Unlike Las Vegas, which wraps its entire self in a blanket of promises beyond your wildest dreams, Reno is up front about itself. The pawn shops sandwiched in between the casinos are Reno admitting that for every dream that comes true here, a thousand die undignified deaths. This is where I am until Thursday, when a Teduardo-led contingent picks me up and takes me to Lake Tahoe for three days of golf.
Actually, I prefer this kind of random and dark place over a five-star resort. I'm weird that way. Still, even I've got to be careful. Stepping over everyone's crushed dreams as you walk down the street can be challenging.
Not that the Silver Legacy, where I've hung my hat this week, claims to be anything less than four stars. It covers two city blocks and this week boasts an appearance in its main theater by Justin Beiber. How boring for Justin. He can't even go into the casino. Nor will I go into the casino, other than to watch. I don't gamble because I know I'd suck at it, and I've never had enough money to just write off a certain amount in the name of something other than food or beverage.
"Are you a gentleman who wears a size 20?" said the woman sitting on the street a block from the famous "Reno, Biggest Little City in the World" archway. "Do you wear a size 11 shoe? Together these will create an interesting look for the right man."
There was a hip-hop music and arts festival today in a part on the banks of the Truckee River. I walked through the festival on my way to see a minor league baseball game -- Reno versus the Tacoma Rainiers. Tacoma won, by the way.
Since it was about 100 degrees outside, the river was full of people swimming, floating on inner tubes and generally splashing around. Like the hip-hop festival attendees, most of them were covered with tattoos. Not cool, colorful tattoos; more like "I've been smoking crystal meth for the past 23 hours and can't sleep but can't think of anything to do" tattoos. And lots of low-hanging shorts; but not many shirts. Lots of fried blonde perms. It was a hard scene.
The scene was a little better at the baseball game. Reno built itself a new downtown stadium last year, with a bunch of overlapping bars and restaurants out beyond the left field wall. Earlier today, Sandra Bullock and I ate lunch at a Mexican restaurant there. While we were eating, two young guys came up and sat at a table near us. A few hours later, I recognized one of them playing first base for the Reno Aces. The other one was playing shortstop.
After the game, everyone who was there flooded into the bars behind left field. There was a band. Everyone under 40 in Reno who isn't worried about getting up early for work tomorrow was there. Three women with blindingly blonde hair were sitting at one of the bars doing shots. I watched as two guys who were around my age but looked to have grown up in an entirely different world tried to get friendly with them. One of the guys had slicked-back hair and a moustache. Other than me probably spending at least one night of my life trying to get friendly with women with blindingly blonde hair, our Venn diagrams overlapped not one bit. At least that's how it looked.
This morning, we dropped the Jawa off at Walton's Grizzly Lodge for two weeks of camp. It's his fourth year at Walton's. He was a little tentative, because I think he woke up this morning shocked to find that he was going to miss us. "I'm not going to see you for two weeks," he called out from the upstairs loft of our room at the Chalet View Lodge. "That's weird."
Walton's Grizzly Lodge is worth the approximately one month's mortgage payment it costs. For two weeks, he will have no iPod, no Droid, no TV. Instead, he'll swim, water ski, fish, shoot bb guns, ride skateboards and eat with scores of other kids in a big rustic dining hall. Every year since 2006 we've driven up here, some 40 miles north of Lake Tahoe, stayed in the Chalet View Lodge for a night, then traversed the narrow, winding road that has ended at Walton's Grizzly Lodge for something like 75 years.
This year, a bunch of counselors already knew the Jawa. It was pretty cool. We dropped him off and an hour later there we were, in Reno.
One of the best and worst things about traveling alone is that you're essentially invisible to everyone else, except bartenders. It's great if you want to eavesdrop on people's lives. If you can manage to conjure a voting interest in whether or not the quiet guy in Wrangler jeans will get through the ballgame double-date his girlfriend insisted on without her lecturing him on the way home about how he didn't even try to make conversation with her friend's boyfriend, time will pass very quickly. That guy had no chance, anyway. Her friend's boyfriend was a slick-talking city guy who'd recently moved to Reno from Los Angeles. The rest of them were from a Nevada town so small that their high school played eight-man football.
They were so young; this double-date could easily be lost to history. This time next year, those two girls could be back at the ballpark, double-dating with a pair of completely different guys. Still, I was rooting for the quiet guy, even though I'll never know how things turned out.
On my way back to the hotel (which doesn't have HBO. I left that bar -- and its almost all-female live band, "The Chick P's" -- hoping to get back here in time to watch "True Blood." I was here by 8:45. No HBO.), I poked my head into the most rundown-looking hotel I'd seen so far in Reno, The Santa Fe Hotel. The door swung open. About a dozen people were sitting at a bar. They all turned and looked at me. I wasn't in the mood. Maybe tomorrow.
In Las Vegas, people stay up all night. They emerge from casinos at 9 AM, shocked to find that it's morning. They walk around in packs, ready for anything since the Las Vegas bureau of tourism has been very successful in convincing people that the minute their plane lands at McCarron Airport, they have permission to essentially shed their "regular" personality and do whatever it is they think "wild" people do. It's amazing.
Here in Reno, people sleep. Sometimes in doorways.