4:25 p.m. I check into the Westin Galleria. My spacious 12th-floor room provides sweeping views of the Galleria roof and a surface lot. When I try to step out onto my room’s narrow balcony for a better look, I realize that the sliding door has been permanently locked. The wisdom of this suicide-prevention measure becomes increasingly apparent to me over the course of the next 24 hours.
4:39 p.m. Feeling peckish, I head to the Galleria food court, where I order a “Metabolism Boosting Salad” at the Freshii kiosk. While there, three 20-something men wander by, looking confused. “We’re trying to find our way out,” one explains. I take this as a bad omen.
5:01 p.m. I step outside for a cigarette and spot a panhandler leaning against a traffic barrier. He’s missing one leg and most of his teeth, also holding an empty McDonald’s cup and singing a tuneless version of “Twinkle, Twinkle.” Naturally, I strike up a conversation with the man, who says his name is Clay. Four to six days a week, Clay takes the bus two hours from his home in Kashmere Gardens to the Galleria to beg for change. “It’s a slow day,” he admits, blaming the morning rainstorm.
5:09 p.m. In an attempt to enjoy the cool weather, I decide to circumnavigate the outside of the Galleria on foot, a journey that takes about 45 minutes. Along my route I notice what appears to be a second panhandler standing on the traffic median in the middle of Westheimer. Only upon getting closer can I read what he’s written on a cardboard sign: “I don’t want or need anything. Want you to know God knows what you’re struggling with and loves you. He’s got this!”
6:03 p.m. My odyssey around the Galleria complete, I return to the air-conditioned comfort of the mall. My first stop: the Tesla store, which contains a fancy demonstration model of the car. I ask a salesman how much the model costs. “We are legally prohibited from discussing that,” he says. “It’s about $125,000,” another customer tells me. “I can neither confirm nor deny that that is the price,” the salesman adds.
6:20 p.m. At the Viviénne kiosk, a saleswoman named Giselle asks which facial products I use. None, I confess. She appears shocked and offers to give me a makeover. After rubbing Cell-Cure Eye Serum and Peptox Eye Cream into the baggy skin beneath my eyes, she hands me a mirror. I tell Giselle that I can’t see any difference. “What am I, a magician?” she says.
6:52 p.m. With less than 10 minutes before the mall closes—this is a Sunday night—the crowds are beginning to thin out; salespeople busy themselves putting away expensive merchandise and locking doors. Only the Apple store is still packed with customers fiddling with iPhones and iPads as employees go around wiping off fingerprints with microfiber cloths.
8:28 p.m. After dining at Gigi’s, I head over to Daily Grill to watch the Texans play the 49ers. By the time I arrive, only a few minutes remain in the first half and the Texans are losing 21 to 0. Hoping to distract myself from the dismal game, I order a beer and begin conversing with the two men sitting next to me, who turn out to be from Portugal and England. We discuss English Premier League teams (Liverpool up, Manchester United down), the differences between football and soccer (many), and the foreigners’ impressions of Houston (surprisingly positive).
9:26 p.m. The Texans now trailing 24 to 3, I leave the bar and head back to my hotel room, where I watch the remainder of the game with a pillow over my eyes before drifting off to sleep.
7:28 a.m. I wake up, get out of bed, and sweep open the curtains, again savoring my $200-a-night view of the Galleria roof.
8:09 a.m. On my way to breakfast at White Oak Kitchen I spot two older women dressed in black workout clothes and clutching water bottles—my first mall-walker sighting of the morning!
10:16 a.m. With the mall open for just over a quarter of an hour, I wander into the completely empty Tilt game room near the food court. The arcade seems to be on its last leg; half of the games have red-and-yellow “Sale” signs on them, and there’s a rank smell. I put four quarters into the Sega Virtual Tennis III console (on sale for $4,995) and play as Roger Federer for a few minutes before giving up.
10:29 a.m. I spot a giant TV screen hooked up to an Xbox 360 Kinect in front of the Microsoft store. A teenager with his jeans tucked into leather boots gyrates wildly in front of the screen, matching his movements to those of a virtual dancer. People stop and stare. “That is so embarrassing,” one woman says.
11:55 a.m. At the taxi staging area outside the Westin, a Middle Eastern man sips a Starbucks coffee and tells me that he’s been driving a cab since 2006. “I like it—the independence, the freedom,” he says. Then he gets a call and has to excuse himself.
2:32 p.m. Sitting at a café outside Nordstrom, I overhear a job interview. The interviewee begins every sentence with “I’m going to have to say that…” (“I’m going to have to say that I’ve never had any felony convictions.”)
3:06 p.m. As I pass by the Westin ballroom I notice water dripping from the roof. It seems one of the hotel’s emergency sprinklers has burst, setting off every sprinkler from the fourth floor down. Employees mop up the water with towels and place garbage cans underneath the leaks. No one seems overly alarmed.
4:15 p.m. As I walk towards the parking garage, my 24 hours over, I pass the Microsoft store from before, as well as the teenager from before. He has apparently been dancing maniacally in front of the Xbox console for almost six hours. Sweat drips down his face and stains his armpits. I’m going to have to say that he probably won’t be leaving anytime soon.