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December 27, 2008

Voyeurism and consumerism in McAllen, Texas

December 27. Day 180.

In McAllen, Texas, a city of about 100,000 with no downtown and no uptown, where strip malls have swallowed fields of watermelons and the center looks a darn lot like the suburbs, La Plaza Mall is the alpha and omega of fun on a Saturday afternoon. Friends plan days ahead to meet up in the food court, and they dress up, way up, guys in their baggiest jeans or crispest polo shirts and girls peeping manicured toes through high heeled sandals -- just in case they run into boss, grandfather or secret crush in those air-conditioned hallways.

On the Saturday after Christmas, recession or not, it was hands down the center of the city. My father miraculously found parking 10 seconds after entering the lot (he's blessed that way), and we headed inside.

Just a few days ago, I was flirting with the idea of diamond earrings. But I've quickly sobered up. I did find my way to a jewelry case, though, and spotted a gorgeous smokey topaz ring.

"Now this is interesting," Tata concurred. "It's striking."

The ring was originally $450, reduced to $132. A great price. I had the Christmas cash on me. But now, NOW was the chance to apply all those lessons I'd learned in previous retail attempts: identify a flaw, complain, talk to the manager if denied, wait at the checkout stand rather than in the aisles, turn the discount into a trivial obstacle in making that sale. (See the comments on this post for advice from two enlightened readers.)

I asked for a specific discount -- 10% off -- which was denied. I asked for the manager, but she had left for the day. So I'll head back Monday and try again. It's not the money, at this point. The piece is beautiful and the price is right. But it's the chance to do everything in my power to obtain the elusive retail discount, and see what happens. It's an experiment.

Gained I: Nothing, yet.

I may diss this city for being provincial, but in truth it's an economic powerhouse. It's grown like a mushroom, and keeps on going.

On the way home from the mall, we drove through some neighborhoods with interesting houses and we gossiped -- architecturally. (The two sketches I've posted are his.)

"Look at the windows on that one," my dad scoffed. "They make no sense. Why would someone put them so close to the roof? I mean, those proportions are way off."

"I've always wondered who the architect is. That wrought iron work is gorgeous."

"Who would put a wall there? It needs a window, a balcony, a rosette, some kind of opening. It's oppressive. The window frames are nice, though. Works with the English cottage look."

I was listening, learning, commenting and (yes) asking.

We made a final detour, to his favorite, a hacienda-style rambler on Jackson Street.

"Man, I love this one," he said, eyeing it from across the street. "What an interesting mix of Mexican and Precolumbian -- "

And then, something strange happened. A figure in the giant creche on the lawn moved -- it was a person, putting away the statues. The owner?

"Tata, I have an idea. Do you want to take a risk? Ask them to show us the inside? It's for my blog... and you're an architect, it makes perfect sense. We won't seem creepy, I promise."

We pulled into their driveway and the woman walked up to our car and greeted us. "Hi..."

"Hi!" I started, and made my pitch.

She told us a little about its history and welcomed us back for a tour on Tuesday afternoon.

Gained II: An appointment to scope out my dad's favorite house in town. I'll take pictures!
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