I saw the highway exit sign for the Mall of America and I involuntarily clenched the steering wheel. I sucked in a breath and made myself turn off the highway and toward a concrete monstrosity surrounded by parking garages. I am not a shopper. Malls cause me anxiety. But I needed to go there. I’d been invited to the Crayola Experience and it was located within the Mall of America.
There was a cacophony of sounds as soon as I walked into the mall. People were swarming through the corridors at zigzag angles while roller coasters turned and tumbled in the background. I smelled something fried. I looked around and saw familiar restaurants: Bubba Gump’s, Rainforest Cafe, other establishments that I always find near parks and zoos. Kid-friendly places that lined the lanes to Nickolodeon Universe — an amusement park with rides located inside a shopping mall. It was honestly a mall representing America. I decided to give in and take a walk around. I saw every store I’ve ever seen inside any mall and then some. It was a shopper’s paradise.
But Nickolodeon Universe wasn’t the only attraction inside this mall. There were theaters, a comedy club, oodles of restaurants and the attraction that had brought me here in the first place: the Crayola Experience.
As a child, I loved to color. I was an expert at staying in the lines and outlining my pictures in dark, bold black. I never liked to draw, but I did love to color. I loved the smell of the crayons. The crisp newness of a sharpened crayon. The recycled gray quality of coloring book pages and the nostalgia of flipping through used coloring books and remembering who colored what. Because even though we were all just coloring in pictures on a page, each person really did have their unique style and flair. For some people, it was even more than their signature style; it was the way they colored with tongues poking out of their mouth, or with deeply saturated pressure. Flipping through coloring book pages was like wandering through an art gallery. We weren’t just coloring. We were creating art.
With that childhood memory at the front of my mind, I walked into the Crayola Experience among parents and children galore.
It was a little strange to be there alone. One of my children loved to color; the other quickly lost patience with the effort and scribbled. They didn’t inherit a love of coloring from me. But I still loved it. I walked over to the station where you could name your own crayon color, have it printed on a wrapper, and then wrap it around a green, blue, red or orange crayon. I named 3 crayons for my kids.
Then I colored a picture and rolled it through a machine that cut it into a jigsaw puzzle. My Crayola bag was already getting full of souvenirs from my activities. I wandered over to the photo booths which took your picture and incorporated it into a coloring book page. Naturally, I posed for photos and now have coloring pages to give to each of the children when I give them the crayons I named after them. Of course, if they’re anything like me, they’ll shrug and skip past the picture of me to color. It doesn’t look like a very interesting one to work on.
I could have spent the entire day there. If it had been a snowy day in Minnesota, I would have. The tickets seemed a little pricey at $24.99, but if I lived there and bought a season pass? Seems like it would be a great place to take cooped-up children on snowy or rainy days. Especially if they love to color as much as I always did. One of my favorite activities of childhood.
I was partial to Cornflower Blue in my crayon box. Which was your favorite?