The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress
July/August 2005
FEATURE
 
 

I Shot A Man In Reno: A Photographer's Walking Tour
 

BY MICHAEL KEATING

Did-it, did-it, did-it, did-it, did-it, did-it, did-it.

Jitterbugging, syncopated lights dance to rock and roll rhythms, the music so-very-familiar: the soundtrack of our lives chopped and diced and repackaged. The soundtrack follows you to bars and toilets and one-arm-bandits. Stevie Nicks chases you, wraith-like, from casino to casino: “Just like the white-winged dove sings a song sounds like she’s singing whoo, whoo, whoo.” Even running into the streets, you can’t escape. There are speakers on the street: “Whoo, whoo, whoo.”

Outside, the buildings are bathed in red and green neon. No—not red, but crimson. Not green, but a gaseous chartreuse. Undulating, psychedelic neon simulates intracellular movement and brain waves. “Simulates,” however, is the operative word here.

There are few pedestrians outside. Hell, it’s hard even to find the outside. But finally you stand there on the sidewalk in the relative quiet bathed in pulsating colors. You light a cigarette. The spartan bar across the street—Shooters—smirks an invitation: “Liquor in the front, poker in the rear.”

If you love to gamble, you’re in heaven. Head back inside. There’s backgammon. There’s the wheel of fortune. Poker and roulette. And, of course, the slots: silver dollars, quarters, dimes, nickels. There are even penny slots. Maybe if you work them long enough some waitress will offer you one of those fabled free drinks. Otherwise, you can fork out just under four dollars like the rest of the chumps.

But if you’ve thrown away enough change, or your eyes are spinning in circles from trying to follow the lights, or you’ve heard enough of the Soundtrack of our Lives, slip outside (once you locate an exit) and look around Reno.

Reno is on the high desert. You’re about 4,400 feet above sea level. The Sierra Nevadas form the backdrop, in summer beautiful, majestic, and still dolloped with snow. In August, Reno is hot. Temperatures often hit one hundred. So wear sun screen if you go out during the day. As the sun drops, however, so does the temperature. It’s not unusual for the night-time temps to fall by thirty or forty degrees. So bring a light jacket. You’ll need it.

SOUTH

Head south on Virginia, Sierra, or West Streets (the hotel spans all three), and you’ll come to the Truckee River. The Truckee is a beautiful little river that flows down from the Sierras through downtown Reno. It’s been reworked into the 2,600-foot Truckee River White Water Park. All seasons you can shoot the rapids downtown. It’s a class 2-3 course with 11 drop pools.

Along its banks are walkways and shops. Dreamers is one of several coffee shops that could double as living rooms or even stage sets. There are newspapers and chess boards and lots of people hanging out, both inside and on the riverside patio. The Century Riverside 12 offers a dozen movie screens should you desire an air-conditioned respite from reality. Trees droop over the river.

It’s a good destination for a quiet walk after a grueling day pondering the merits of candidates and proposed constitutional amendments. Several attractive churches with glowing stained-glass windows huddle against the riverbank. Wingfield Park, along the river at Arlington Street, offers outdoor concerts during the summer.

If you walk down Virginia Street, you’ll pass the famous Reno Arch, which proclaims you’re in “The Biggest Little City in the World.” Less remarkably, you’ll pass the Antique Angel Wedding Chapel, one of many unimposing matrimony shops in Reno. Remember Marilyn Monroe in The Misfits? She comes for a quickie divorce. Well, you won’t see her here.

And if you take West Street, you won’t see Montgomery Clift either, but you’ll find some modern down-and-out cowboys queuing up at the homeless shelter or staggering in the direction of the defunct Babylon.

Additionally, you’ll find the Beaujolais Bistro, just half a block this side of the river at 130 West Street.

A truly excellent French restaurant, the place is quiet, simple, and elegant. The wine list is mostly French and California; you may want your waiter to recommend one. Appetizers include seafood sausage with lobster sauce and a pear, endive, and watercress salad. Beef bourguignonne, Muscovy duck breast with apples and calvados, and lamb shanks with Moroccan spices are a few of the entree selections. It’s on the pricey side (entrees are $17-24) but always crowded. Reservations: 775-323-2227.

Shopping is generally a no-win situation around the hotel. Most of the shops are tourist knick-knack shops. Serious shopping is done in the malls outside town. There are a few exceptions. One, at 100 N. Sierra, is an antiques emporium with many dealers and many booths. My brother in California claims that in the West everything over twenty years old is considered an antique. These shops don’t contest that notion. Nonetheless, it’s fun to root through the goods, much of which is whimsical or downright goofy.

The Truckee River is the center of the Reno Arts District. There are many galleries, but the crown jewel is the new Nevada Museum of Art, which rises like a black ship from the intersection of West Liberty and Hill Streets. It’s a dramatic building designed by Will Bruder and inspired by Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. The museum contains remarkable and sweeping interior spaces and one very cramped and claustrophobic space: Tom Judd’s “The Hermit Project,” a tiny constructed room that recreates a pioneer hovel. The museum rotates its large permanent collection, little of which predates the twentieth century and most of which is by Nevada artists.

The work of two Nevada photographers is included: Jeff Brouws’s brooding and elegiac urban landscapes and Adam Jahiel’s “Cowboy Series.” Many of the paintings are western landscapes, sometimes pristine, sometimes altered by humans, and sometimes devastated by greed. During the VVA Convention, the museum will be exhibiting the results of the Nevada Triennial, a juried competition.

Situated by itself on South Lake Street by the river is the National Automobile Museum. Yes, it’s all about cars: over 220 vintage, antique, and unique vehicles are on display.

NORTH

But if we return to the spot where Stevie Nicks and the swirling neon pincushions chased us into the light, and we stand again before the uninspiring face of Shooters, but this time we turn north, we will in short order arrive at the University of Nevada, Reno. The campus is very pretty and peaceful. In August I’m not sure that even summer school will be in session. The Breakaway Lounge, just off campus at the corner of Ninth and Virginia Streets, is offering discounts to VVA members. The university’s Fleischmann Planetarium shows movies during the summer.

Walgreen’s, that little bit of paradise, straddles the interstate at Center Street. It’s just a few blocks from the hotel. Aside from the usual drug-store supplies, Walgreen’s stocks food, sodas, and snacks. Yes, and coolers, too.

EAST

Should VVA conventioneers venture east, two large municipal buildings immediately come into view. The L.A. Times quipped that the National Bowling Stadium at 300 Center Street is the “Taj Mahal of Tenpins.” It has 78 professional lanes, the world’s largest video screen, a turn-of-the-century bar, a shop selling all the latest bowling gear (don’t ask me), and a mammoth movie screen.

However, you can’t just walk in and bowl. But you can register for the STORM National Mixed Championships. August 11 and 12 are available. They tell me it’s a lot of fun, not seriously competitive. Or maybe competitive and fun. Go to the web site www.nationalmixed.com to fill out a registration form, or call 800-304-BOWL. At any rate, slip inside to take a look at the sculpture in the lobby of a family on the way to the bowling alley: Norman Rockwell on speed.

Next door is the Reno Events Center. While it is host to many competitive events such as 8-ball championships, it is also the site of many concerts. During the Convention, on August 13, Los Lonely Boys will perform. Ask your grandkids who they are. They will be preceeded on August 9 by Carole King. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster.

Fourth Street is a broad avenue that starts out pretty grand and ends up pretty seedy. Just beyond the aforementioned municipal behemoths but before the street turns seedy, you’ll find Louis’ Basque Corner.

The Basque arrived in Nevada in the early 1900s, herding their sheep. Occasionally, they’d come into town to buy and sell, and restaurants sprung up to accommodate their palates. While many of Basque descent remain in Nevada, the profession of humble shepherd has long since been abandoned. Basque cuisine is thriving in Reno. One of the city’s best Basque restaurants is close to the Silver Legacy.

When you walk into Louis’ at 301 East Fourth Street, you think you’ve made a mistake. Not an unpleasant mistake, but it’s a bar. Friendly and pleasant, but a bar.

Don’t be discouraged. Walk to the back. Tucked behind a half wall is a classic, clean, well-lighted place. Rows of tables are arranged family style. The waitress greets you, then seats you next to some locals. The menu changes from night to night but is always limited. Some Basque restaurants, in fact, offer no choices. The night we were there we were offered pork loin, shrimp, sirloin steak, and French double cut lamb chops. I chose the lamb: big, juicy chops. But before the lamb, however, comes all the other things we didn’t select: the soup, the bread, the cold red wine (terrible, no wonder it’s cold), and the appetizer: utterly delicious beef tongue stewed in tomatoes and sweet peppers.

No neon lights here, no jet setters, no slot machines. Just solid, friendly people enjoying solid meals and the friendship of others. It’s probably a good idea to make reservations: 775-323-7203. Across the street is a jazz club.

Another solid place with good food is Big Ed’s. It’s much further down Fourth Street. Across the street is a topless bar. Although prostitution is illegal in Reno, there are street walkers this far down Fourth Street. Right up the street is a Western gear store.

Big Ed’s is best known for breakfast. It’s a local hangout with delicious omelets. On Saturdays they serve a special shrimp and crab omelet that causes lines to form out the door. Big Ed’s is at 1036 East Fourth Street.

TRAVELING FREE

With the exception of Big Ed’s, everything described so far is within easy walking distance of the hotel. Downtown Reno is flat and easy for those in wheelchairs. Not until you approach the university is there a significant hill. But if you don’t have the time (or the inclination) to walk, catch the Sierra Spirit.

Everything described so far (well, except Big Ed’s) is within a block of the Sierra Spirit. This is a downtown bus. Sunday to Wednesday, it runs from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Thursday to Saturday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. It runs every ten minutes. Best of all, it’s free.

UP & AWAY

Whether or not you like gambling, it’s a pretty safe bet you’ll like your room at the Silver Legacy. The beds are the best part: they’re big and comfortable. The rooms are big and the bathrooms have plenty of space to maneuver around in. The windows look out over Reno and onto the mountains.

There are only two problems: no refrigerators and no coffee-makers. Of course, this encourages an expeditious return to the lobby (and the nearby casino floor).

The casino seems to occupy many city blocks, and, in fact, it does. But not by itself. From the lobby, you can follow the crowd to the Silver Legacy dome, with its indoor “silver mine” looming high into the dome under artificial thunderstorms. Down below is the foxfire of one-arm-bandits and other games of chance. But turning left brings you seamlessly to Circus, Circus, once the grande dame of Reno’s casinos. Above the casino floor is an ersatz midway that features occasional circus acts. But if you had turned right at the silver mine, you would have found yourself passing (perhaps) a particularly nice micro brewery (often featuring live music) and just as seamlessly entering the El Dorado.

All three of these establishments have restaurants that offer good food in abundant quantities.

Most likely you came into town through the Reno-Tahoe International Airport, and the second half of that equation shouldn’t be missed. But you’ll need transportation; it’s a 45-minute drive. You’ll climb above 6,000 feet. Then it takes a couple hours (at least) to circle the lake. Lake Tahoe is huge, deep, and crystal clear. It’s called the Jewel of the Sierras for good reason.

While much of the area has been taken up with pricey towns, there remain vast tracks of evergreen forest, inspiring rock outcrops, and crashing waterfalls.

Those who like culture with their nature will be glad to know that two cultural series will be taking place during VVA’s Reno Convention. The first is the annual Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival at the natural amphitheater at Sand Harbor State Park.
The festival runs from July 14 to August 21 with productions of Comedy of Errors and Macbeth. For information: www.laketahoeshakespeare.com or call 800-74-SHOWS for tickets.

The Lake Tahoe Music Festival ends Thursday, August 11, with the Fifth Dimension. So if you’re still waiting for the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, tickets at Squaw Valley are $30 general, $40 preferred seating. For information: www.Tahoemusic.org or call 530-583-3101.

Be careful with that ATM in the lobby of the Silver Legacy. If you want $100, it gives you a single $100 bill. Yeah, yeah, it’s easy to get change. Just go down the hallway, and down the escalator to the main casino. Machines there will break it for you.

Winner!

   

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