How the Great Wall Mall Saved Me

Great Wall Mall
Black and white classes up the Great Wall Mall. Photo by Camknows.
My third week at my first job out of college was one of those rare Puget Sound days where it was actually hot. Our office was packed with everyone on the second floor, where the air didn’t move. There wasn’t air conditioning or, as I discovered in the winter, heat. And I had cramps. Not little ones, big ones.

I was ready to spork my lady parts.

The web team consisted of lots of men. Men who carried wallets, not purses, and didn’t care or wanted to pretend to live in a world without periods. I didn’t know anyone in the other departments, which had women in them. I only new the web team and developers. Surrounded on all sides by a sausage fest.

I turned to my skill set, and I googled for the nearest Safeway. Even though I didn’t know the area, it was close enough. Only really two turns. I didn’t know where the printer was. I still don’t know if I would’ve had access to it anyway.

So I made a mental note — I’m not sure I even had notepaper — and took off in my ’83 Volvo that liked to stall out at stop lights.

This was the first time I’d left the office since I started. I didn’t know Kent. I knew how to get the freeway and drive to my apartment in Tacoma. I hadn’t left the office because I didn’t have a dime to my name. I was worried that I’d have to ask my roommate for gas money as I’d hit that magical place in the pay cycle: where it takes extra long to get your first paycheck.

I turned down the road the map had told me. But it just kept going — train tracks and movie theaters and big industrial buildings that housed more companies. Kent is a flood plain and used to be farmland. It’s the place that whomever built on it said, “Fuck it, someday a lahar will cleanse the earth of our shitty buildings and poor people. Then we can grow crops and raise cows again.”

I definitely missed Safeway. And I still had cramps.

So I turned around and drove on. I drove passed the road back to my office, which had changed numbers or names. I had no gps, no smart phone. But I did have one boss’ business card.

Figures he’d have a business card. The boss that I found myself months later sitting in “suicide corner” with. The place that when I moved my desk, veteran coworkers told me that they were sorry and would miss me. Everyone who went to suicide corner was fired. That boss was fired for looking at porn on his computer. He considered me either too prude or too young to share it with; gee, I was lucky. I hold the record as the lone survivor of “suicide corner.”

Which does mean that I eventually made it back to the office. But not with his help. When I called, my call conveyed that he knew the area as well as I did and that I was lost. He didn’t offer to put someone else on the phone — like my other boss who knew the area and was a decent human being. Instead, it was just going to be time off my timecard.

And gas. Which the Volvo required me to fill up every four days on my commute. I did not have time for this bullshit. I was sweating: which happens when I’m frustrated and driving without the additional heat from the car and the summer.

Then I saw it. Like a great beacon of hope. Here in the wasteland of south King County was the Great Wall of China. What the ever-loving fuck?

I pulled in the parking lot as there was clearly a grocery store inside. Bedraggled, sweating, and in pain, I marched through the parking lot, passed moms and their minivans, and into the Great Wall Mall. Thank god, it had a/c.

Passed the shops selling healing crystals, good luck cats, and bubble tea was the shop I was looking for. The store with the drugs. The store that would, on many other occasions, assist me as I learned to cook and needed “Asian” ingredients. But today, it was the holy mecca of drugs to kill cramping, and I had a credit card to charge it to.

As I sat in my car, tearing open my purchase like a mad woman and washing it down with water from my Nalgene bottle, I could’ve cried I was so thankful. Thankful that someone had decide to put a mall here, and then make it look like the Great Wall so hapless fools like me couldn’t miss it. Couldn’t stop from pulling over and going inside.

I didn’t know where I was. The verdict that my new job was fucked up was already delivered. I probably smelled. But my cramps were going away. I closed my car door and drove away. Resolved to find the freeway back to the office. Resolved that if someone was going to build a mall that looked like the Great Wall in the middle of Kent, I too could make it through the day and through this job onto something better.

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