By Philip Poston
By Jonathan Shikes
By Noah Reynolds
By Gretchen Kurtz
By Kate Gibbson
By Cafe Society
By Samantha Alviani
By Patricia Calhoun
I have yet to become acclimated to the vastness of the American West. It's been almost five years since I left New York (the state), longer since I spent any significant amount of time in New York (the city), and still, my internal cartography remains keyed to East Coast measures of size and scale. To me, the Chrysler Building is big, its giant iron spike reaching almost incomprehensible heights, tickling cloud bellies, piercing the envelope of sky. People tell me the mountains out here are taller -- 14,000 feet, some of them. But I see those mountains all the time as I drive into Denver, and they don't seem that big. Some days I'm not so sure they weren't just painted on the horizon by Colorado tourism officials so that we'd all have something nice to look at.
Onion Tropical: $4.25
Churrasco $10.25 (lunch), $16.95 (dinner)
Distance works the same way. I still measure my world in blocks, long and short. In Rochester, where I did most of my growing up, my neighborhood was the street I lived on and a block in either direction. In New York City, local was anything within ten long blocks' walking distance, which generally encompassed everything a fella needed to get by. You had your bodega for groceries and your other bodega for whatever stuff wasn't carried at the first. You had your local bar, your local coffee shop, your half-dozen local restaurants and delis, your local working girls, your local weed guy and your local Ukrainian-immigrant cable installer who could get you free porn channels for a hundred bucks cash. Having to travel outside the ten-block comfort zone meant going on a trip. And for someone living in, say, Bensonhurst, hauling it up to Manhattan was like visiting a foreign country. Like you should need a passport. And special shots.
But out here, everything is different. In the southeast 'burbs, my neighborhood is something like a thousand square blocks of mixed tract housing, strip malls and highway. "Local" is the entire metro area -- south to Littleton, east to Aurora, west to Lakewood and north for-friggin'-ever. Taking a jump up to Boulder is nothing: 45 minutes, give or take, depending on traffic. That's roughly the same time it takes to get from Rochester to Buffalo, a trip my parents have made maybe a dozen times total, even though their prodigal son lived there for years.
So this vastness is still strange to me. And it was on my mind as I made my merry way out to Colorado Mills last week to eat at Tucanos Brazilian Grill, one of three links in the micro-chain owned and operated by Steve Oldham and his Lakewood-based International Restaurant Concepts Inc. I was thinking how five years ago, traveling this far would have felt like I was really going somewhere. How ten years ago, I would have packed an overnight bag. And even now, it seemed like a pretty goddamn long way to go for dinner -- like driving to Jersey City for sushi.
But as the mall lurched into view from the highway, as I took my exit and rolled into the massive commercial megalopolis, all that size and distance suddenly condensed. Like magic, I was again in a neighborhood (into which the massiveness of Colorado Mills is broken up), back on The Street (what the strip of restaurants and entertainment complexes where Tucanos sits is called).
Malls are black holes -- points of near- infinite commercial density in the consumer landscape that, by nature of their size and metaphoric weight, warp the fabric of their surrounding space. They exert an inescapable, attractive force, businesses and customers tumbling in, drawn by the gravitational pull of concentrated money. That's their evil, but it's also what makes them cozy and familiar. Walk into any shopping mall anywhere in America and you feel like you've seen it all before. You know right where the Cinnabon will be. No matter where you are, it's a little like coming home.
And the shopping is efficient, just as it was in the old neighborhood. Start at one end, down by Mad About Magnets and Spatula City, begin walking, and by the time you've passed Nothing But Nuts, stopped in at Widget World and made your way down to Let's Talk About Sox at the other end, you'll have found something to meet every human need. There's food, shelter, clothing, entertainment and expensive home electronics -- everything the modern consuming animal needs, without the old worries of what kind of warranty you're going to get buying a color TV out of the back of a van on 42nd Street.
What's more, the mall's black-hole effect can even compress time and space, folding nations and history together, drawing the world down into one hot, dense point. Visit a mall that's big enough (and if Colorado Mills is anything, it's big enough), and you can travel between countries in minutes -- breakfast at Wholly Crepe!, a pair of khakis at Dengue Fever Outfitters, a new pair of shoes at Mukluks R Us. I can easily imagine a future where the Big Mall is all there is. When Jillian's has stretched itself to encompass an entire universe of eatertainment thrills, when all memories of the mighty Mongol empire have been reduced in the popular consciousness to a blurb on the back of the menu at Genghis Grill and Brazil is no longer a nation, just an idea as translated by Tucanos.