When Stinky and I were in Reno recently, we spent 16 hours each day working ourselves silly collecting information for Mr. Shandis's latest venture. We had to, because he has now bolted small tracking devices to our shins and if he catches us lollygagging he can jolt us with 2000 Watts of electricity. Luckily, he didn't give us any budget for replacing the batteries, and we were able to slip away for a couple hours Saturday night.
What to do in Reno on a Saturday night? Certainly not stay in our squalid room at the Sundowner, where the past will live forever, in the beds, boxsprings and bathrooms.
First we went to the Atlantis to claim my first prize in the Elk's Ladies Auxiliary slot tournament. A cool one hundred bones was waiting for me. Most likely, the Lady Elks would want me to donate that money to their good causes, but I figured they'd just blow it on cheap beer. So, I pocketed it and we ran before those ladies could club us with their walkers.
We headed out on the town, looking for the finest gaming a hundred dollars could buy. Downtown was overrun by goateed dot-com millionaires from San Francisco and Silicon Valley. They crowded the $5 and $10 blackjack while guzzling Mountain Dew and talking about intranet servers and Windows 2000. The idea of kicking them in the shins under the table was appealing to us, but we knew our dot-com zero-aire bankrolls wouldn't buy us much kicking. So, we headed to the outskirts of town, where the mob buries bodies and guys like us can gamble.
Rail City is a dump in Sparks, but it has a 50-cent craps game and a coffee shop that cooks up food so greasy you can smell it all the way across the casino. Their two-dollar blackjack and loud classic rock lounge acts draw a mix of blue-collar workers who drink too much and then yell at people like us in the parking lot. In fact, they yell loud and they spit, too. If their goal was to hurt our feelings, mission accomplished. After Mark consoled me back from a fit of shaking sobs, we got back in the car and took our business elsewhere.
Western Village is the easternmost casino in Sparks, which is east of Reno. The casino is surrounded by low-slung motel buildings that wouldn't qualify for military housing. They are dirty, scary and packed with angry looking men with long, stringy hair. The casino is a one-story square building decorated with the rejects from the larger and nicer Peppermill. In fact, the carpet in both is an identical pattern of planets and rainbows. The only difference is that Western Village's is covered with a thick layer of dirt and ash.
The Village had a dollar craps game manned by extras from "Day of the Dead," and they offered a few two-dollar blackjack tables working. Both were a little too rich for our blood.
So, we headed north to a casino we had only heard about in legends. It was a mythic place where the grimy air was so thick it could choke a man. It was a land that of dreams, where craps is a quarter, blackjack is a dollar, the dealers are strung out, and the cocktail waitress wears horn-rimmed glasses and isn't afraid to bite you.
Could such a place exist? Could we really trust the map we paid the downtown bum five dollars for? As I pointed our rental car north on Virginia Street, we were both filled with trepidation and fear. What if it didn't exist? What if it did and one of its patrons slit our throats and took our shoes? Well, I guess the joke would be on him since our shoes are only worth about six bucks.
We continued north, slowly, cautiously, past the university and through the low-income housing. We climbed a hill, seemingly leaving civilization behind. Stinky said is a quivering voice, "I'm a skeered. Let's turn around."
Then we saw the billboard, "Bonanza - One Mile Ahead." The sign was right, on the left up ahead, beside an overly-lit parking lot was the Bonanza, a little red casino where the employees never tire of making jokes about the old TV show of the same name.
Inside, amid the haze and crowd of drunks draped over nickel slots was the holy grail, a quarter craps table. We approached it carefully, as we had seen Indiana Jones do every time he was near a treasure. We sized it up, looked for blowdart holes in the walls or giant boulders dangling precariously overhead. There were none, so we set our money on the felt and were promptly ignored.
Slowly, our charm won over the staff and the dealer converted our five dollar bills into huge stacks of dirty yellow rat biscuits. Over in a corner, on a tiny stage, a middle-aged couple named the Robeys sucked the life out of any light rock song they came in contact with. Nobody paid them much mind, but every time we told the dealers the only reason we came was for the Robeys, they laughed at us.
After an hour, our stacks of rat biscuits had doubled and we felt cocky. A few 50- cent tips made us the highest rollers in the joint and the dealers were being much nicer to us. But, our parched buds were screaming for some firewater. It turns out that the Bonanza waitresses are not allowed to patrol for drinks, they can only serve to those asking. So, we had to ask the dealers, who turned on a little light by the bar. This alerted the waitress and she came over lickety-split. We felt empowered by our ability to make the dealers turn on the little light, and within a half-hour we had been scolded twice for abusing our power.
After berating our wardrobes, the stocky waitress took our orders and returned with a couple warm beers. In fact, the only things hotter were the dice. It made no difference who threw, whether it was Big Dog to Stinky's left, Yacht Club to my right. Even Screenwriter and William Morris at the other end of the table were hitting points. Our rat biscuits overflowed the racks and the winnings amounted to tens of dollars.
We worked the cocktail light for our table until it finally burned out, and the waitress served up our drinks quick. It's not every day a lucky lady has guys like us dropping three four quarters on her tray. In the background, the Robeys continued to churn out keyboard rock with the passion of Subway sandwich artists. Yacht Club hit a string of numbers and Stinky and I upped our bets to fifty cents. I sevened out before Stinky set the dice ablaze with a roll that was still being talked about ten minutes later. Our yellow chips were making way for silver and red friends, and we had each won more than forty dollars. This is when we made our mistake.
The beer, the Robeys and the giddy feeling of beating the house were impairing our judgment. Neither of us could keep the boogie inside us. We began to dance. First it was just a hip shake here and a head bob there. But as our fortunes rose, we became brazen. We stomped our feet and sang along.
The dealer warned us sternly that dancing was not allowed. We ignored her because we were too busy putting on a floor show and stacking our chips. The pit boss came down to glare at us. A perfect opportunity, I thought, to hit him up for a coffee shop comp. He ignored my request but said, "No dancing."
"Whatever," I said. Mark added, "Either we dance or you give us breakfast." The pit boss scowled fiercely enough to stop us. We were now well into our third hour and seventh beers. When the Robeys started up a laconic "Brown-Eyed Girl," we couldn't keep our rhythm to ourselves. The dealer whispered, "Don't do it," but before she could stop us the pit boss was upon us.
"Pack it up, gentlemen." He pointed to our chips. "What about breakfast?" I asked, and he snarled at me. We put up a moment's protest, bravely standing up to him until he took a step toward us. Then, we grabbed our chips and ran really fast to the cashier's cage. Final score, an easy sixty bucks each, all at a quarter table. You can bet we slept like babies on our lumpy, short, soft beds in our noisy room at the Sundowner that night.
Next time we're in Reno, you can bet we'll be back at the Bonanza, and you can bet that if the Robeys are playing we'll be dancing. It's unfair to everyone else if we don't.
Who are we? ©1998 by Randy Shandis Enterprises. Questions or Comments?