In March of this year I visited the Westfield Mall, which I had known for decades as the Fox Hills Mall. It’s located adjacent to the old Hughes Airport site, between Ladera Heights (the “Black Beverly Hills”), Westchester, and a nameless Los Angeles zip code, only about a mile from the ocean. It’s a nice area, and a nice mall.
It had been about twenty years since I had last visited this mall. It was still the Fox Hills Mall at the time. The only reason that I visited on this occasion was that it was in between where I was at about thirty minutes past noon and the Hertz office where I needed to return my rented car at about 6:30 pm. The weather was threatening rain, and I needed an indoor mall where I could open-endedly kill time, a place where there would always be a handy bathroom and plenty of food and coffee availabilities.
It was always an interesting mall, and it still is. My home of thirty years was close by; this was by far the closest mall to our house. The clientele from the beginning was predominantly black, due to Ladera Heights being the closest residential area. That would be prosperous black. Ladera Heights is what we called in old New York a “mirror neighborhood.” That means that when you drive through it you see only a typical up-scale neighborhood, with very nice homes and landscaping, with Volvos and BMWs in the driveways. Only later do you discover that the residents are black. Black attorneys, doctors, executives, CPAs, etc. For this reason, my wife and I casually referred to the mall as “the Black Hills Mall.” By now this appellation is too crude for mixed company, but we were a young couple from working class Queens and we certainly didn’t mean any harm or disparagement. In fact, the blackness of the mall was an attraction for us.
We saw the diversity as a positive for two reasons. First, we had two young sons in tow at the time and we both believed that it was important to give them some understanding of, and familiarity with, our black fellow-Americans outside of the sports or entertainment settings. Sure, there were some blacks living close to our house, but not close enough to do us any good, and there were black kids at their schools, in low concentrations, and I had black friends, but that’s different. Those are family friends! We thought it was good for our boys to see the many family groups and friend groups of all black Americans at our mall.
Secondly, it was fascinating. Here’s the thing, white people, even racially progressive white people, don’t get many chances to closely observe black Americans in black settings. That’s unless they are big fans of jazz clubs or something. That mall was, and still is, a black setting. It’s home turf. America is still a place where black Americans must constantly be on guard for the inherent dangers of being black. In a black setting, our black friends can relax a bit, they can just be themselves, you know, drop the mask.
The Fox Hills Mall, now the Westfield Mall, still fulfills this purpose. Long ago it was more like 70% black, 15% white, and 15% Hispanic, with some Asians thrown in, mostly Japanese- or Filipino-Americans. It’s still more than 50% black, and the white number is still down around 15%. Now there are more Asians and Hispanics, and a good sprinkling of Middle-Easterners. It’s still diversity central, and totally fascinating.
I was there for more than four hours. Upon arrival I set up shop at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in the center of the mall. (Iced Matcha Latte, $4.55 plus tax, $5.20.) I was there a long time, reading mostly in my new book to avoid draining the battery on my Kindle before I even got to the airport. Reading, and observing. Later I moved to the food area and got a piece of pizza from Sbarro, which was surprisingly good.
One thing that I miss in Thailand is black Americans. There are lots of black faces in my Bangkok neighborhood, but they are almost all Africans. I've gotten along very well with a few of them, but we have little in common. Most of them are students at one of the local international universities. I rarely see an American black, and then, even if I’m sure about the identification, you can’t just start walking up to people and saying, “are you American? Man, you guys are super-rare over here!” I have one black friend in Bangkok, whom I have known for long enough that he has come to trust me, but he’s a part-timer in Thailand. He’s the most successfully retired person that I know, and after a career with the Los Angeles Unified School System he divides his time between a residential hotel in Thailand, his house in Hawaii, his townhouse in Arizona (to attend ASU football games, he’s an alumnus), and Los Angeles, where some of his doctors practice and he still owns property.
Let me wrap this up on that note of borderline-self-congratulation. It was nice to see that mall again and roll those good memories over in my mind. And Eddie, good luck with that volcano, buddy. But they don’t call it the “Big Island” for nothing, so I’m thinking that you’re probably okay. (And check your e-mail! Damnit, your friends are worried about you!)