Let’s get out of town.

Let’s go someplace you might not think you’d want to go, and be surprised that it’s exactly what you thought, but not what you thought, and you spent a lot of time feeling the strangest, most unexpected affection for a place.

I say that as if I’ve been there and back! I have. But I wrote this while I was out and about, and so it’s not colored by my final verdict.

So. Wednesday morning. Airport. We begin:



As usual, I’m early for the flight. Hey, you never know. The roads could be bad. There could be a line somewhere. It’s a 9 AM flight, and that means lots of important people in suits will be flying to the Home Office to visit the Business Factory.

None of that happened, but I don’t mind. I like spending time in airports. Not the panicked running oh god where is my gate time, but the leisurely time when you are either about to or in between, and nothing matters. I had TSAPre for no reason, and had a spare hour to see the latest of the endless upgrades.

Our airport, which is one of the finest, has dozens of new restaurants and shops. Discovered this place called Roasting Plant, which had an attractive logo: good enough for me. Inside there’s an elaborate series of tubes that whisk the beans from the tubes right into the grinder to make it as fresh as humanly possible.

Impressive, but quite capital intensive. I asked what happened when it broke and the clerk laughed and said "I guess we close." The shop has some NYC imagery, because I guess that’s synonymous with good coffee these days. Sorry. Nope. I’m sure there are lots of great coffeehouses with exposed brick walls and a high hipster quotient, but to me it’ll always be the home of lunch-counter coffee served in wide-mouth restaurant cups, with half the stuff sloshed in the saucer by the time you get it, and no refills. Drink it up and tip and get outta here already.

Okay, boarding. Time to get in line. I'm Group 4. Don't know what I did to deserve that, but I'm glad there's a Group 5 I can look down on. Losers! Try to find some bin space! Me, I'm really Group 3 material, as you can tell by looking at me. Probably be Group 3 in the next flight. This is just temporary.


Half empty plane. Had a row to myself. Put on my noise-cancelling headphones, called up the ambient playlist, and drifted off. The idea of sleeping at 10 AM is worrisome on most days, but if you’re flying? Sure. Off to Nod.

Woke up, and went though the Plane Rituals. Read a New Yorker from a few weeks ago. Everything in the front of the book is nervous and outraged; one of the main pieces concerned an artist who was pushing a boundary and forcing us to reexamine something, which was relevant in These Times. The cartoons were amusing. Watched a Alan Partridge Mid-Morning Matters webisodes - a 14-minute show about a pompous small-market radio announcer. Had a cup of hot brown water they call coffee.

Looked out the window.

I love flying. I know the correct attitude to have is Seething Hatred, but I love it; it’s a miracle.

I agreed to this gig a year and a half ago. I’ve had 18 months to prepare. The speech is tomorrow.

I should get started on it.


Not my favorite airport. It’s okay. A bit dated. (Just love to say that to rub it in. Our airport is so nice you see people taking pictures of the bathroom entrances.) I was here with family a few years ago for a long layover, and I remember going up to the Smoking Bar to have a cigar. Damn near asphyxiated. Didn’t stay. If I can sum up the main difference between smoking cigarettes and smoking cigars, it’s this: no one who smokes cigarettes leaves a smoking area because it’s too smoky. Because you have to have that cigarette.

You don’t have to have that cigar.

I got a cup of coffee and sat at the gate, and thought: I should work on the speech. Instead I just sat and looked at people and things. Airplane travel - if there’s enough time built in - makes me calm and passive and curious. I feel as if I’ve been teleported. I was in Minneapolis and now I am in Denver and it’s the same morning. This is remarkable. The airport has regional touches that remind me I’m in Colorado! I am looking at a stuffed animal indigenous to this region. Sure, it’s ersatz and second-hand but what would I be doing otherwise? Typing at work.

This is better than typing at work.

I'm Group 4 again.






I gather that crosswinds are a regular occurrence at this airport. One of the more rock-and-roll landings I’ve had in a while; big drops, pushback from Mother Nature, hard hit on wheels down. The pilot didn’t level out until we were at the gate.

Found my driver; settled in for a quick ride downtown. Blocks and blocks of low-rise / low-rent baked raw sprawl. When we got downtown to the hotel we had to pause at a light, and I saw a man fall off a curb. Just fell over, head first, boneless limbs unable to mediate the decline. He laid there for a while, attempting to get up, hand raking the ground for the bag with the bottle.

Welcome to . . .








The original sign was moved around and then sold to another town. This old sign that looks original is a reconstruction.

The hotel is black and grey and new. There’s an inlaid design on the lobby floor that says Est. 1954. Well, something was established in 1954. I check in, wait for an elevator; when the doors open I see a car whose walls have a b&w panorama of some place mountainous, and the floor has tiles that say


Or, if you want to read it the other way:


Perhaps, if you are an American in the oldest and broadest sense, this has to be true. The desert, the unexplored regions, the camp by the creek, the hardscrabble town by the railroad - there’s something romantic and raw and true about that sentiment. In the end we’re all alone on a desert looking up at the snow-capped glory, right? And then we hear the eagle screech and surrender our soul to the great Blue Sky above -

ding! My floor.

The room is nice. I look out the window, and am surprised to find a river. Swollen and turbulent, falling over itself like a mob streaming out of town to escape calamity.

I’d looked around on Google Street View, and seen nothing but empty streets and gimcrack signage and gambling-house come-ons promising a banal recap of old rat-pack glories.

I could work on my speech, or I could go looking for Reno. An easy choice. Shall we take a stroll?


Basque family style dining!


I thought at first - what a dump. But it’s got high hopes, and it’s doing something about it - at great public expense with lots of private investment and tax credits, I suspect. The mainstay of the place is gambling, but they don’t want it. So I'm told. Gambling is downmarket and déclassé and attracts sad people. This isn’t Vegas. It’s like Vegas for people who can’t be bothered, people who just want to sit and hit buttons. So I'm told.


Hence, a new future: tech! Of course. As anyone will tell you, Google is coming in. Amazon is coming in. Tesla is coming in. The Holy Trinity of the new economy. (Data farms for the first two, I suspect, and a factory for the car company.) My hotel, the Renaissance, does not have a casino. It has bocce ball. Another new hotel has a rock climbing wall instead of a casino. Because they think these are pastimes that will appeal to the young tech crowd.

This place has been closed for years. Slated for conversion to office, I think.


What's faded is often more interesting than what's new.


Not all the sockets have bulbs, which you could probably say about the residents as well. Whatever that means.

Must have been a wonder when it was brand new, as the man sung:

If the L fell off and hit someone I'll bet he spent a night trying to find a place at the casino where he could bet on an L.

It looks more fun than it is, but at least it's a view you could have seen many years ago:

Here's something of note. It's a small building with a late-40s curved awning.


From Reno Historical:

Standing in front of the Delucchi Building, built in 1948, it’s hard to imagine that Lake Street was once the center of Reno’s rich cultural heritage. You are steps away from the city’s long-gone Chinatown and at the portal to a neighborhood once known for its Italian hotels, Spanish hotels, Basque hotels, Jewish clothing stores and Jewish pawnshops, Chinese laundries, and hole-in-the-wall restaurants of a dozen nationalities.

Look around today:

The river, on one side, is old and available.

But then you go a few more blocks, and there's this:

A brief river view; no sound, so please make rushing-water sounds to compensate.


At night, right by my hotel:


I came to love that river.


I wandered through the old casinos - a Wednesday, not the high point, I’m sure - and the rooms had no buzz, no lift, no thrill. I’m immune to the enticements of gaming, but I know when a room is fun. The Aria in Vegas was fun, and it was high-class and high-dollar. This is low-rent penny slots, and the town doesn’t want it.

But I did find a machine that seemed worthy of my quarters, so I put in some money - and won!

One free game on the Indiana Jones pinball table!

I should back up and explain what I’m doing here, no?

That’s tomorrow.




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