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Reno, NV

Right, then…

The first time I went to Reno was shortly after my 21st birthday.  My cousin and I flew out there for a couple of days to basically drink, gamble and ski, if memory serves.  This, mind you, was in 1992 – back when Reno was a viable alternative to going to Lake Tahoe.  Of course, a storm rolled in which would have meant renting a 4WD vehicle in order to get to the mountain.  However, my cousin didn’t want to spend the extra money on that, so we stayed at the hotel and gambled.

You can probably guess that it would have been cheaper to rent the 4WD vehicle. 

This was also the first time I was introduced to Bloody Marys.  Finding the mixture of tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, horseradish and vodka to be pleasing, I had about 15 of them – give or take.  I learned two things that evening:

  1. Casino’s are somewhat forgiving if you spill a Bloody Mary on their Blackjack table, and
  2. They are markedly less so if you do it twice.  I’d even go so far as to say they get downright pissy.

Having been 86’ed, I wandered down the train tracks to our room at The Sands (this was back when the tracks were at grade level) and passed out.  Those 15 Bloody Marys revisited me at about 4am; this is when I learned a third thing that evening:

  • When Mary comes back, she can be nasty, bordering on downright bitchy.  That’s for goddamn Skippy.

Now, in the 19 years between then and now, I’ve visited Reno a handful of times – both when it was still a viable alternative to Lake Tahoe and – as recently as five years ago – when it was altogether depressing to even be there. 

The last few years, some friends and I have been taking the train over, primarily using Reno as a basecamp so that we can go cross-country skiing.  [OK, maybe “basecamp” is a bit too exotic a phrase – we’re staying at the El Dorado(which is Spanish for:  “The Dorado”), for gawds sake.] 

The cool thing about taking the train over is that the vacation starts as soon as you board the train, as opposed to starting four to six hours after you left home.  The route itself is what makes this worth it.  Mind you, I would not have the same feelings about this, if I had to take a trip running through the San Joaquin Valley– though that might be a deep-seated aversion to farmland that I developed while growing up in the SJV.  It’s the fact that you get to watch the Sierra Nevada Mountains roll by is what makes the Reno route great. 

The past few times I’ve been, it seems that Reno has been trying to get back to something.  It’s not that they’re trying to return to their former “Biggest Little City in the World” glory, either.  No, I think they’re gunning for something between that and being the working model for economic depression, which is what it was a few years ago.  I say this because in the recent years, I’ve noticed some new side walks, some street sculpture (casino chips) and an open greenspace/park between the El Dorado and what used to be Fitzgeralds.  In short, it looks like they’re trying to spruce the place up a bit, which I like to see.

What I noticed more this year was in the former Fitzgeralds.  The Fitz has been closed since 2008, and the sight of an abandoned casino right on the strip is unnerving, to say the least.  Now, it appears that it is in the process of being reinvented as something called Commerce Row (or CommRow).  The casino downstairs has been converted into some sort of club, it seems.  To be honest, I never checked this out because a) I’m not of the age that any self-respecting man should be going to “clubs” and b) even when I was that age, I never liked them.  What interested me was on the second floor:  A climbing gym!  Yay!

Well, of course I went.  I did not get a chance to do any bouldering, but I did get eight or nine runs on the climbing wall on the outside.  Chatting with the manager, he said that the gym (called Base Camp) has been open since about October 2011 and is slowly getting more and more clientele.  [As an “It’s-a-small-world” aside, the routes were set by a guy that also works for Planet Granite, my home gym.]

While we were chatting he mentioned that down at the Truckee River, there is now a kayak park where professional kayakers come to train (in addition to being used by recreational kayakers).  This is now in addition to the proximity to snow sports (Mt.Rose, Tahoe-Donnner, etc…) and water sports (DonnerLake).

While I was putting all this together in my mind, it dawned on me: Reno is reinventing itself as an outdoor activity destination.  Think about it:  Gambling is fickle – it depends largely on ones disposable income at the moment (or the acuteness of ones addiction, should that be the case).  But with outdoor activities, most folks that participate already have made the heavy equipment buy-in…all they need to do is find a place to go and do.  Here, when you’re done going and doing, you can go back to the hotel, get some food and get your drink on and gamble, should you so desire.  Thus,Reno. 

“Genius.  Sheer genius.” –Wile E. Coyote—

Back to us, we had a great weekend.  Again, the trip up and back was great (Tip:  Buy picnic stuff and bring it on the train.  Pro tip:  Bring a nice table cloth – you will impress everyone else in the observation car.)  I think my friends that gambled came up either a little up or a little down, but everyone’s making the house payment this month, so no real damage was done.  We ate quite well (as a quick aside, the Best Ceasar Salad in the History of Time can be had at the steak house in Harrah’s).

As for Reno, I hope this reinventing works out well for them.  All too often, people and organizations refuse to change because “we’ve always done it this way” and they will hang on to the past, even to their detriment.  I like to see something choose evolve, and and a function of that, become successful because of that decision to evolve.

  1. free penny press
    April 2, 2012 at 03:16

    I have traveled many places in this US of A, but Nevada is one state I have not visited. It saddens me when towns have to spend energy to re-invent themselves after economic depressions. Saddens because they slid down to begin with.. However, like you said, Reno’s new plans sound like the perfect fit for everyone. What a great idea of not just focusing on gambling..

    New Orleans is doing the same thing..Instead of being known as “that flooded city” of Bourbon Street they have a mass infusion of young entrepreneurs adding new jobs and a new perspective to NOLA.

    Sounds like the weekend was a hit!!!!

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