 5:00am our hosts woke us up with calestentics (yes, I’m serious) and boxes of very sugary cereal. The least offensive food offering was a banana-nut-crunch flake thing that had more sugar than I eat all day – and I like my sugar!

My kids usually don’t have this kind of thing for breakfast – they have cheerios, or a waffle – but why not give them a sugar high at 5 am, right?

Then we had to do yoga. Then we had to do games (One involved wrapping people up like mummies using toilet paper. Can we consume any more resources for no earthly reason, please?) and then we were unleashed to do a “Scavanger Hunt” through the mall. It was really a quiz about stores in the Mall, and the kids were SO disappointed because they were expecting a Scavanger Hunt. Silly them!

While my three charges went off to try to answer the questions, walking v e r y s l o w l y because the sugar high was fading fast, I carried the blankets, sleeping bags and pillows back to the car, which had been parked – as directed – in the West parking ramp. I told them I’d be back in 15 minutes and we’d regroup then.

But when I arrived at the car there was a note on the windshield telling me I was parked illegally, and “my vehicle was scheduled to be towed.”

Apparently we were supposed to park in section W4, which wasn’t on any of the paperwork we were given. No one else knew this, either, because there were a lot of cars around mine with the same note.

When I mentioned this later to one of the organizers her eyes widened and she said, “They would NEVER have towed you! If you looked at the bottom of the form it said in tiny type you’d be towed if the car was left another night!” Yeah, like I was in any shape to read fine print after a no-sleep night? Or I’d trust ANYTHING on a Mall of America Security form at that point?

The fact that my license plate had been noted on the form kind of scared me into moving my car up to W4, and 40 minutes later when I was back at the Rotunda I couldn’t find the kids anywhere.

The organizers had also left the Rotunda, which was being cleaned by a new flock of zambonis, so there was no one to check in with. I later learned after waiting for me for 20 minutes the kids decided to wander around looking for me (they were mildly freaking out, too.)

What a mess.

At around 8:00 I found them, and it was clear by then that we were all starving for some decent food. Unfortunately, there was NOTHING to eat but incredibly expensive popcorn and candy at the concession stand, no coffee shops / food court places were open.

So I made an executive decision to go find food. [The suspect is LEAVING THE MALL, repeat, the suspect is LEAVING THE MALL!]

I left the kids at the movie theater, tucked away with a bunch of other kids and parents, and hurried 1/2 mile down the road to McD’s where I got yogurt/fruit parfaits, biscuits, milk and an iced coffee for me. Life was good.

Of course, they searched my bag at the movie theater, but surprisingly they let me keep the food (everyone was carrying in bags of chips and boxes of sugar cereal, there was NO stopping any of us!)

Security was looking for cameras and recording devices. Dumping my bag of knitting out for 2 not-very-nice Mall Cops was the last think I wanted to do, believe me, but at that point I felt as though I was at the Swiss border and would do anything to get into that theater.

The movie was wonderful – we all enjoyed it. Heck, at that point we would have enjoyed a test pattern if it meant sitting in a reasonably comfortable seat with no Muzak.

We were the envy of those around us (we had REAL food) and I felt guilty for not doing another food run for the other folks in our row. After the movie I bought fruit for the kids. And they ate it like it was candy.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Don’t believe anything the Mall of America tells you.
  2. Yes, we COULD have left. And should have. We could have checked in, watched the first movie, then gone home and slept in our own beds and returned at 9:00 am for the REAL movie.
  3. Forcing folks to sleep on the floor is just mean. And should be illegal.
  4. A teensy bit of authority can be a dangerous thing.
  5. If you’re inviting folks to a preview as a contest prize, wouldn’t it be a nice gesture to give them some popcorn instead of making them buy it – I’m just sayin’
  6. I now hate Spyro Gyra.
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