Mallwalkers Unite!

Just last week I had my own town hall-style run-in on the healthcare debate. Except it was much more civil. And it didn’t happen in a town hall; it was at the mall.

I was at Lenscrafters in Ridgmar Mall, waiting to get my glasses fixed. It’s funny how much Ridgmar has changed. I can remember playing hide-and-seek with my teenage friends there in the 80s. Now, in the A.M., the mall is an air-conditioned walking track for the elderly. They’re not really there to shop except for a stop at the 2nd floor food court after a to and fro workout, strolling the mall circuit sanguinely, like it was the most productive chore of the day. And it probably was.

To the rest of us, it was a septuagenarian regatta. The walkers were slow-moving and purposeful, chatting up fellow participants as they ground it out around the kiddie area and took it up the escalator when they had finished the 1st floor or down the escalator if they had started on the second. It occurred to me that Ridgmar Mall should be subsidized by the AARP. I wondered if the walkers actually drove to the mall to walk? At least they were getting exercise and the climate-controlled mall biosphere spared their weakened skin and thinning hair from the insane Texas sun in August.

It was a strange spectacle, but at least they weren’t in nursing homes. These septuagenarians were the lucky ones, the ones still cutting it. They didn’t have anything to worry about except—according to Republicans—the Democrats. And that’s what my Lenscrafters discussion revolved around.

A sprightly, 65-year-old woman was getting her glasses worked on next to me. She told the Lenscrafter technician that she planned to have some kind of optical surgery done in September, but was going to wait until March when her Medicare kicked in.

“But that’s government-run healthcare,” I said jokingly. “Sure you wanna subject yourself to that?”

She smiled. “It’s good government-run healthcare,” she said. “I don’t know about this new stuff. I’ve heard they’re going to let people like me die. They’re already doing it in Oregon.”

“C’mon,” I replied. “They’re not refusing to treat people or forcing them to die. They just allow assisted suicide for terminal cases.”

“Well, that doesn’t square with my Southern Baptist upbringing,” she said.

“Pope John Paul could have gone on living if they’d have kept him plugged in to this machine or that,” I said. “But he chose to go. He’d had enough. Does that square with your Southern Baptist upbringing?”

“Well… that’s different.”

“Not really. It’s humane.”

The technician handed her the repaired glasses and she checked them.

“Sending people to their deaths has never been a big liberal or Democratic ideal,” I added. “It’s just Republican propaganda.”

We talked for a few more minutes and the discussion remained civil. She reiterated her concerns about euthanasia. I told her we had to reform the system before it drove the nation to bankruptcy. We agreed on that point, but it was clear her concept of the new Democratic healthcare proposals had been effectively broad-sided by a Fox News swift boat. Any chance of her critically considering or understanding the new ideas was taking on water if not already sunk. The Republicans had beat the Dems to the punch and the patient would probably never recover from the first blow. It was sad.

My glasses were done, and I told her I had to leave. She said it was nice chatting and that she would pray for me. It was a nice gesture. Especially since the Republican Party was portraying people like me as her executioner.

As I rejoined the spectators of the Ridgmar morning regatta, I almost got run over. Today’s stage was winding down, but there were still stragglers on the track. With a couple of knee replacements, I would probably be joining them in thirty years. I just hoped I’d still retain enough of my mental faculties to know who my opponents were. And who was breaking the rules at my expense.

E.R. Bills is a writer from Aledo, Texas and the author of Texas Obscurities: Stories of the Peculiar, Exceptional and Nefarious (History Press, 2013). He can be reached at: erbillsthinks@gmail.com. Read other articles by E.R..