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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, December 14, 2001

Merry mall madness

By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Ala Moana Center's Jingle Bell Express makes its way through the mall level. The children's train adds to the many Christmas staples at the shopping center.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

Shh. No tell.

Santa shaves his beard the day after Christmas.

Well, maybe not Santa Santa. But the guy who has been keeping the big fella's seat warm at Ala Moana Center for the past nine years sure does.

That would be bus driver Mike Kennebeck, who each year uses precious vacation days to play shopping-center Santa.

"I shave the day after Christmas," Kennebeck said, tugging at his long, white beard. "And I start growing it back around the end of February."

So the beard is real, and so is most of the paunch. The rosy cheeks come with the thick costume and the humid 80-degree-plus conditions of the center's lower level — although this experienced Santa is wise enough to insist on his own industrial-sized air conditioner.

Yet Kennebeck seems almost an afterthought in the sensory-overload sprawl of the shopping center.

On the stage fronting his roped-off photo area, a Hawaiian band sings "Achy Breaky Heart."

Above them on the mall level, mammoth mechanical teddy bears pirouette in sync, and a terrified tot is lowered by his parents onto the mall's "Jingle Bell Express" train.

Another level up, Japanese and European tourists sip lattes and smoke cigarettes outside pricey boutiques.

"A mess," is how shopper Michelle Hogan, a visitor from North Carolina, described it. We'd like to think there was some fondness in that phrase.

And yet, for generations of local families, these endless, unnerving trips to Ala Moana Center are as much a part of the holiday experience as, well, endless, unnerving trips to the relatives.

And it's Ala Moana Center — with its confounding intersections of the haute and the horrid — that continues to reflect what's going on in our collective community consciousness.

Of course, that doesn't mean that the community is always conscious of what's going on at the mall.

Controlling the madness

Harold Machigashira, one of the mall's hired shopping guides, is on hand to help shoppers find what they're looking for — provided it's still there.

"They'll ask me where Warner Bros. is, and I tell them it's gone," he said. "Nature Center. Gone. They'll ask where Hopaco is. Gone, too."

The Gap is still there. The Gap Kids, too. Be thankful there's no Gap Music.

Seven times in a row every hour.

That's how often Gap employee Brendan Hill has to listen to those insipid variations of "Give a Little Bit," the Supertramp song turned Gap Muzak.

The Seal version.
The Left-Eye version.

"Do I know the lyrics?" he said, repeating the question.

The Left-Eye version.
The Sheryl Crow version.
The Shaggy version.

"Oh yeah, pretty much."

At least Hill doesn't have to worry about becoming mall-kill.

Andy Lorenz, 23, is working the holiday season as part of the Jingle Bell Express crew.

Some days he's a driver, some days he walks in front of the kid-loaded train, clearing the way of oblivious shoppers. He was doing the latter when co-worker Brian Kamaka, 21, lost sight of him behind a pole at the front of the train.


Still, Lorenz says the kids are always safe and, he adds proudly, no one has ever ralphed while he was at the wheel.

Lorenz said it's often the parents, more than the kids, who want the kids on the train so they can take photos.

And what better photo op than Little Junior riding along in the caboose as one enormous denim-clad body straddles another in the window of the Guess store?

It is, in fact, quite worth the hassle of parking to see the creative fruits of the stores' various visual display artists.

Which is more striking, the Disney Store's pink Christmas tree or Chanel's blue Christmas trees? Mind you, Chanel's display also includes cut-out moose with the Chanel insignia displayed on their rumps. Advantage: Chanel.

Neiman Marcus' popular hanging butterfly display has a endearingly winter look this month, with white feather butterflies also present on several trees in the shopping area. The tree constructed of lamp shades is also intriguing. But someone explain the wreath with the red and gold feathers hanging in the women's area.

We should admire those stores that don't have to rely on artsy displays to draw customers. How many overheated shoppers head to Sears just to enjoy the the huge air conditioning vent at the mall-level entrance?

Some stores appeal to other senses. Or don't.

"Ho!" exclaimed 10-year-old Davin Kim as he passed the lavender-scented doorway to Crabtree and Evelyn. "Stink!"

Word of advice to Davin: Stay away from Illuminations and Origins.

Perhaps Davin and his father, Andy, should take refuge in the Vans store, which is equipped with a miniature half-pipe for skateboarders and a large purple sofa — the most garish, most comfortable dad-chair in the mall.

What it's all about

Still, the whole purpose of the exercise is to find the right gifts for those we love and — let's be real — the right-priced gifts for everyone else.

And, again, Ala Moana has it all. Only at Macy's (we think) can you find that most treasured component of Department 56's Original Snow Village collection: "Elvis Presley's Autograph."

The set features a figurine of a woman in leopard-skin shoes taking a photograph of two young girls holding an autographed Elvis Presley photo.


The box explains: "Elvis a quitte l'edifice ... mais ses ferventes admiratrices s'attardent dans son sillage."uh?

Shirokiya has an impressive collection of flat-screen televisions with "near-high definition capabilities." In an interesting selling move, they chose to demonstrate those capabilities with a recording of a Bee Gees reunion concert. (The floor would like to nominate Maurice Gibb for the "Bobcat Goldthwait/Joe Walsh Award for Alarming Physical Decline.")

Please note: Shirokiya is also the place to get the official Hello Kitty toaster ($46.95) and rice cooker ($69.95).

On second thought, maybe we should consult Santa Kennebeck again.

"You'd be surprised how many young kids ask me for world peace," he said. "One young girl said she knew that there are kids in New York that don't have parents anymore, and she asked me to give them a little more this year.

"These kids," Kennebeck said, "they understand the world."