Billy Coffey

writer, observer, learner

Mall Walkers

image courtesy of

image courtesy of

Every writer gets stuck from time to time. Part of the process. Either the ideas won’t come or the words around those ideas. Instead of sitting down and letting your better self take over, you end up staring at a blank cursor knowing that it’s over. You can’t fool anyone anymore.

Every writer has his or her own method to reverse this process, which can be as creative as a fieldtrip to somewhere silly or as mundane as taking a shower. I suppose mine lies somewhere between the two—half silly and half mundane.

I go to the mall.

I’m a big fan of the mall, though not because of the stores or the coffee shop (okay, maybe the coffee shop). I could do without another pair of jeans or another T-shirt, especially when together they cost a little less than half a week’s pay. No, I go to the mall for another reason that’s just as valuable. To spy.

My usual spot is smack in the middle of everything, where the powers that be have arranged a set of leather couches and chairs for the shopping weary. Or for people like me, who are just curious.

Though I’m generally not someone very comfortable in the midst of a crowd, I do pretty well when I can watch them from a distance. And that’s my method of unclogging the writer’s brain. I go look. I watch people going about their daily lives and imagine what they’re thinking and feeling. And it works. Every time.

Today my attention seems focused on that ever present but often overlooked cult known as the Mall Walkers. Every mall seems to have its own dedicated troupe, and they all seem to be the same sort of people—very kind, very focused, and very old.

There are nuances of course, as there is in anything. People can perform the same activity but in different ways, depending upon their goal and their personality. And as I sit and watch them make their laps in the comfortable weather of the indoors, I see a lot of personalities. And what I see resembles much more than someone’s walk around a mall.

There are the die-hards, of course. Men and women who prance about in actual workout clothes and shoes much more expensive than my own. They’re not here to shop or socialize. They’re here to work. And they take that work seriously. Head down, arms pumping. And they refuse to wander from the gray tiles that line the edge of the mall lest they cheat themselves.

Others see this morning ritual as more of a social gathering. They’re here to walk, yes. To exercise, even. But they seem to exercise their mouths as much as their legs. They talk as they go, and talk about anything. Family, friends, church, who’s doing what and to whom and why. These people have no problem with breaking their stride to say hello to someone or do a little window shopping. They’re here for better health, but they also understand that exercising alone won’t guarantee that. Community and a sense of fun plays into the equation in equal parts.

At the other end of the spectrum is the upper crust of the mall-walking society. The ones whose choice of clothing is the sundress or the suit and tie. They’re presence here stumps me. They don’t seem interested in exercising. Only an idiot would wear a sport jacket or high heels for a workout. But neither do they seem to be here for the socializing, since they tend to turn up their noses to the other walkers (and especially to those of their own ilk).

After watching them pass for the fourth time, not walking but more ambling, I decide they’re here just to be here. They’re content to just be seen.

Then, like some rare celestial event, members of all three groups intersect around me—the diehards and the social butterflies to my left, and the country-clubbers to my right. Around and around on their journey from beginning to end.

And I decide that we’re all mall walkers in our own right, left to spend our days journeying from beginning to end. Like them, there are those who see that journey as a nose-to-the-grindstone marathon of endless work and self-improvement. And there are those who prefer to walk through their days making friends and having fun. And there are still others whose sole purpose seems to be all the attention they can get.

And then there are people like me, who make their own journey while watching others make theirs.

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  1. What a great analogy, Billy. Thanks.

  2. A winner, this!
    An artist’s date, for sure.
    I laughed at your admission about going to the mall TO SPY
    and found your last sentence profound.

    May you have peace with the words and their timing in coming.

  3. Enjoyed this, Billy. I give you kudos for subjecting yourself to the crowds, even if you do just to spy.

  4. I used to watch people and take notes on exactly what they were doing — idiosyncrasies, language, slang, etc.

    I haven’t done it in a long time. But now my wheels are turning. Hmmmm…a weekly outing?

    I like it!

  5. I don’t like crowds either, but I do enjoy an occasional spying. Unfortunately, our mall is nearly dead. Hardly anyone to watch anymore!!

    As for writer’s block … yeah. I hear ya’. I usually have to do something drastic, like go to a party where there’s a large crowd. 😉

  6. Okay, I get that. You’ve taught me to pay attention to the world around me. But seriously, I can’t go to the mall and observe people because I don’t blend into the crowd. I suppose I could don dark glasses and a baseball cap, but how creepy would that be?

  7. I’m definitely with you on not liking crowds. Parties are the worst because I feel like I should be ‘mingling’ but it does not come naturally at all. You kind of make me want to pick out a spot and go watching. Good stuff, Billy. Thanks.

  8. “They’re here for better health, but they also understand that exercising alone won’t guarantee that.” I teach/mentor that, every single day. I love it when that doesn’t fall on deaf ears.

    You know what really puzzles me up about mall walkers? The ones who go clockwise for a certain number of laps then go counter clockwise. Like they’re winding up, then unwinding. Other than perhaps the strain on the inside knee if the corners are tight, what’s the purpose? Which group are they? Next time you go, see if you can pick them out for me. I’d like your take on them before I retire. No hurry.

  9. Billy . . . I ALWAYS enjoy your posts . . . they cause me to dig deeper than what’s on the surface of life and that is such a great thing. Wanted you to know I posted a review of Snow Day on Amazon and my blog today. I’m confident everyone needs a copy! Praying God’s abundant blessings for you and yours this year!

    Don’t Miss This Day!

    When I heard the forecast, “Snow in TEXAS,” I knew the time had come . . . to read Billy Coffey’s “Snow Day.” You see, I had requested his book to review months ago, but set it aside for that moment when the stage was set and I would fully experience it. Why? Because if you’ve read Billy Coffey’s blog posts, you know that you are in for a real treat. Everything he writes reaches deep into your soul and opens your heart, leaving you only wanting more. So, I knew his debut novel was going to be a winner! I wasn’t disappointed. For the next 5 hours, I “hunkered” down and experienced my own Snow Day. As I finished chapter 3 . . . the snow began to fall and what took place in my heart through the following chapters was riveting.

    Billy Coffey’s writing is brilliant. He has the ability to reach deep into your heart and soul and reveal what’s there and what’s missing. He has a gift that is to be treasured. “Snow Day’s” Peter Boyd is no different than any of us, except that he looks beneath the surface of life . . . and through his Snow Day, he gets you to as well. Each chapter brings with it a breathtaking moment that causes you to examine your own heart and press forward in your faith. On a snow day . . . you’ll learn to “hunker” down in your faith in the midst of life’s storms. When you do, you’ll find better traction.

    One of my favorite sentences in the entire book is, “Even God needs the help of two mountains to make a valley.” My favorite moment and deepest revelation in the book was in Chapter 13 “Finding Life”: It was a “Lite Brite” moment . . . one you won’t soon forget. Don’t buy this book for simply a good read . . . buy it because you want to live a life with meaning and purpose. Buy it because you want to grow your faith in God. Buy it because you NEED it.

  10. mallwakers, very interesting.
    and very popular in rainy oregon.

    i did it sometimes when my first child was very small and would stay in the stroller.
    it was close enough to do between feedings, naps, diaper changes…usually.

  11. Great idea. I agree that getting out, watching others, and paying attention to nuances always stirs my writing mind, In fact, I start narrating right there in my head.

  12. This post explains a lot about you, Billy. And not in a weird way. :-) … But in the sense that you have eyes that really DO see people.

    Your example of observing those around you has helped me not only in writing, but in life.

  13. I’m a big fan of people watching too…airports are my favorite spot for this.
    We’re having a SNOW DAY today : ) I just loved the book and think of your wonderful storytelling on days that are covered in white!

  14. Me too! The mall always does the trick, as long as that mall has a coffee shop. 😉

  15. I do the same thing at airports when I have a long layover. I love to find a seat along the concourse and watch the people stream by. I’ve had some of my most compelling “God moments” in the airport, of all places.

    Billy, you have a true gift in observing the nuances of life as it unfolds around you. I see here that it also takes practice, too. That’s good to know for those of us who tend to spin through the day on autopilot.

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