Pike & Rose, which originally was called Mid-Pike Plaza, is named after two of the three roads that border it: Rockville PIKE and MontROSE Parkway. (John Kelly/THE WASHINGTON POST)
Columnist

If you haven’t spent a lot of your life driving on Rockville Pike in Montgomery County, congratulations. But if, like me, the pike figured prominently in your upbringing — if you spent many hours as a newly minted driver piloting your mother’s vinyl-roofed Buick Century up and down it — then it may occupy a fond place in your heart.

For me, the pike is something of a suburban ley line, each shopping center along its length imbued with its own sense of history: White Flint, Congressional, Wintergreen, Mid-Pike Plaza . . .

It was at Mid-Pike Plaza that I saw my first Toys “R” Us. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven, except instead of God there was GI Joe with Kung Fu grip, boxes and boxes of him. (That was before I’d gotten my driver’s license, I should hasten to point out.)

These days, people apparently don’t want strip shopping centers, with their oceans of parking fronting tiny atolls of commerce. They don’t want malls, either. They want “town centers.”

They’re redoing White Flint, the “fancy” mall from my youth that boasted inside its belly an ersatz Venetian shopping street, complete with cobblestones. Things aren’t going so well. Everything’s been torn down except for Lord & Taylor, which now looks like a besieged fort in a post-apocalyptic hellscape. But I’m sure it’s very nice.

And Mid-Pike Plaza? Well, to be honest, it was never the sexiest name in the world. It dated from a time when businesses thought it was important to convey useful information with their names. Now, names are meant to convey a mood. Thus Mid-Pike Plaza is in the process of becoming Pike & Rose.

I was a little slow to figure out where the new name came from. It sounds like what you’d call a pub in an English village famed for its fishing and its fragrant horticulture. Instead, it’s named after two of the three roads that border it: Rockville PIKE and MontROSE Parkway. It’s also bordered by Old Georgetown Road, meaning it could have been named George & Rose, like that nice older couple down the street that you check up on when the newspapers start piling up on the front lawn.

Around the same time that Pike & Rose was a-bornin’, some of the roads around it were reconfigured. Since then, I have never successfully gotten from Montrose Parkway onto Rockville Pike on my first attempt. Never. The layout is counterintuitive. The signage is bad. I always end up irritated.

Last time, I somehow ended up in Pike & Rose. It was as if Shangri-La had been revealed through a break in the clouds. It was the first time I’d been in there since all the stores I remember from my youth — the toy store, the fabric store — had been scraped away.

I’m afraid my mood didn’t improve much. Just as with the reconfigured roads around it, something didn’t seem quite right with Pike & Rose. I found it a bit claustrophobic. But maybe new developments work best for people who don’t remember the old developments.

And maybe these are just the pains that go with construction. Pike & Rose is still being built. Maybe everything will magically click into place when they’re done.

There’s another place where I’ve felt that sense of “not quite rightness” and that’s the Montgomery County public library that opened a couple of years ago in downtown Silver Spring, replacing a rather tired building on Colesville Road.

Tired the old place may have been, but it had a quality that I appreciate in a building: It was fairly simple to get into, around in and then out of. That’s not the case with the new library, which is a tall, pointy glass thing at Wayne Avenue and Fenton Street.

Every time I visit it, I wonder if its architects have ever been inside a building before, or are just really good at drawing the outsides of them. The library is on the third floor, but not all elevators will take you there. Once you are there, it’s easy to forget how to get out.

It didn’t help that right after the library opened, none of the librarians seemed to know where the books were. A lot of helpful signs have been added but it still takes me awhile to find my bearings. I still have never successfully used the self-checkout machines, which either don’t work or are too complicated for English majors.

The Rockville Pike/Montrose Parkway interchange, the Silver Spring library, the wonky self-checkout machines — couldn’t they have been thought through a little better?

Are there places that you frequent in the area that just don’t seem quite right? Send me details.

Twitter: @johnkelly

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.