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Scenes From a Mall | So SoCal

Sole Mates

June 23, 1996|Ed Leibowitz

Our wives will give us hell," Al cautions his friend Bill, "if we don't walk a little bit." With that admonition, they dig in their canes and embark anew on a circuit bordered by See's Candies, JC Penney, Bath Elegante and Victoria's Secret--still gated shut against the 8:30 a.m. gloom. Al Rorex and Bill Lehm are golfing buddies of 10 years, Galleria strolling buddies of five.

The Glendale Galleria/Glendale YMCA Fitness Walkers meet here on Wednesday mornings; the doors open early to admit the 10 or so regulars into the otherwise empty mall. Prodded by the Y's Anastasia Alexander, a motivational instructor in Spandex, the mostly elderly perambulators tackle the impromptu mile-long track with varying levels of abandon.

"It's been good therapy for both of us," says Al, an 81-year-old retired salesman, " 'cause we've had some problems. I got a whole new hip here in February, and Bill's had a few trips to the open heart surgery." Al's walking outfit, a pair of blue Velcro-strap running shoes, a blue shirt and even bluer pants held up by suspenders, is topped off by a fishing hat with a tiny American flag pin. Bill, 77, a former audiovisual superintendent for San Fernando Valley public schools, wears a worn polo shirt, khaki shorts and black support hose that give way to tan sport walkers.

Before the Galleria, there were the streets of Glendale. "My wife stubbed her toe in a big crack on the sidewalk and fell and hurt herself," Al says, "and then we started walking down here." As they traipse past displays for cookware and flashy dresses, the friends are easily overtaken by sprightly grandmothers in tights. Their own wives have long ago left them in the dust; Bill just can't keep up anymore, especially after breaking his pelvis some months ago. "The women are outwalking us now," Al sighs.

The track is crowded this morning; the Eagle Rock Plaza Walk-O-Diles, conspicuous in yellow T-shirts, are giving the Galleria a test run. "Occasionally," Al says, "we go out to Arcadia to that--what do they call it?--Fashion Park. "

"They've got the same stores," Bill shrugs, "and the same clothes and everything no matter where you go."

The mall affords unfailingly level ground, gives shelter rain or shine, and the air-conditioning is cranked up early for the Fitness Walkers. By Al's reckoning, the presence of mall security guards attracts some seniors, especially the single ladies. "They mention the fact that they feel safer to do their walking here, more so than on the street," he says. "You've got a beautiful climate, and you can't take advantage of it because of the damn crime wave."

As Janet Jackson's warble seeps out of hidden loudspeakers, Bill fondly recalls Brand Boulevard--the town's main street--before they built this behemoth. "Oh, I remember Christmastime in Glendale," he says. "You used to come out. The sidewalks were crowded, but you don't see that now. Go drive up and down the street and see the empty stores."

The two friends bring up the rear, shambling toward the escalator, which whisks them back to ground level. A caged parrot calls out from behind the shut security gate of the Pet Love pet store, an orange tail feather jutting from its gray plumage.

"Come on Candy, talk to us," Bill encourages. He leans forward on his cane and whistles toward the creature the way fellas used to whistle at a pretty girl.

"WHOO-WHOO," Candy lets out.

"Yeah, that's a good one," Al enthuses. "How are you today?" he asks."How are you today?"Candy remains mute.

"He don't wanna talk," Bill says.

"You're not talking today?" Al smiles. "No more talking today? Goodbye! Goodbye!"

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