It seems a bit like returning to the scene of the crime.
The Reno area used to be our playground. Even when we lived six hours away, we’d plan long weekends here. For a while, I competed in at least one Scrabble tournament here each year. But then we moved too far for even a long weekend trip. So we’ve been away for about two years now.
My wife and I honeymooned here all those years ago. Suffice it to say that things have changed a bit since then. For one, we no longer need to hoard rolls of nickels to play the poker machines. Within an hour or so, our fingers would be black from handling the coins. Today, there are no more slots or poker machines that take nickels or quarters. The days of neatly piled buckets next to each machine are long gone. Now, most of these gambling machines take paper money only and record your wins electronically rather than spitting out coins into a hopper. To collect your winnings, you pull a credit slip from a slot, which can be redeemed for cash at another machine elsewhere in the casino. I do miss the ping-ping-ping of the falling coins hitting metal. Today, slot machines emit an entirely fake “coin” noise at cashout that fools no one.
When I was much younger and lived in New York, I used to take the day tour bus down to Atlantic City to play the slots at the Boardwalk casinos. I’d start at Bally’s, where the bus dropped us off, and make my way down to the Playboy, enjoying the salt air and crashing waves along the way. Back then, we called slot machines “one-armed bandits” and, indeed, pulling that handle was a unique thrill.
There are no handles anymore. Nowadays, you just push a button. Somehow, all the romance has gone out of it.
Here in Reno, we try to stay away from the tourist meccas on the Strip. We tend to spend most of our visit across the river in Sparks, either at Baldini’s on Rock Boulevard (our favorite locals’ joint) or at the Nugget or Grand Sierra. Or we head out to South Reno, where we enjoy a small railroad-themed casino called Tamarack Junction.
Baldini’s has a particular charm, fueled by local residents, many of them retirees. This is a place where your player’s card will get you a full breakfast (which includes unlimited pancakes) for $2.99. A burger, fries and a soda will set you back a whopping 99 cents at the Brickyard Cafe upstairs.
We usually play penny poker at Baldini’s. With my wife and I playing at side-by-side machines, it took us more than two hours to run through ten bucks apiece. And they’re constantly running contests and promotions where you swipe your player’s card and your name goes into a hopper and they call out winners of free play prizes at various times of day. Baldini’s is just a fun, relaxed kind of place.
We usually try to save money by staying at cheap, basic motels instead of the overpriced rooms at the resorts. Of course, everything is a trade-off. It’s Saturday night and there is a party going on a few rooms down. Some of these people appear to be drunk and preparing to start a fight. You have to take what you get.
One thing about the Reno area has definitely not changed over the years, however. This place is a good five thousand feet up in the Sierra Nevadas. As we live in California, we tend to forget that it’s winter, despite the February page on the calendar. But here, the temperature is in the thirties, and the brisk air is accompanied by just the tiniest bit of snow remaining unmelted at the roadsides.
It’s good to get away for a few days every now and then.