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,
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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:
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