Friday, October 07, 2005

In the (Town) Center of It All

Kevmobile 1.2 was sprung from the Car Hospital this morning, although it took a convoluted series of events to get the job done:
1) Walk about nine-tenths of a mile to the garage to pick it up
2) Drive back home, park that car, take rental car to first school of the day
3) Return rental car; catch ride home with their courier.
(It's times like this when I wish I had relatives in town, or at least friends who weren't either teaching or attending school.)

Remarkably, all this took less time than I had allotted for it, so I was left with an hour to kill at a shade past ten this morning. That meant there was only one thing to do: Go to Firewheel in the first hour of its opening. (Indeed, after all the posts I've done in eager anticipation of this place, I think it was inevitable that, somehow, some way, I would get to go there almost as soon as humanly possible after the ribbons had been cut.)

Again, let me reiterate: I'm not a "mall guy." I'll probably never go in half the stores there. But this development (an open-air "lifestyle center" patterned after a small town) is different, because it's going to transform Garland; I could see it happening before my very eyes today. Even the picture in today's paper didn't totally do it justice, because the one thing missing was people. But in real life, there were lots of them, strolling down both sides of the "Main Street" setup, where parking is also allowed, and the streets bustled with car traffic as well. It's definitely not your daddy's mall in that respect. Sure, when the change of plans (to not build a traditional enclosed mall anymore) were announced about three years ago, there was the typical grousing: "It's too hot in Texas" and so on. But, IMHO, the convenience of being able to drive right up to your favorite store outweighs a little exposure to the elements from time to time, and evidently, retailers agree, since this place has attracted quite a few non-mall-type stores like Circuit City and Linens 'n' Things. Walking through the central park, with its fountain and a little stream running through it, I just kept thinking to myself, "I can't believe this is actually in Garland...and less than five minutes from my house." Granted, there were a lot of special things going on--live music, giveaways, etc.--but I don't expect the novelty to wear off anytime soon. (I also thought for a moment that I saw Santa Claus there, but that seemed early...and it turned out that it was just a big guy in a long white beard who made the amusing decision to wear a red jacket. Heh.)

Garland has been under-retailed for most of its existence, but no more, and I for one am happy to keep more of my dollars at home. The mayor had long lamented the inability to buy a men's suit in town, but I'm sure he's taken care of that by now (his wife has cards from both major anchors, he noted in the paper today). Me, I wanted to procure a Starbucks product within five minutes of home, and I did indeed get that, though only as a free sample from a stand out in front of the eventual site of Starbucks. (Indeed, that was my only real gripe about today--none of the restaurants are open yet. I bet any of them that had opened would have made a killing on opening day, but it sounds like most of them will debut in December along with the movie theatre. I'm sure I'll be in the area more often when the neighboring Firewheel Market also opens up, since that'll be home to Chipotle, Potbelly and, yes, another Starbucks, which, along with the cafe in Barnes and Noble, makes two-and-a-half of them; my neighborhood is on the verge of being very nicely caffeinated, thank you.)

So my general thoughts? Very, very cool. This new "fake downtown" had more excitement in its first day that the "real" downtown Garland has had on any day in the whole time I've been here (except maybe the Fourth of July). The next phase will feature apartments, so this city-within-a-city still has a whole lot of growth in its future.

OK...I know that my near-obsession with this place has been amusing to many of my friends, but this might be the last time I write about Firewheel until the theatre opens or my band gets a gig there. (Anyone wanna take bets on this being the last Firewheel post until then?)

Be true to your school(s): I went to my one high school football game of the year tonight, as my two biggest schools played each other. I was reminded that marching band is much better viewed from the outside, but the audiences were quite appreciative, and most of them even stuck around for the halftime show instead of rushing to the concession stands. The stadium was packed: I arrived late, hoping to avoid the crowds, and I still encountered a lot of people trying to park, having to do so in a field myself. There's something invigorating about the great Texas tradition of Friday nights under the lights, and it was cool that I could call each school my own (you always win that way).

I also noticed one interesting thing: Marching band has changed a lot since I was in high school, but drill team has hardly changed at all. I guess there's not much else you can do besides high-kick and do a routine with props, but still, that was interesting.

On the road again: I'll be in Austin tomorrow during the day, visting my sister, brother-in-law and nephews, and in Waco tomorrow night and Sunday for the big Sinfonia Founders Day Concert, so blogging will resume Sunday night (if I get home early enough) or Monday.

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