The Arizona strip mall is a phenomenon unlike any I have ever seen. It is also the most dangerous place in the world.
Let us begin with the strip mall itself. If you have a business in the West Valley, you exist in a strip mall. The only free standing structures in this state are houses, so the only way to be sure you’re not in a strip mall is to find a bed. Unless you’re in a mattress store, in which case you’re definitely in a strip mall.
This is all well and good I suppose, except that there is no way of knowing what stores are in a strip mall unless you drive into one. Driving into a strip mall, however, does not come without risks. That is because the dyslexic child engineers who designed strip mall parking lots here did so in the most confusing way imaginable.
Here is my experience driving in any strip mall here: I am driving safely. Here comes an intersection. It looks like I don’t have a stop sign here but let me just be cautious because … yep, they blew their stop sign. I guess pick-up trucks with eight wheels have the right-of-way regardless. Okay, I will continue to drive straight, and here is another intersection. This parking lot has a lot of intersections for a parking lot. Anyway, I must not have a stop sign at this one because I didn’t have one at the last one and I am going straight, so to have one here would make no sense—nope, this time I have a stop sign. I will wait. Looks like this elderly woman thinks she has a stop sign even though she doesn’t. I will wait here until she realizes it. BEEP! MOVE WOMAN! Okay, I should be fine if I continue to drive straight to my destination … wait, the road is turning? STRAIGHT DOESN’T EXIST. Is this one-way? There is a car coming at me head on. I better park before I get killed. Uh oh, SPEED BUMP.
This frequently experienced scenario, however, does not even account for my least favorite part of strip mall driving. That would be driving along the strip itself, the road by the store entrances.
Obviously, this is a high foot-traffic area, and I have always exhibited the proper caution while driving. This is also, however, a road, made of asphalt, so it becomes increasingly frustrating to account for pedestrians bursting out of stores and into the street without so much as a passing glance.
It’s like a video game, really. Trying to drive the strip mall strip while avoiding pedestrians who walk right into the street. Some don’t even pick up their head up until my bumper is an inch away from their thigh, and then they have to nerve to look at me like, “Can I walk here?” And I’m like, “I’M THE CAR. PICK YOUR HEAD UP.” Then I wait there as they walk as slow as humanly possible back to their monster pick-up truck, at which point several other people have left the store and are crossing, and I can never leave.
Oh, and this must be done while avoiding the obnoxious guy illegally parked on the strip with his hazards on because his wife is “just getting one thing.” All of this makes for a fantastic experience, where the only “right” of way is your own.
Note: This column appears in the 10/18 issue of The Glendale Star and the 10/19 issue of the Peoria Times.