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Sense of Place: My Outlet

Outlet Mall
Photography by Brent Holmes
Photography by Brent Holmes

When I needed an anchor, I found it at an urban mall

When I first came to Las Vegas in 2013, I had no friends. This is a hard place to make friends. Las Vegas is like an airport — it is full of people, but no one knows each other. This airport feeling is overwhelming at times, when you are from an area of the Midwest where everyone knows each other. Las Vegas is the kind of place where you can have a passionate two-month romance with a person, and then never see them again. That can’t happen in Ohio, you will run into them over and over.

I reached out on Facebook. (I have Facebook friends from all over America because of writing books.) I posted, “Does anybody want to be my friend?”

Rachel and BH, two Jewish sisters, responded. They have lived in Las Vegas their entire lives. They were true Vegas people. At that moment, I needed the true Vegas. As Jack Kerouac said, “I was halfway across America, at the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future.” Rachel and BH would give me the Western future I needed.

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Rachel worked at American Apparel at the Las Vegas Premium Outlets. I would pick up her up when she finished work at 9 p.m. in the hot summer. At night, the Las Vegas Premium Outlets are empty, a peaceful place, the spritzers turned off, security guards making their rounds. Young service workers locking the doors, racing to a party or home to watch Netflix. I was overcome with the idea, I am out West. I have made it, I even have a Western friend named Rachel. For a boy from a small town in Ohio, this meant a lot. Now, I am established out West, you could say I am stuck here now. But back then, in 2014, I was still a pilgrim. A person looking for redemption, no different than Helen Stewart, Bugsy Siegel, or Benny Binion. I would sit outside waiting for Rachel, sometimes with BH. Eventually Rachel would come out, and we would drive to Crown and Anchor, or Ichiza in Chinatown.

I’ve only been in Las Vegas five years, but I have a nostalgia for those days. Usually nostalgia symbolizes an easier time in one’s life, a time when we had hope, when we believed that our dreams would come true. It was not an easier time. It was a time that involved a lot of patience and an abnormal amount of grit. Most of my dreams from those days have come true, I did what I needed to do, I showed up on time, and proved myself a thousand times.

Now my life is different. I am established in Las Vegas. I have a job, a car from Drivetime Auto on Sahara, and everyone at Starbucks on Lake Mead knows my name.

Sometimes, when I need a pair of Pumas or new polo shirts for work, I go to the Las Vegas Premium Outlets. I go to Auntie Anne’s and get a pretzel, I sit on the bench and watch the international tourists walk by: Koreans, Japanese, Chinese, German, French, and Latin Americans. It is fun to see people from all over the world together in one place. At different times in history the French and Germans were killing each other, at other times the Koreans and Chinese and Japanese were killing each other, but here they all are, without weapons, sharing the Las Vegas Premium Outlets. I would like to build a time machine and go back to the horrible events of these countries, put up a giant IMAX screen, and show pictures and video from the Las Vegas Premium Outlets, and say “Hey, look, what you are doing right now is stupid, sad, and pointless, because it will all end with your descendants taking planes to the Western desert of the United States, you will all shop together, you will get great deals on Pumas, Van Heusen polo shirts, you will get a pretzel, and you will know all this war and cruelty was a terrible mistake. And that the truth is, we can all come together over great deals.”