A Casino in Reno: Part II: You Only Get One Chance to Make a First Impression

April 30, 2013

Basically, Wonderful Ones, MM and myself are home bodies. We love pottering about, reading, doing household tasks and wrangling cats.  It’s a good thing, too, because now that we’re both retired, looking to live out our years on our income from Social Security, modest pleasures are best.  For many of our fellow oldsters the centerpiece of retirement is the opportunity to travel widely and travel often. We know people who do that and I congratulate them for having the means to make it possible.  Our own travel dreams hinge on the fuel-efficient car we bought a year ago.  It should allow us to journey here and there in the U.S. a couple of times a year without busting our budget.   And for that odd blow out adventure to some far-flung corner of North America, we’re thinking trains are our ticket to affordable vacations.

We test drove our concept last year during a getaway to a certain glittering desert oasis in south Nevada (please see Road Trip Las Vegas!).  We had a good time on that outing and, although it seemed then that we’d had enough of bright lights and casinos, when I wondered about a destination for a “quickie” springtime road trip this year, Reno– Nevada’s other gambling capitol– came quickly to mind.  We don’t gamble to speak of but there is something about the idea of a lot of people in one place all “having fun” that draws in the imagination and peaks one’s curiosity.  Also, I’d been by the town a couple of times over the years but had no sense of how it was laid out or what else might go on there besides casino tourism.  It was a blank spot on the map which needed to be colored in, so we packed our crayons and went there.

In Part I of this post you may have read my tale of the logistical and ethical boogymen which almost de-railed the trip. This present part, however, is just a scrapbook of “field notes” and random observations.  The photos are impressionistic because I mostly used my iPhone camera and the images were often too poor to be shown.  The few pics I have included here are simply a scattershot of the best ones or those I think are fun.  Cheers!

Near the rest stop at Donner Pass.

Next to the rest stop at Donner Pass.

On our way to Reno Sunday afternoon we were surprised by the lack of snow in the mountains.  The most we saw near the road was at the top of Donner Pass and it looked to be melting fast.  My first thought when we were planning the trip was that we would take our snowshoes and stop for a hike along the way.  After I checked a ski conditions cam I abandoned that idea, but even so I expected at least SOME snow would be left by April.

Late in the afternoon as we approached the desk to check in at the Silver Legacy, a cheerful employee came around with a silver tray offering glasses of bubbly.  Of course we were glad to accept! Cheers, indeed 🙂

Our hotel is one of three hotel/casino “resorts” (along with the Circus Circus and the El Dorado) which are clustered together in downtown Reno and interconnected by pedestrian arcades.  Originally they must have been competitors but somehow now they’re part of one large complex with three big hotels, three big casinos and many dozen restaurants and shops.  Together they’re a maze — initially a rather happily confusing warren of neon, blazing slot-machines, stairways and curious twists and turns.  By our second evening I began to find my way around pretty well and it was possible to see past the smoke and mirrors to the ordinary details of “business as usual” in an efficient theme park.  Actually, the smoke was no joke.  Smoking was allowed in the casinos and eateries and the smell of tobacco hung on us even in our non-smoking part of the hotel.

In the lobby of our hotel.

In the lobby of our hotel.

We were in room #1878 on the eighteenth floor at the end of an extremely long hall.  It was your basic hotel room but nicely done and very clean.  I even liked the wall art.  Our view to the west was  of the Sierras and a newish but vacant hotel three hundred yards away (“Best Rest in the West” was it’s motto). The first night was noisy on our floor because the hotel was overrun with teams of teenage girls in outfits with an acrobat/cheerleader sort of look. By night two they were gone and middle-aged or older bowlers had arrived for a big, multi-day competition. Things got a lot quieter then.

Our room was at the end on the left.

Our room was at the end of this hall on the left.

Mt. Rose and Sunflower Peak from our room.

Mt. Rose and Sunflower Peak seen from our room.

Our big party was the night we arrived.  We toured the casinos, dropped a few quarters, got lost, had a couple of drinks and went to eat in a high-roller steakhouse.  The meal there was good enough but I thought the dark, probably faux, wood-paneled decor and the hovering young waiters all just a few feet from a smokey casino full of penny slot-machines felt tacky and jokey.  But, hey, I later read in a restaurant guide that it is considered one of Reno’s finest “fine dining” spots.

MM in a bar named DringX sipping something called a Sex on the Beach.    MM in a bar named DrinX sipping something pink called a Sex-on-the-Beach.


Day two dawned beautifully and we spent it out and about, starting with a fine breakfast at  IHOP. Next door MM saw a strip mall sign: ” Jelly Donuts /Laundromat.”  She was delighted with  this inventive business model, but it turned out, sadly, to be two seperate storefronts. Continuing on, we trolled around Reno neighborhoods to get a sense of how the peeps live (those with $$$ have handsome brick homes with lawns, the rest of them live….like us),  took the cook’s tour of the Peppermill Hotel/Casino (much posher than ours), visited an art gallery suggested by M.’s friend (a very chic place w/ “interesting” art), had lunch (next to a four lane boulevard named Moana LANE)  and took our extra fries to a little urban lake to feed the ducks, but didn’t stop ’cause it was mobbed by SEAGULLS, for gosh sake, and white with guano.

Then we motored to the handsome new museum housing the late Bill Harrah’s car collection. I expected all those cars would be a bit of a bore, but they WEREN’T because they told me a great story about human ingenuity and mapped out an interesting social history of the recent century.  MM and I agreed that seeing the National Automobile Museum was the highlight of our Reno visit. Check it out!


A crazy 1921 Rolls. All copper!

A crazy 1921 Rolls. All copper!

And now, the car of the future!

And now, the “Car of the Future….”

MM’s secret wish for the rest of the afternoon was to hang out in our the room with a bourbon and soda and read, and mine was to be in our room to watch the sun set over the Sierra Nevada.  Three hours later….missions accomplished!  Dinner that night was Mex at a joint in the Circus Circus (“Dos Geckos”) where the Mexican restaurant shared space with a sushi bar!  Actually, we think it was a sushi bar AND full liquor bar, although I can’t say if the bartender also rolled the hamachi, LOL.


Exif_JPEG_PICTURE                                               In the background, the dead hotel.

That evening MM curled up in bed with Netflicks on the iPad (we never did turn on our big flat-screen TV) and I went out to see what was going on at the United States Bowling Congress Open.  The competition was being held only a block away in an vast temple called the National Bowling Stadium.  It’s facade features an imposing gold geodesic dome to symbolize, of course, a bowling ball.  Entering, one stands in a five story atrium supported by great white pillars.  Left and right, long escalators sweep up to the third level where the crash of toppling pins can be heard.  At the top is an enormous room sixty-five bowling lanes (!!) wide with wall-to-wall electronic scoreboards and an expansive spectator gallery.



Maybe twenty-five teams–some with matchy shirts, most in street clothes–were bowling.  The scene was surprisingly low key with no announcer and only a handful of spectators, so perhaps it was an elimination round.  These were very good, presumably amateur, bowlers who were throwing strike after strike and deftly picking off spares.  All the same I did notice a small number of gutter balls.  Before I left one dude scored 300, a perfect game, and a great cheer went up.  The most fascinating detail was the fact that EVERY bowler came back from EVERY “at bat”  (or whatever rolling the ball is called) and high-fived EVERY member of his/her team!


When I got back to our hotel I mooched around the casinos and dropped a few bucks into dollar and nickle slot-machines.  There were no roulette or craps tables to be seen. Maybe  serious money was changing hands at the card tables, but on the whole the action seemed to be geared toward the low-stakes gambler.  Penny slots were everywhere and were popular.  I did witness a guy score a jackpot on a penny slot.  The machine rang up credits over and over and over. It went on doing this for so long that I finally lhad to leave, and by that time the credit window showed well over $1800.!

A few closing impressions of Reno:  The town seems like a work in progress.  It’s situated prettily right at the foot of the mountains (much like Boulder, CO) and a handsome small river does run through it. Downtown, though, is barren and shuttered except for a few bigger enterprises like the casinos, and looks to be in need of redevelopment.  The area next to the Truckee River is being  sweetened up and promoted as a cultural corridor.  The car museum to located there among other new things including parks and a River Walk.  The burg sprawls for sure, with waves of McMansions visible on the hills to the west and north. We thought we could walk from our hotel to the good stuff but everything we wanted to get to was along or near Virginia Ave, a long straight commercial strip which runs south from downtown for several miles.  Reno is going to be just fine, I’d say,  but I don’t see us going back there very soon unless we take up bowling seriously.

This morning reflection looks west toward the mountains....and home.

This morning reflection looks west toward the mountains….and home!

MM and I got out of Dodge mid-morning and reached Truckee, CA in time for breakfast at the most down home, mainstreet cafe you can imagine.  The regulars were there and one waitress was telling them how she’d leave town if she could and go somewhere warm like LA.  The other filled me in on the wave of youth suicides that had the locals baffled and hurt.  We knocked off a few more minutes checking out the chi-chi shops along Main and then drove on down the hill.  Along the way my wife noticed that trees which had been barely budding on the way up had leafed out already.  In Sacramento we visited R. and young Roy for an hour, admired the garden and new sofa and caught up on family news.  We were anxious to return our borrowed car quickly , so we  continued on our way and pulled up in front of the house by 3:00 pm.  We were glad to be home and, Wonderful Ones, in the end we’d had a good trip.  Next time, however, we will be taking our own car!



One Response to “A Casino in Reno: Part II: You Only Get One Chance to Make a First Impression”

  1. Glad everything worked out and you got to go on the trip after all. We went to Reno together years ago, to go skiing remember? Other than that my only other trip there was with Alicia, to visit her family. We had a great time bombing around in her dad’s vintage Ford pickup, playing classic rock way too loud. We went downtown briefly (to visit walk around the strip next to the river) but spent most of our time in the suburbs.

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