An Enchanted Place

There was an event planned during winter break that my daughter, Valerie, was looking forward to almost as much as Christmas itself: a shopping trip to San Francisco Centre.

We spent a wonderful afternoon there last spring on a day that we had planned to go to the zoo but when the weather turned bad on the drive into the City, we ended up at San Francisco Centre instead. And once we set foot on the curved escalators that held the promise of Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s and 408 other shopping experiences, no one in the family ““ well at least none of the females in the family ““ could have cared less about koalas.

We had planned to spend that day watching animals and eating hot dogs and almost by happenstance, instead we ended up in a retail palace of marble and glass. So in the nine months following our first visit, San Francisco Centre began to take on magical qualities in the minds of my daughters. It became a little like the Brigadoon of malls ““ a place of enchantment rising up out of the fog across the Golden Gate Bridge. A mystical mall that only appears during winter and spring break, and when you leave, its stores fade into the mist only to reappear at the next school holiday.

So it was with this kind of anticipation that we set out on our return trip to San Francisco Centre last Sunday. Because Steve was going with us, it had the feel from the start of being a special vacation day and not just a shopping outing with mom.  And though the girls had Christmas money from an aunt and Grandma to spend, they made a pact with Dad that there wasn’t going to be any heavy duty clothes shopping ““ meaning that whatever they brought wasn’t going to require trying it on ““ so Steve wouldn’t need to pack a toothbrush ““ his sketchbook would be a sufficient pastime for him while they were deciding among the multitude of purchase options.

Prior to going, both Jennifer and Valerie gave a lot of thought to what they were going to wear. Their only regret during our first visit was that while tennis shoes and sweatshirts might be fine for the zoo, they felt very underdressed among the sophisticated shoppers and upscale stores in the Centre. So special attention was given to looking the part of cosmopolitan consumer ““ in other words, they left the house feeling “cute.”

When we arrived at our destination, first on the agenda was lunch in the basement food court. The array of options was overwhelming, from Korean barbeque to cream puffs. Once we got our bearings and found options that appealed to everyone’s taste (sushi for Steve and Valerie and pizza for Jennifer), I went in search of Peet’s for coffee. Although this is hardly a complex transaction, I was surprised how when I placed my order in these unfamiliar and somewhat bewildering surroundings, I felt unsure of what the procedure was, as if I was in a foreign country. Never mind looking hip and like I’m a regular; I’m a tourist visiting the big city for a day.

The store that Valerie and Jennifer had enjoyed most on our first visit and were looking forward to shopping in again is a Japanese stationery store called Mai Do. Steve knew he should find a comfy chair because he would be camping out there for quite some time while they examined sets of tiny erasers shaped like sushi and origami paper.

We spent the rest of the day looking at earrings for Valerie to spend her “Aunt Kathy money” on. I don’t know if it was all the perfume in the air or if I finally just relaxed enough to have some fun and let go of my practical side, but I bought a necklace too as a souvenir. It makes me happy every time I wear it.

Before we left San Francisco Centre, we agreed that we had soaked up as much fun as could possibly be had on one visit. And the great thing is that unlike Brigadoon, we don’t have to wait another 100 years for it to reappear. We could go there again next weekend.

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