Kate and Vanessa are cruising the mall on a Tuesday night.
They practically grew up in Santa Anita Fashion Park, and know its nearly 1 million square feet almost as well as their own Arcadia houses.
They are suburban girls. Kate Allen and Vanessa Schulz eat lunch together each day at Arcadia High, home of the Apaches. They finish one another's sentences, as girlfriends sometimes can.
"In a major department store. . ." says Vanessa.
". . .skip the bottom floor," Kate concludes.
Cruising The Broadway, they cut speedily through aisles heavy with the scent of perfume and leather. "The really neat stuff is upstairs. This is all for old fogies," says Vanessa, dressed in tennis shoes, jeans and a burgundy poncho. She boards the up escalator. Kate follows.
Vanessa is 15 1/2. A sophomore, she gets her driver's license in August and wants a white Volkswagen Cabriolet.
On this night, Kate drove. A junior, she got her license six months ago. Her grandparents gave her a blue Ford Tempo. In two days, she will turn 17.
They have graduated from junior high days, when their parents dropped them off and they felt so independent as they roamed the labyrinthine mall, looking at boys, eating Haagen-Dazs ice cream and giggling. Now, Kate says, her mother assigns her the job of dropping off and picking up her younger sister at Santa Anita.
"When I was in junior high. . ." Kate starts.
". . .it was fun to window shop," Vanessa finishes.
Kate and Vanessa are moving into the gotta-get-out-of-this-town mode. "There's two things wrong with Santa Anita," Kate says. "It's dinky and overpriced."
Theirs is a metropolitan perspective, reaching beyond the San Gabriel Valley and influenced by trips with parents, friends and relatives who take them to malls throughout Southern California: South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa ("Nicely decorated," says Kate), the Beverly Center in Los Angeles ("I go with my grandmother, who has lots of money," says Vanessa), Long Beach Plaza (Vanessa: "Great prices"), the Thousand Oaks Mall (Kate: "Cool"), and the Glendale Galleria (Kate: "My favorite").
Still, they go to Santa Anita the most, averaging three or four times a month and more than that during the holidays.
There are, they say, established rules:
* Avoid stores such as Buffums, with its Palm Terrace tea room and china, and JC Penney, which, Vanessa says, sells "nothing but pots and pans and cheap clothes you wouldn't be caught dead in. They are so out of it."
* For safety and sanitary reasons, never go to the restroom except in department stores.
* Never go to the mall on the day after Christmas.
In The Broadway, Kate spies pants with a paisley pattern she likes--until she sees the price. "Ninety dollars! Right," she says, fingering the rich fabric. She casts aside the pants, letting them rock on the hanger as she ricochets toward brightly colored sweaters.
With confidence, Kate and Vanessa move in and out of stores, smelling coffee beans and touching just about everything: earrings, wallets, hats, charms, coats, underwear, chess sets, pendants and stockings.
A one-hour trip, Vanessa says, can fulfill all her Santa Anita needs. Kate says it takes her 30 minutes.
In Victoria's Secret, where high on a rack Kate sees what she will buy, she says: "My sister wants this black-and-red bra."
"How old is your sister?" Vanessa says.
"Your sister actually would wear that?"
At the counter, Kate puts down two $20 bills as the clerk rings up the purchase, $26.69 including tax. "Celebrate the Season for Love" say the green letters on the register's screen.
They pass Red Eye, the store Vanessa says is for cheerleaders. "Brooks is very preppie," she adds. "Contempo. That's cool."
They pass the Cinema I-II-III-IV marquee of the movie theater Kate boycotts because she can see only G-rated and PG-13 shows there. The theater, she says, enforces R ratings and "is the only mall (theater) I know to throw kids out."
In Jay Jacobs, Vanessa tries on a black hat, then another. "This string has got to go," she says, speaking over the pulsing disco/rap sound from a ceiling speaker.
With the clothes Kate wears tonight, she makes her own mall fashion statement:
The denim jacket came from either the Santa Anita Robinson's or The Broadway, she can't remember which. Her short "zany pants" are from The Plaza at West Covina. The black tights came from Santa Anita's Joy of Sox. The caramel-colored leather lace-up boots she got at the Santa Anita Robinson's. Her watch with Mona Lisa on the face came from the San Luis Obispo mall.
Three hours after arriving at the mall, Kate and Vanessa are finishing frozen yogurt and ice cream at the base of a turquoise atrium of glass, steel, concrete and marble, dominated by a curving pool of water.
Christmas lights twinkle on the mall's trademark sandcastle. Children romp around wooden animals in a carpeted, recessed playground where Kate and Vanessa once played for hours.
Kate and Vanessa talk about those days. Then, they say, the mall seemed so huge and wonderful. "Just like an amusement park," says Kate.