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Archive 52 (over I-80 to Reno)

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PostPosted: Jan Sun 01, 2006 10:44 am    Post subject: Archive 52 (over I-80 to Reno) Reply with quote

Exciting stuff - who would have thought this would be my first "Chains Required" trip over route 80? Guess it's par for the course; I've been up there a zillion times over the years, and this didn't happen until now.
Chains weren't cheap (Sixty bucks), but at least now I've got 'em in my car, if it happens again.

Didn't get to town until about nine; had reservations at the Silver Legacy. I had initially gone to Yahoo travel to check rates, but noticed that there was less than a dollar difference between the travel sites and Silver Legacy's own reservation page. Could it be, I wondered, that booking directly gets you more favorable results at the hotel?

I didn't really get the answer, but I had a perfectly good room on the 32nd floor, with a swell view looking West - there was route 80, where I had just come from, there's the 'northern' downtown (at least, that's how I think of it), the Sands casino/hotel, and there's the Sundowner....wait a minute: the Sundowner was 100% DARK! Geez, how long has this been the case? Now, for those of you who are already way ahead of me, I can tell you that while I've been coming here regularly, I've tended to stay at the Atlantis, because it's closer to our office, which is why I'm there so regularly - so I really haven't been in the downtown much over the last few years, and this was quite a shock. I remember the glorious early days of coming to Reno on the cheesy bus tour, where the hotel was invariably the Sundowner. Not a great hotel, but what did I care? It was cheap, and I was not there to evaluate hotel rooms! On my best-ever bus trip up there, I won two hundred bucks playing two-dollar-a-hand blackjack all night long. Then I wound up missing the bus, which countered a substantial portion of my perceived good fortune.

On another occasion, my then-roommate and I drove up to Reno with a Sundowner reservation, checked in, went up the elevator, opened the door to the room and saw....some guy in the room, sitting in the chair next to the table. We all quickly realized there had been a key mix-up of some kind, and my roommate and I left in a hurry, but the whole few seconds we were in there, the guy had a big smile on his face! Personally, I think he had just finished a big inhalation of some kind of non-tobacco cigarette, if you know what I mean!

There's a lot to be said for stumbling around in lowballer casinos at all hours of the night, and the time I spent doing so at the Sundowner holds a special place in my heart - all the more so, for it was now gone. They had a darn affordable coffee shop, too - tsk.

So from my perch at the Silver Legacy I have now been forced to acknowledge that a real piece of Reno is dead. It has clearly found no new buyer, or any such thing, and looks as though it will join the fate of the "King's Inn", which has been dead ever since I started going there. That place was always a source of fascination for me, as it demonstrated that having casino was not a license to print money. It was clearly possible for things to go wrong - very wrong - and it's a rich source of entertainment speculating on what happened.

In fact, just around the corner from the "King's Inn" was that church, or mission, or whatever it was, where you could see the down-and-out gathering at five in the morning for a charity breakfast. They appeared to even offer a place to spend the night, though the price of admission appeared to be a guitar sing-along, whose theme was presumably sin and redemption, of some sort.

From my early morning staggerings, I would invariably come across the early morning breakfast crowd gathering in front of this church, and it was a potent reminder of what awaited those who went too far with the very type of entertainment I was currently indulging.

Powerful images, all, and now the Sundowner has joined the grave. This got me to thinking: "If the Sundowner's been buried, can others be far behind?" - well, I did a little walking research, and found others. Comstock? I can't even find the building it was once in! The Virginian? Used to be attached to the Cal-Neva - dark. The area where you entered it from the Cal-Neva is boarded over, and a bar and other stuff has been put up against it.
Old Reno - remember that one? It was just a little joint with no hotel or anything - but it was a part of that glorious stretch of blocks that seemed to have non-stop fun. That zone has been seriously broken up. It's partly due to the construction for the train tunnel, no doubt - for those of you unfamiliar with it, be glad - the tracks that run through downtown Reno carry real trains, and because there are so many pedestrians around at all hours, procedure requires that they blast their train whistles frequently. This can interrupt whatever sleep is being attempted in the hotels closest to the tracks, which seems to primarily consist of the Golden Phoenix (which we knew as a Flamingo, but that's another whole tale of intrigue).

The city has taken to solve this traffic and logistics problem by running the tracks into a tunnel, which will go underneath the streets and crossings. I suspect it'll be terrific for the downtown as a whole when it's finished, but they've got a long way to go until then, and in the meantime, the downtown is even more bedraggled by having a shelled-outlook pervade the entire area around the tracks.

In any case, this data was collected during my investigative venture outside the Silver Legacy, which I embarked upon after a brief but important slugging of a beer.

This brings me to an important distinction, one which all regulars will recognize, which is the difference between the weekday and weekend action. All my trips in the last year have begun on Sunday and ended on either Tuesday or Wednesday, which means I'm seeing more of the weekday crowds and activities, which have a different feel from what you get on Saturday nights, when it's essentially the California folk having come across the state lines for some fun.

So when I'm there, the people just like me are on their way out of town, back to their cubicles and computer jobs and absurd housing prices. The difference this time was that we were on our way into a Monday Valentine's day, and the Chinese Lunar New Year was still in full swing. A complete article could be written on the influence of Chinese gamblers at downtown Reno casinos, but that will have to wait for a different day.

What I did witness was lots of trophy couples, embarking on their Valentine's day fun missions. Very cute, really, to see them fawning over one another, imagining what they'll be like in twenty years when they're at each other's throats. But for today, it was, as they say, "All good".

On the streets, of course, the unpredictable crowd has remained so; some here seem to have been wandering around lost since the 1970's, others seem to have just arrived - it is those asking for change who are clearly doing so for the first time in their lives who are the most depressing.
Businesses on the downtown streets are primarily convenience stores, with "Souvenirs" also available, but the goal seems primarily to avoid the high prices for booze in the hotels. Grab a few bottles or cans, or a pint of your favorite liquor, and you've got a far more affordable opener for your evening - unless, of course, you're gambling and winning, and frankly, I didn't hear many shouts of victory on this trip.

In addition to the venues I mentioned having shut their doors, the big boys are also cutting down on their number of table games; at the Silver Legacy, there were plenty of available seats for Blackjack ($5, slightly too much for my budget), but there were many more tables that were on hold, clearly for lack of an audience.

My research into low-minimum blackjack tables revealed that the most desirable action to be found was at the Cal-Neva: three-dollar tables, single deck, open splitting, and drink waitresses were not only present, they would actually slow down enough to take your order. (Sorry, I can't recall what the doubling rules were.)

On each of the three nights I was there, I noticed that Fitzgerald's actually had a two-dollar table, but it was always packed, and others were even waiting to join. Fitzgerald's was further compromised by an awful bathroom/sewage stench which permeated both floors, but was particularly bad on the upper floor. I don't know how anyone could stay in there for more than a few minutes, but I also know the kind of myopia that gambling and drinking can produce.

At my level of play, I was fortunate enough to get ahead by a few hands one night, and a few behind the next. I left Reno with no cash, which can be more or less standard procedure, for those of you familiar with this process - but I was thoroughly satisfied.

This post's getting way too long, so I should wrap it up, but let me know what feedback or input you have regarding the evolution/de-evolution of downtown Reno - it's fascinating stuff!
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