Only in Nevada

The 2017 Great American Escape


Many a long year has gone by since I’ve been sent to bed without my supper.  But here, in the northernmost reaches of the Silver State, hard by the Idaho border, I somehow managed to pull it off.

It is an axiom of business (and of life) that everything takes longer than you think it will.  Driving 537 miles on our first day out proved to be no exception to this rule.  We couldn’t leave from home by dawn’s early light, as first I had to work half a day.  Then a projected 8-hour drive to our first stop took closer to 9½ hours, despite the 75 and 80 mile per hour speed limits on Interstate 80 through the vast, barren Nevada desert.  By the time we arrived at our hotel, its  restaurant had closed up shop for the evening.  I suppose we were lucky that they didn’t give our reservation away.

At check-in, the desk clerk assured us that all the other casinos along U.S. 93 had 24-hour restaurants.  Exhausted, we trudged to our room with our clothes and laptops.  Then came the conundrum:  Sleep or eat?  Eat, we decided.  I was concerned that my wife’s blood sugar would drop too low overnight if she didn’t get some food in her.

Heading back out down the strip, we first came to the Horseshu Casino, which appeared to be out of business.  After waiting at one of the longest red lights I have ever experienced, we crossed the road to Cactus Pete’s.  Inside the lobby, we passed the closed seafood and steak house.  We asked directions and were told that the 24-hour restaurant, named “Nosh,” was located down by the second bar.  What we found was a tiny snack bar counter with tables off to the side.  We inquired as to where the restaurant was and were assured that this was it. “We’re considered a restaurant,” the woman behind the counter informed us.  Talk about using a word loosely.

Good luck finding anything meatless at Nosh.  The sandwiches, we were informed, were pre-made and already had meat on them.  We walked out.

Driving back to our hotel, we figured that if we couldn’t eat, at least we could gamble. The hotel had given us each coupons for $4 in free play.  Upon finding little of interest in the tiny casino, we sat at the bar and played nickel video poker for about half an hour.  We quickly used up the comps and put in some our own money.  My wife hit a string of full houses before coming up with four aces. My machine, by contrast, seemed to specialize in even money “jacks or better.”  All told, we came away down about $2.50.

On the way back to our room, my wife decided to buy a soda from a vending machine.  She was surprised that the price was only 75 cents. We soon discovered why.  Apparently, you can charge low prices and still make a profit if you don’t actually deliver the goods to the customer.  After losing a quarter in the Pepsi machine, she tried the Coke machine, where she lost the full 75 cents.  Luckily, we had brought some bottles of water with us.

Well, if you can’t eat around here after 10 pm and you don’t want to spend a lot of money gambling, surely there are other activities and attractions in the area.  We saw one such place just as we were heading out of Elko.  And it was open all night, too! “Donna’s Ranch,” the sign announced, “open 24 hours.”

Only in Nevada.






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.



Quick Pick


Uncle Guacamole visits the convenience store down the street.

“Please make sure the Coke rings up correctly.  It’s on sale for 99 cents.”

 The smiling clerk provides cheerful customer service.

“Yes, sir.  And would you like to buy a Mega Millions ticket today?  It’s up to 149 million dollars.  All you need is a dollar and a dream.”

“Um, I have a dollar, but I don’t have a dream, sorry.”

“Oh, that’s unusual, sir.  Most people who come in here have a dream but can’t come up with a buck.”

“Well, I had a nightmare last night.  Does that count?  Ooo, let me tell you about it.  I was walking down the street at night and all of a sudden there was this snake right in front of me.  I mean, it so dark I couldn’t see it and I practically tripped over the thing.  And let me tell you, this was one of those big, thick snakes from South America or Africa or someplace, like on the nature shows on TV.  And it was all coiled up but it lifted up its head and just jumped off the ground and starts hissing and spitting at me like it’s going to bite me on the nose!  I panicked and turned around and started running, but it starts coming after me!  I can hear the hissing right behind me.  My heart was pounding and I thought that thing was going to bite me on the butt any second.  And then I tripped and fell flat on my face on the pavement!”

“Oh no!  What happened then?

“I woke up.”

“That sounds horrible!”

“Yeah, it was, but hey… I guess I do have a dream to go with my dollar!”

“I don’t think that’s what they mean.  Haven’t you ever dreamed that you would win millions of dollars in the lottery and travel to exotic places and buy mansions and stuff?”

“Not really.”

“Well, you’re no fun.  But I’ll tell you what.  To make up for that horrible, awful nightmare, I’ll let you play the Mega.  How many you want?”

“I dunno.  How many can I get?”

“As many as you want.”

“Okay.  In that case, I’ll take them all.”

“It’s a dollar for each one, wise guy.”

“Do I have to have a dream for each one, too?  Cuz this was the only time I had that snake dream and, uh, well, I can’t think of another dream, I’m afraid.”

“Okie dokie, one then.  But you’ll have a much better chance of winning if you buy more tickets.  Nobody picks just one set of numbers.  Don’t you want to have a better chance of winning?”

“But I heard that you have the same chance of winning no matter what numbers you pick, so don’t I have the same chance no matter how much money I spend?”

“Huh, I never thought of it that way.”

“Anyway, as I said, I only have one dream.”

“Yeah, I know.  The one about the snakes.  But if you have a dream about winning the jackpot, I think you can use the same dream for all of your tickets.”

“I can?  Wow!  Does that mean I can use the same dollar for all my tickets too?”

“No, sir.  You can have one dream but you have to pay a dollar for each ticket.”

“Well that doesn’t seem very fair, now does it?”

 “Uh, I don’t make the rules, sir.  Wanna pick your numbers?  Go over there and get a card.  Mark your numbers and bring it back to me.  Or do you want me to pick your numbers?”

“Wait a minute.  If you pick my numbers, does that mean that you get the $149 million?”

“No, sir.  It’s your dollar, so you get the money.  Anyway, I’m not going to pick your numbers, the computer does that.”

“Hmm, does the computer have a good record of picking winning numbers?”

“Well, we did have a fifty dollar winner in this store just last week.”

“Does that mean that I’m probably only going to win fifty dollars?”

“No, sir.  You probably won’t win anything.”

“Then why would I want to waste my dollar?”

“Because you never know.  Anything is possible.”

Anything? You mean it’s possible that I’ll win the 149 million and never again have a dream that I’m being chased by a big snake?”

“It’s possible that you’re holding up my line.  And it’s possible that I’ll get fired because of it.  And it’s possible that our security guard is about to escort you out of the store.  Next!”

NaBloPoMo November 2013