Part 1 - Welcome to Your Personal Hell, Your Room is Ready
A series of unfortunate incidents at my place of employment resulted in my boss requesting I attend an anger management seminar. As luck would have it, that seminar was in Reno, Nevada. Since I didn't really need to learn any anger management techniques, I figured a Reno trip would be a nice boondoggle. The following report is the diary of my three day visit to the Biggest Little City in the World.
I got to the airport to discover the trains at Denver International were all fouled up again. All these bowlers that were supposed to go on an earlier flight were put on my flight. I mean, there were tons of them and they were all stuffing bowling balls into the overhead bins. If that plane would have hit any turbulence and a bin popped open, someone would have died. The bowlers added to the scheduled passengers on the plane meant no empty seats. When I got on board, mine had already been assigned to some jerk and so I just stood in the aisle until a bossy stewardess lady told me to sit down. Immediately, I ripped into her about how I didn't have a seat and she better find something in first class or I would start opening overhead bins.
I almost got first class, but the yo-yo salesman who was going to give up his seat already let someone else have it. And that someone had his fat butt parked permanently on the leather. I swear, I wanted to wring his neck. I ended up sitting across the aisle from the yoyo guy making faces and sticking my tongue out at him. He pretended not to look, but I could tell he was kind of bothered. Served him right for giving away his first class seat.
The only good thing about the flight was that nobody tried talking to me. I sat quietly, making my faces, and drawing planes crashing into mountains with the crayons and paper that the bossy stewardess gave me. My favorite one was where the yoyo guy was flying out of the plane and his limbs were all falling off. I held that one up so he could see it.
We got into Reno about seven o'clock. I made reservations at the Circus Circus through the Internet so I wouldn't have to talk to anyone. There was a free shuttle from the airport. In fact, all the big hotels offer them, unlike in Las Vegas. An extremely attractive girl sat right next to me on it. She was about 20 years old and so damn pretty that if someone buried me alive I would have dug my way out just to stare at her. Which reminded me of how whenever I am on a plane I always just wish and hope that a pretty girl will sit next to me. But they never do. Even when they are assigned that seat they don't.
Honest to God, the shuttle ran out of gas on the way to Circus Circus, which was about five minutes from the airport. The driver had to stop at a Texaco. While we waited, I started talking to the pretty girl. She was there with her parents, and she asked what I was there for. I told her for this anger management seminar. Then I realized that that sounded pretty bad, like maybe I had problems, so I told her the whole story about my boss and the fistfight and everything so she could understand me better. No dice. By the time the driver got back on board smelling like gasoline, she had moved seats and left me all alone and feeling pretty rejected.
I could have yelled at her, and boy did I ever want to, but I remembered why I was in town. I decided that the best thing to do would be to just put my anger aside. That way, I would either forget the incident, or it would fester and curdle in my mind until I became obsessed with this girl and wanted to make her miserable.
By the time we finally got to Circus Circus, I was starved and looking forward to a big greasy burger in Kilroy's Diner at the Nevada Club. LVRS, whom I made my reservation through, never forwarded the information on to the folks in Reno and I thought for a minute I was going to have to throw a tantrum to get my room. But the desk clerk said they would honor my reservation and collect from LVRS at a later date. I headed up to the 14th floor and checked out my room. Gone were all the pink and orange clowns and the balloon wallpaper. Circus Circus was now trying to be fancy in dark colors and nice woods. The room was huge, with two chairs at a desk, a big reading chair, king-size bed, and an armoire which hid the TV. I turned on the TV just to see if I could get the dirty movies for free. I couldn't. They put some of those fancy little shampoo bottles in the bathroom, along with a coffee maker. I like those little shampoo bottles because that means the place must be pretty classy. I was, however, unhappy about what they did with the clowns. I mean, the room was fine for sleeping, but it sure didn't make me want to run away and join the circus.
After dropping off my overnight bag, I headed out to Virginia Street and Kilroy's Diner, only to discover that the Nevada Club was closed. So was the Virginian and Harold's Club. I asked a bum sitting in front of the shuttered joint what happened and he told me Fitzgerald's bought the place and closed it down.
Fitzgerald's, I thought, you'll pay for this.
I marched across the street to the aforementioned Irish-themed dump, joined their slot club, got a free hat. I went into the bathroom and intentionally missed the urinal, just to get even. As I left the place, though, I started feeling guilty about messing up the bathroom because it probably wasn't the janitor's decision to close the Nevada Club. So I yelled at a pit boss to go clean up the mess.
I ended up eating dinner in the back of the Nugget, a slot joint. It was the first time in my life I ever ate soup while playing video poker. The soup was not so good and I left most of it in the payout tray.
After dinner, I wandered around and checked out the various casinos and the town of Reno. Everything was smaller and dirtier than in Las Vegas. If you took away the Silver Legacy, Circus Circus and the Eldorado, there wouldn't be much left in downtown. While these three places had over 5,000 rooms among them, the other places were only a few hundred rooms each. And not a single one of them was very clean or fancy. The town was by no means upscale. Once I left an area that occupied about 16 square blocks, things got hairy quickly, with abandoned motels, pawn shops, broken glass, razor wire and the ashen faces of people that wanted to be somewhere else.
There were a lot of casinos in town that looked like they wouldn't hang on much longer. The Gambler was an empty nickel grind joint. Eddie's Fabulous Fifties Casino served as a reminder to everyone that the fifties weren't all fun. There was also the Cold War and extensive nuclear testing, with some of its victim's trolling through the lifeless casino, half-dead and toothless. Two other casinos, classy looking brick joints built in the 1930's, The Mapes and Riverside had long ago been abandoned. The Riverside was being turned into offices. The Mapes would probably go under the wrecking ball as the City Developers continued to devise diabolical schemes that further destroyed any character and charm Reno once had.
Speaking of no character or charm: probably most of the people that go to Circus Circus, Silver Legacy and Eldorado never left
Circus Circus just didn't care. Everything was so calculated and cold. Slap on some paint, a few posters, and get someone to twirl dogs on the midway and they had a theme. Of course, my opinion may be jaded because I spent ten freakin' dollars in their "midway," failing to get a softball into a milk can. Actually, I spent $10.50, because I paid an extra fifty cents to throw one last softball at the kid running the booth.
The Comstock, which was across the street from the homeless mission and a procession of bums looking for grub, was a pretty decent place to gamble, but small. All the bigger joints downtown only let you double on nine, ten and eleven at Blackjack. Only the Sands Regency offered 10x odds on craps. The Sundowner Hotel was a ghost town that had somehow gotten confused. It thought it was a swanky place and that they could deal their games the same way the big boys did.
The Cal-Neva, on the other hand, resided somewhere between Las Vegas's Horseshoe and Gold Spike. It was cheaper, smellier, and dirtier than the other Reno places, but the games were better and the drink service was faster. Two dollar blackjack and $1 craps downstairs. Upstairs, there was a quarter craps table on weekdays. This was where I spent most of my time. The only place I found 9/6 Jacks or Better video poker was at the Cal-Neva. It was also the only casino where I heard "Spanish Flea" and some old Chess records on the piped in music. All the music at the Cal-Neva was that good.
The gambling wasn't so hot that first night. I played blackjack, and I will be damned if they didn't run me through the wringer. In fifteen minutes I lost $30 the hardway, two dollars at a time. The dealer and the other players were pretty rude, too. I didn't expect to lose, so I only bought in for two dollars. I lost that, so I bought in for two more. And so on, until I had lost thirty dollars and the dealer was hoarse from shouting "Change two," whatever that means.
At first, I would get 18 and stay on it and the dealer would get 16 and draw a three. But then I just hit until I busted and asked the dealer "Now are you happy?"
I was furious, but I am proud to say I didn't show it. At least I didn't until I said to the person beside me, a metallurgist from Canada, "See how well I am controlling my temper?" He was very sarcastic and said that that was how adults should behave. Just like a Canadian, I thought, always stingy with the compliments.
I said a few naughty words to the metallurgist and the pit boss asked me to leave. I knew some more naughty words and would have gladly said them to the pit boss, but a big, fat bald security guard stood right behind him.
I pretended to leave, but really I just went around a post and stopped at the craps table. I put $20 on the table and lost that as fast as I could say "Money plays on Big Six." Unlike the blackjack, I blame myself for that loss.
After the craps loss the clock struck midnight. I headed back toward Circus Circus fully intending to go straight up to my room, call a bunch of random rooms and tell the guests the hotel was on fire. On the way through the casino, however, I walked past the poker room and saw a table full of old ladies playing seven card stud and laughing. I thought, I can kick some old ladies' asses. I bought $60 in chips and sat down.
The ladies said they were from Portland and were in Reno for a poker tournament. Next, all the ladies took turns telling me that they have sons my age to which I responded, "Lady, I don't give a rat's ass."
In the first hour at the table, I learned how successful all of these women's sons were, and how they had made a difference in the world by outselling all the other Kimberly Clark toilet paper salesmen, or by being the best marine mechanic in Port Hyacinth. After an hour, though, hot toddies and warm brandies were hitting their targets in the old ladies' cerebellums, and the true stories started coming out. The drug rehabilitations, they grandkids they never get to see, and the husbands that trudge around the house naked when the blinds are open.
As the ladies and I approached three a.m., the mood shifted once again. The drunken old birds tried telling the dirtiest jokes they could think of to see if they could make me blush. There was all kinds of talk of farmers' daughters, then farm equipment, then farmers' mules and a device designed to hold virgins in place. I told these women that my mom was their age and that she didn't talk like that. As if they knew my mom, they insisted she did.
All elderly women are freakin' perverts. That really bugged me. It's not like I wanted to punch any of them. The image just stuck in my mind, this drunk old lady telling me that my mom was not a saint.
I left the table at four a.m., up four dollars for my efforts. I went directly to my room and called my mother. "Mom?" "Hmmm?" she muttered, not fully awake. "Do you know any dirty jokes?" "Its late, Matt. Did you get beat up again?" "No, do you know any dirty jokes?" "Ask me tomorrow." And she hung up, leaving me in the lurch.
I didn't get a good night's sleep because I sat there in the big hard bed with visions of my mom telling dirty jokes at some local bar's open mike. I bet she was getting big laughs, too.
My seminar didn't start until one in the afternoon, but I registered early so I could look at the materials. I had never been to an anger management seminar before and it was all new to me. They gave us a free pen, pad of paper and a bunch of handouts. Plus, there was this book called "Lighten Up - Techniques for Anger Release" in there. That was a cool perk because I could get credit for it at my local used book store. All of this came in this fancy little canvas bag that said "ASTRA - The Anger Management People" on the side. I went up to my room and read the agenda which said that Monday afternoon would be "Focus on Communication" including listening exercises and how to be heard and crap like that. I listen to the Rockies games on the radio every night, so I know how to listen pretty well already. I thought maybe the other people in the session were in that bad of shape. They must have been messed up to be at an anger management seminar, I guess.
I went down to the Silver Legacy's Silver Baron Ballroom on time and found a conference room packed with messed up folks. Actually, they looked almost normal except for the amount of polyester they were wearing. The freaks clustered in little groups, talking and laughing like they all knew each other. "Hello, My Name is Gary Preston" walked from group to group with his "hip" long hair and suede-elbowed sportcoat. He was the guy giving the seminar.
I said to him, "If you need some help, just call on me." He thanked me really polite-like. I was determined to show these losers how to behave themselves, and not get upset myself. Even if I had a good reason.
The first thing out of Gary's mouth was reason enough. The first thing that jerk said was that our employers sent us to this conference because they thought we had potential. Why else would they spend $300 plus travel on us? Three hundred dollars? That was the part that ticked me off. They don't even pay me that in a week. If they just handed me 300 bones I would be as quiet as a church mouse. Instead, they handed it over to Gary Preston, rich exploiter of the misunderstood. He made me so mad.
Gary kept saying, "Don't get angry, get real. Your anger only hurts you." I wanted to tell him to shut his stinking trap so badly. He yammered on about about how people usually get into fights not because they disagree but because they don't listen to each other. He said listening is the number one skill we need in life. That's when my my legs began jittering. The jittering is what happens when I get really upset. He broke people into small groups to practice listening, but I ducked out and sat in the bathroom until I could control my shaking.
The bathrooms at the Silver Legacy are pretty nice.
Just before five I had calmed down enough to return to the seminar. I walked back into the room and the little discussion groups had broken up. All the freaks were sitting in their regular seats and smiling like they were all cured. Gary was lecturing again and he spotted me when I came in. He asked where I had been and I said "Don't start with me, Preston." He said he would talk to me afterward. But I ditched him. I needed a lot of alcohol really fast so I could relax... or do something violent and not feel responsible.