Christmas on Fremont Street
Jimmy came to Las Vegas for the same reason as so many others: It was the last pioneer west, a vestige of the American Dream where fortune laid waiting to be taken. It was an old dying sentiment about the place and like many sentiments of tradition its manifested truth was always on the horizon just out of reach for all but a lucky few. But the hope of good luck often triumphs over a miserable present.
Jimmy’s story was not unique or interesting. He was never particularly bright or creative nor was he unintelligent or mean, and he didn’t require passion to inspire a day of hard work. His parents were lifelong employees of the manufacturing industry in the Midwest, but there was little room for Jimmy’s generation to take over, and he and his friends struggled to find the means to fuel their own independent lives. At some point, Jimmy got a girl pregnant and when he thought he couldn’t properly care for her or the baby, he started to drink.
Jimmy’s parents tried to help him the best they could, but they were no more equipped to give him a future than anyone else in his life. After the mother of his child kicked him out of her parents’ house, Jimmy’s parents took him in until they realized he was selling drugs out of their home. When they asked him to leave, he apologized and said he was going to leave the state. He promised when he found his way he would call. It was early November and he packed a bag and jumped on a bus to Las Vegas.
He arrived at the station next to the Plaza Hotel, alone and disoriented. He had one simple suit, a smart phone and a thousand dollars. The guy who sat next to him on the bus had told him there were some weeklies just a few blocks east of the station, and Jimmy headed that way. As he walked east, he stopped in the first several casinos he walked by and asked the nearest uniformed person if the hotel was hiring. Most of the responses were akin to shrugs. A few pointed him to a far corner of the casino where there was a desk and a person who told him to go online to see what was available.
He stopped for a slice at Piccadilly Pizza and chatted up the guy behind the counter for a few minutes. This is how he found out that he’d likely need to get several cards to work and that the process for obtaining these was not convenient. He also found out a few places where he could go to get temporary work. Grateful for some semblance of progress, he continued to walk until he found a weekly.
Six weeks went by and Jimmy still hadn’t called his parents. Christmas was fast approaching and loneliness was degrading his once-resilient spirit. His drinking had gotten worse. And it had happened more than once that he would make $80 as a day laborer just to drop it into a slot machine and lose it all before the night was over. He still had not found regular work and was now sharing a weekly with another Midwestern transplant struggling to get organized enough to be a Vegas success story. They tried to be optimistic and thought they were making progress, but some days they resorted to collecting palm fronds that they would later bend into roses or hearts and sell to couples on Fremont Street.
On Christmas Eve, Jimmy ventured out to Fremont Street to sell his palm-frond roses. His mood was bleak, but somehow it helped to meet strangers and be surrounded by Christmas decorations and music. It reminded him of home. He found a spot to work near a vent that pumped cinnamon air freshener onto Fremont; he thought of his daughter and her mother. He hoped that soon he could invite them to live with him.
He sat for several hours on a lawn chair, bending fronds into roses. He took great care to make a near-perfect bouquet, hoping he could sell it for enough to buy a Christmas steak special. A couple approached him while he was looking down and folding away. Without looking up, he said hello and asked how they were.
“Merry Christmas, Jimmy,” said a familiar voice. Jimmy paused before looking up, afraid that what he heard was a lie and preparing to be disappointed.
Another familiar voice spoke, “Jimmy? We had no idea you came to Las Vegas.”
Jimmy looked up and smiled from a place untouched for many years. His parents stood in front of him. He stood and handed his mother the bouquet.
“Merry Christmas,” he said proudly, before turning and walking away.
Amelia Pond is Nevada native who works and writes in downtown Las Vegas. She spends her free time exploring the Mojave and the world via bare feet and cargo ships. You can read her real-life adventures on medium.com/@ameliaraepond