My wife and I had an online offer we couldn't refuse - so we didn't. We decided to spend a few days in Reno, Nevada at one of the big casinos. Now my wife and I are not gamers but at 49 bucks a room, we really had nothing to lose.
Reno is billed as the "Biggest Little City in the World." They should amend that to read the "Most Banal Little City in the World." It's like Vegas-lite circa 1967 without the feathered neon headwear.
We checked into this monolithic hotel which was in a flurry of activity. People were like lemmings on ecstasy as they were checking out tribes of blank faced people in bowling shirts. Reno has the largest bowling ally in the world. This made sense to me as I observed that most of the people in the lobby seemed to have one arm longer than the other one.
This facility was enormous as they somehow had linked together three hotel casinos. You can walk about two city blocks going from one to the other without ever going outside or knowing what time of day it is. All you hear are the electronic sounds of machines enticing you to toss your hard earned money into lying droid dream machines. You could contribute in hopes of a major payout and/or valuable prizes - like a Harley or a HumVee, both outdated symbols of American decadence.
We hadn't been to a casino in years. Back in the day all you could hear were coins hitting the loudly metallic trays. People would be walking to and fro, ironically some with 'fros (me being no exception at the time), carrying popcorn buckets of full nickels. The thinking at the time was that if your heard the coins and the screaming bluster of payouts, you'd come in thinking that the joint was jumping and throw all your money away as well. They had "change" people with name tags as to what the employee's name was are and where they were from. Pacifico from Manila. Clem from Idaho. A Latino named Murray Goldberg from New Jersey who was clearly in the witness protection program. These people are gone now. The machines make change, give payouts, and lie about their ancestry all on their own.
Then there were the drink servers. These were the gals too cute to be change people. They'd walk around offering the gamers free drinks. I never understood how a drink could be free since you'd invest 20 bucks every ten minutes into a machine that gives you five dollars back. I was watching this one guy and found myself giggling over the fact that he got a "free" call drink. I didn't want to bust his chops by explaining to him that in actuality, or if he'd paid attention in math class, that free drink cost him 68 dollars.
Reno is famous for its buffets. All you can eat for 22 dollars. This is relatively unimportant to me since my wife and I are not big eaters. I also hold to a socio-cultural position that a dinner without rice and beans cannot be considered a legitimate meal. People, including bowlers, line up like pins waiting to get into these buffets. They load plates with steak, lobster, Twinkies, fish balls, and whatever,
This gives them a false sense of euphoria thinking that there is no recession and that Obama can fix everything once he stops smoking and his mother-in-law moves out.
A historical footnote: Richard Nixon had a bowling alley in the White House.
It is amazing to walk down Virginia Street and see well known multi-million dollar casinos boarded up and out of business. Some of the major hotels are being converted into condos. There is a recession. Reno residents know it, yet tourists who are getting their pockets slapped for spare change think it's supposed to be like this. It seemed paradoxical that as buildings and storefronts are empty, the casinos were filled with people eating, drinking, smoking and gambling. Some folks still have discretionary monies that they seem to be spending with impunity with a ambivalent lack of discretion.
There was one older gentleman who was playing a penny machine as we made our way to breakfast. Fourteen hours later he was at the same machine and dressed in the same clothes as we came back from dinner. There was desperation in his countenance. He was sad, praying that the machine would save him. He like others, was fooled into thinking a penny machine is a penny machine. It isn't if you play fifty coins each spin.
Maybe he didn't get the memo.
Maybe America, as we used to know it, didn't either.
"Action and reaction, ebb and flow, trial and error, change - this is the rhythm of living. Out of our over-confidence, fear; out of our fear, clearer vision, fresh hope. And out of hope, progress."