Sunday, January 21, 2007

Trip Report: Reno, NV

(Now with pictures!)

Wednesday, January 10:
We're Back, Reno, and Deal With It

Our adventure began with a Southwest flight from BWI to Las Vegas (nice improvements to the security area at BWI, BTW), and then from Vegas to Reno (note to East Coasters: the two cities are more than 400 miles apart). The first leg was uneventful, but the second leg required us to land in surface winds of up to 70 miles per hour. The difficulty was getting the plane turned into the headwind; we were not only buffeted up and down, but sideways as well! Once we got into the wind, everything was OK. It was the first time I'd been in the Biggest Little City In The World in eight years.

We collected our luggage and our rental car and headed for Saint Mary’s Hospital where Ladycub’s mom volunteers. It wasn’t too hard to find her; she was right in the lobby when we entered! She was giddy, to say the least. She took us around to many of the folks she volunteered with, who were eager to meet us (she’d apparently briefed them). Mercifully, she didn’t insist that we join her for a luncheon; we’d been awake since 1 AM her time.

So we headed to the side of town where she and my father-in-law (FIL) live to get lunch at Jalapeno’s Fresh Express. It wasn’t our first choice, but the pizza joint nearby was only open for dinner. When a group of Reno firefighters came in, we knew it couldn’t be bad. The firefighters were surprised to hear me say we’d come 2700 miles for that lunch. They were also relieved that we were visitors from somewhere else besides California.

Since her dad had so many comps from various hotels, we stayed in said hotels each night. The first two nights were spent at the opulent Atlantis, and we took advantage of the room early on to grab a few Z’s. Then we headed back to the ‘rents’ (left; note the Ravens flag on our rental car) for a turkey dinner of which we were not worthy. Not surprisingly, we went to bed early and woke up early.

Thursday, January 11: Snow, Setup, and Singers

It snowed a few inches that morning, but no schools were cancelled, and kids even rode their bikes to and from school. How about that? BTW, unlike in Maryland, everyone obeys the 15-mph school zone speed limit; it's well enforced.

After gawking at the mountains from our bedroom (above) and grabbing some breakfast at the Atlantis’ coffee shop, we headed over to my ILs' and began working on their computer. It needed some serious cleanup, which we did throughout the week. We removed files, ran antivirus programs, defragged, and otherwise tried to get the computer to run faster. It still takes about two minutes to get initialized, but that's down from the five minutes of before. We also increased the memory to 1 gig. Finally, for my FIL's benefit, I loaded on some Harry Caray sounds for startup, shutdown, and for error messages ("Holy cow!").

That evening, LC, my MIL, and I went to the Eldorado casino downtown to see The Twelve Irish Tenors. They were all Irish, but not all from Ireland; one was from Michigan, another from Scandinavia, and a third from Australia. At times, they were really good, especially when they did show tunes and Italian opera. But they were plagued with sound problems, some sloppy cues, and one singer forgetting the words to the Beatles’ “Yesterday.” Also, they knew nothing of what we call in the business “working distance” with the mic; they held the mics way too close, just like rappers. Overall, the Tenors were good, but not great. I’d rate them the Twelve Irish Sixors.

Friday, January 12: Start Your Fingers

Time for us to change hotels. We moved up S. Virginia St. from the Atlantis to the Peppermill, a favorite place for the locals to hang out. Who were we to argue; they treated us nicely with chocolates and turn-down service.

But then we headed back to the Atlantis where we experienced our first-ever slots tournament. Slots tournaments are so hard to practice for; you have to tap the “spin” button again and again during a set amount of time. No skill, just luck. My MIL played the first of two rounds, and LC took the second. They did well enough in two 20-minute rounds to win consolation money. I can see why my ILs enjoy this so much; it’s quite the social occasion, even while gameplay is going on. They’ve made more than a few friends from these tournaments. We returned that evening for a buffet dinner to celebrate the winners and losers alike. Oh, they also had a contest for the best slippers worn that night. Not eligible for the competition: a pair made of maxi pads.

That afternoon, my MIL took us up to see Somersett (in the distance to the left), a new planned community in the northwest hills of Reno. We've toyed with the idea of moving out to Reno, but it just hasn't been practical so far. Still, we can dream. We checked out a few duplexes that were just out of our price range, but oddly enough, the one with the smallest square footage had the layout we liked best. The house had much more closet space than we have here. But the main drawback of the area is that it's so far from everything; it can take 15-20 minutes just to get to a main road! Also, in the event of a brush fire, these houses will be most vulnerable.

Someday, I think we'll be living in Reno.

Saturday, January 13: Mood Swings

We awoke in the Peppermill to a gorgeous sunrise over the mountains to the east of town.

Today, our focus was on the Baltimore Ravens-Indianapolis Irsays game taking place that afternoon. We each donned our Ravens jerseys (I'm Ray Lewis, she's Todd Heeeeeeeap) and got quite a few comments about them as we went about the Peppermill casino. Others had on Bears or Seahawks jerseys. Unfortunately, we were glum as the Ravens didn’t get the job done, falling to the Irsays 15-6. In fact, the Irsays’ final drive was so efficient, we had plenty of time to get to 5 PM Mass, then join the ‘rents for dinner at the Peppermill’s Oceano restaurant, an ocean-themed restaurant with fish of various sorts hanging from above, along with a couple of snorkelers. My lobster tails were quite good.

After dinner, I saw a Latino guy wearing a Peyton Manning jersey. I went to congratulate him, but he had no idea what I was talking about. Probably was wearing the jersey just to wear it.

That evening, I was playing draw poker, as I often did. I was down to my last buck or two for that round. I kept only an Ace of Hearts. Next thing I know, the money total started rapidly increasing.

Oh. My. Holy. Heck.

The 10, Jack, Queen, and King of Hearts came up for my first royal flush ever. Paid me $200 on a nickel machine. I was too stunned to celebrate.

I won't waste the rest of the report talking about our gaming, so I'll do it here. Some of the games we played included Gold Fish, with a cute bonus round where you have to match up cans of fish food while a steel drum beat plays in the background; Texas Tea, an oil-based game; Texas Tina, its successor; Tailgate Party, football-themed; and my new favorite, The Price Is Right, on which I got three straight Showcase Showdown bonuses. And? We came out ahead. Could have been more so if I hadn't gotten greedy at a couple points. The Atlantis and the Peppermill were our favorite casinos, with LC preferring the Atlantis because it wasn't as easy to get lost in and didn't have hyp-mo-tahzing colors. And where would casinos be without mirrors? But the Peppermill did have a nice section (near where I hit the royal flush) where they showed continuous scenes of beaches on huge video screens, reminding us how much we wanna go back to Maui.

Sunday, January 14: Remember When?

After indulging in some more football watching, we headed back to the Peppermill for its three-round slots tournament. I led off for our team, since the next two rounds would be on Monday when we wouldn't be available. My score was a paltry 7400, while others had over twice that much. I shamed my family. My FIL didn't do much better, as we wound up 399th out of 402 contestants.

We then had a tasty pot roast dinner cooked by my FIL. My waistline!

That evening at the Atlantis, we saw the Platters followed by Little Anthony and the Imperials in concert. I'm not the greatest connoisseur of 50s and 60s music, but these folks were good. I'm certain that these Platters were not the originals (read about the confusing group member lists here and here), but it was still a great performance with lots of energy. Notable tunes included "Only You," "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes," and "The Great Pretender." But they need not have bothered covering "We Built This City," arguably one of the worst rock songs of all time.

Then on came the original Little Anthony and the Imperials. Little Anthony reminded me a bit of James Brown with his antics. He drove the band crazy with changing songs on the fly; we noticed the keyboardist and bandleader (who resembled our friend Sorcie) hastily passing out new music during one such change. But they were a lot of fun to watch. One of the Imperials who had to be in his 60s made some rather impressive dance moves during a cover of the Jackson 5's "Dancing Machine." They wrapped up with a good cover of "Every Breath You Take" and their own hit "Going Out Of My Head," one of the songs that kept them a household name into the 60s. Great performance.

Two other notes:

We originally sat toward the outer left side of the ballroom. One of the PR folks who knew my MIL invited us to sit further up front and center. I'm glad my MIL went along; she feared it would be too loud, but that wasn't the case at all.

Through both concerts, this lady in front of us kept dancing. I suspect she wasn't on pure air. I'm also grateful she didn't toss any articles of clothing onstage.

Monday, January 15: There's Gold In Them Shar Hills

It was definitely worth it to wake up at 5 AM and drive westward on I-80 in the dark through the scenic Sierra Nevada mountains between Reno and Truckee, CA to meet our friend Sharnina and her family in the gold rush boomtown of Placerville, CA, east of Sacramento. They had come up the day before from Hayward. We were grateful that the weather cooperated to let us through Donner Pass. Snow that was piled up off the side of the road at the summit was well over a foot deep.

Sharnina warned us that Highway 49 (get it?) south off of I-80 between Auburn and Placerville was winding, and she wasn’t kidding! But it was a beautiful ride along the American River (right). We arrived in Placerville (first syllable rhymes with "pass") and met Sharnina, her husband, and her two younger daughters at their motel. Shortly after, we headed off to a scrumptious breakfast at the Waffle Shop, a nice local joint (not to be confused with the Waffle House).

What a wonderful family the Sharninas (left) are. The girls are well behaved, but just rambunctious enough to remind us they’re still girls. Her husband may not be the strong, silent type, but he was really a good sport in letting us spend so much time talking to Sharnina. It was as if we’d known each other for years.

We headed about halfway back up Hwy 49 to Coloma, which is where gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill in 1849. There’s a small state park to commemorate the finding, and it gave a balanced view of what happened. California was admitted as a state the next year, but many Nisenan Indians had their way of life changed for good. Both James Marshall, the discoverer of the gold, and John Sutter died nearly broke.

So we explored the replica mill, the monument at the actual location, examined the replica stores of the area, and toured the museum. Oh, and we skipped stones across the river, which Shar's hubby inadvertently entered after one throw. I couldn’t resist lying down across the one-lane bridge over the American, for which Sharnina lovingly called me a “dork.”

As she and Ladycub spoke quite a bit, I enjoyed the company of her husband and the girls, the younger of which told me I was funny. The older one asked if I was “another one of those people my mom talks to on the computer.” Here, the girls check out an Indian house.

We drove back to Placerville and had lunch at Z Pie, a casual place that specialized in personal pot pies. Oh, were those things good. We had planned on having ice cream afterward, but we all wound up being too full! So we walked off lunch by trapsing along Placerville’s main street (including Hangman's Tree, right; at one time, Placerville was known as "Hangtown") and exploring some of the shops. We were reluctant to part ways with the Sharninas, but we did so in order that we could all get home in time for dinner. What a great family, or did I say that?

(Thanks to the Sharninas for several of the photos above.)

The way back up and down I-80, although a challenging ride, was breathtaking. The elevation went from less than 2,000 feet near Auburn to over 7,000 feet at the Donner summit. People were skiing, tubing, snowboarding, and even ice skating on frozen ponds to our right as we approached Donner. The section from Truckee to Reno looked like something out of a Speed Racer cartoon, with the lofty ranges standing there and our car seeming to come no closer as we descended.

That night, the ILs took us to the steak house at the Peppermill. Yum. In addition to the excellent steak, I enjoyed one of the better Caesar salads I’d ever had. Then we retired to our third and final hotel, Harrah's. We had a nice room, but the casino was meh.

Tuesday, January 16: The History of Vrooomm

The next morning, we decided to seek an alternative for breakfast besides Harrah's, so we crossed the street to the Cal-Neva, a step back in time. Our server must have been from Baltimore, as she ended every sentence with "honey." Of course, had she really been from Baltimore, it would have been "hon." But the breakfast was quite hearty and probably cost half the price of Harrah's. We split our breakfasts between the hotels and the ILs' house, where we enjoyed English muffin bread.

Our time in Reno was sadly coming to an end, but not before we were to take a tour of the National Automobile Museum. (Curses, I forgot my camera.) If you go, get a guided tour just as we did; you'll enjoy it much more with the backstories on who used to work with whom, how this car looked so different from another of the same era, etc. The enormous selection of vehicles between 1900 and 1940 is especially fascinating. Other specialties at the time we visited: "Big Daddy" Don Garlits' dragster; Don "The Snake" Prudhomme's funny car; three different decades of Indy 500 racers; one of 49 operating Tuckers; and the Batmobile.

We had one final gourmet meal with my ILs, as they cooked us prime rib. *loosens belt buckle another notch*

Wednesday, January 17: Hurry Up And Wait

We bade farewell to my ILs after relieving them of a little more breakfast, and then headed for the Reno-Tahoe airport. While waiting for our flight, I promptly turned $20 into $45 on the Price is Right slots. LC had similar success on a draw poker machine.

Many flights had been cancelled or delayed because of nasty weather in Texas. We were glad we weren't connecting in Texas, but that didn't seem to matter for our Reno-Phoenix leg. The plane got in late, then there was a delay because of a radio problem. We left nearly 90 minutes late, all but wiping out our layover time in Phoenix.

"You should all be able to make your connections," the stewardess flight attendant told us as we approached Phoenix. (Let's have Famous Last Words for $2,000, Alex.)

As we got off the plane, our connecting flight was boarding . . . on the next pier. We'd never make it. In fact, to the surprise of all, including the frazzled Southwest gate agent, we'd already been booked on a flight that left Phoenix three hours later. So we chilled out and had a semi-real meal at a sports-themed joint.

The nice thing about the flight back to Baltimore was that only 25 people were on the 737. Therefore, each of us essentially got his own row. I tried to stretch out and sleep, but the next time I sleep on a plane will be the first. I believe this was my first flight where all the flight attendants were male.

We landed well after midnight local time, with Phil Keoghan telling us we were the last team to arrive. The wait for our luggage wasn't too bad, then we got our car out of the parking facility and headed the hour back home. We finally got to bed sometime around 3 AM, with LC having called out for work that day.

That's it, and thanks for reading to the end. Or only the end. Or whatever. And our profuse thanks to my ILs for all that they provided us.

And for reading all the way to the end, you get this bonus picture from a section of the museum at the Sutter's Mill state park which was under construction:


Mom2BJM said...

Excuuuussseee Me?? You were in Phoenix for 3 hours and you didn't call me?? I woulda come to the airport to see you, silly!

Sounds like you had a fun trip... eat, gamble, change hotels, eat, gamble, change hotels!

Cygnus said...

Don't you think it'd have been kinda silly for me to call 411 and ask Information for "Mom2BJM's number"?

Well, as long as my bro is still out there, there's a chance I could be in the Valley of the Sun again. In that case, we'll definitely have to meet!

Have you met PM, BEG, or AZ_Leo yet?

Puffy said...

What a great vacation journal! Sounds like it was an adventure. I enjoyed reading it.

Mom2BJM said...

No.. haven't met any, silly me.

I think the BEG has left the valley - moved back home, according to OT. PM is on the other side of town.. I don't get over there much often. AZ_Leo & I tried earlier to find a time, but life has gotten crazy.