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Home » Stories, True and Otherwise

Big Country Little Car Tour, Day 13: Elko, NV to Reno, NV

Submitted by on August 8, 2011 – 2:48 PM13 Comments

I stopped at a CVS on the way out of town to restock on sunscreen and snacks — a warehouse-size store with slot machines by the checkout. At ten in the morning, most of the other customers were in the beer aisle.

I had a shorter hop that day, “just” one state, and I dawdled a little and took in the local branding on the way back to the freeway. A place named Ossie’s had spaghetti wrestling going on that night; another club-type joint featured a melty-faced fiberglass polar bear installed over the front door. The bear, positioned upright, had stumpy little legs, and gangly arms three times as long. Why wouldn’t you send it back, if you paid all that money? “It says right here in the contract — ‘customer entitled to full refund if bear looks like Mickey Rooney.'”

But the driving got serious soon enough: hot, hot, hot on the road, and nothing around. In the event of an unplanned pitstop, I’d have had to stack up sagebrush for shelter — and fend off escaped convicts; periodically, signs warned of correctional facilities nearby and ordered us not to pick up hitchhikers. Do people still pick up non-felonious hitchhikers? I thought we all agreed as a society to kibosh hitching as of the early ’80s). Near Winnemucca, a billboard informed passersby that “METH IS NOT THE INDIAN WAY.”

Strong cross-winds paddleballed us from both sides through western Nevada. I stopped in Lovelock for gas and to unlock my arms and shoulders for a few minutes, and what to my wondering eyes should appear at the off-ramp intersection but a black Smart! How encouraging! “This land is your land, Cam. How about that.” Then I saw another Smart at McDonald’s — a blue one!

But the Lovelock Smarts got to tool around Lovelock; I had to keep going. I lathered on more sunscreen, not that the half-inch I’d put on an hour before had made much difference — my right arm was turning into jerky. Into the right lane behind a pickup with two dogs in the back. “Let’s bring a dog next time,” I said to Campbell. “A little one that’s good with maps.”

Reno, at last. I’d taken a room in a non-casino hotel called the Vagabond Executive Inn, and the job the sun had started on my retinas, the VEI’s bedspreads finished — it was like the Saturday Night Fever dance floor in there. I stripped them both off to avoid a stroke, and took a nap before heading to the Peppermill casino complex for three-card poker and dinner.

I was slowing down to enter the parking structure when a guy carrying a two-gallon iced coffee yelled out, “She drove a Smart all the way from New York, ahh mahhh Gahhh!” I waved and smiled (I get this a lot). Fast-forward to twenty minutes later, when I happened to wind up at the same gaming table with the guy. “Hey, are you the Smart girl?” Yes and no. Heh. Soon, the whole table was up to date on my journey.

Dinnertime: a kiddie-pool-sized serving of tortellini and a book about cinema flops, then a walk back to the car that felt like two miles, because it probably was. I’ve spent enough time in casinos to know that the inconvenience of everything to everything else except the dollar slots is how they work, but I’d forgotten how much people-dodging you have to do. And what’s with the strollers in the sports book?

As I was leaving, a family in a minivan was pulling in beside me. The kids couldn’t believe their luck: a real live Smart car! I waved and smiled (I get this a lot), and the whole family, including the mom, waved back super-crazy-enthusiastic like they were meeting Minnie Mouse in a Disneyworld ad.




  • Jo says:

    Is there still a billboard near Winnemucca that declares it to be “the city of paved streets”? I’ve only been there once, on the way TO Elko, but it cracked me up.

  • Miss Lucy says:

    I like to imagine Reno precisely as it is in Reno911. Including the Tacos, Tacos, Tacos, Tacos, with Nick Swardson on roller skates out front.

  • Katie says:

    I had a girl-friend in college who would pick up only female hitchhikers all over town. That was between 2001 and 2005. We all thought she was nuts.

  • Sara says:

    My parents, who are in their 60s, hitchhike, but they only do it when hiking and they get off the trail and need to hitch back to their car. It’s common along certain well-traveled hiking routes, especially roads adjacent to the Pacific Crest Trail. But, big difference between that and being on the interstate. I remember those Correctional Institution signs from our treks across the country to New York, and they always kind of gave me the creeps. Ah, childhood. :)

  • bristlesage says:

    This is the land of family vacations, for me, so it’s neat to read about your drive through it. It really is an Astounding Amount of Nothing up there–when I moved to Chicago, I would drive to visit my fiance at U of I in Champaign, and he said, “Ugh, I don’t know how you can do that drive so often, it’s so much nothing.”

    Since then, he has learned.

  • PollyQ says:

    “Let’s bring a dog next time,” I said to Campbell. “A little one that’s good with maps.”


  • KTB says:

    Oh, God–I was at the Peppermill back in March while waiting for friends to arrive at the airport so we could go to Tahoe.

    I have not spent much (read: pretty much any) time in casinos, so it was quite the experience to wander through the miles–you are right, miles–of loud slots, loud moving billboards, loud bars, loud carpet, and faux everything, since we wandered all the way to the “fancy” area to get out of the casino proper.

    That said, I have rarely experienced such fantastic people-watching. And agreed–WTF is with the strollers in the sports bar??

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    I forgot to mention the “Italian” boutiques that answer the question, “Where did the Sopranos get those clothes?” Zebras need to call their lawyer.

  • Emma says:

    My sister lived in Battle Mountain, NV for several years. A trip to Winnemucca was pretty much like the big city. Out of curiosity, does Battle Mountain still have the billboard proclaiming it the Armpit of America(TM)?

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    I didn’t see that one, but I think it’s now calling itself “base camp for Nevada’s outback!”

  • Profreader says:

    Re ‘a little dog that’s good with maps.’ Our Boston terrier does very well on road trips, although if you let her be the map-reader, you’re always stopping because the map says This Is A Good Place To Run Around In, Whee.

    Reno: yikes. I spent a summer there when I was a kid. My best friend had moved there and didn’t have any new friends yet since school hadn’t started; somehow his mom and my mom agreed that I should go up to Reno and stay with them for a while – I think a month … ?

    My friend’s mom was a dealer in a casino. I had never seen slot machines before – and even then, in the 70s, they were everywhere.

    We just bummed around all day the way you do when you’re 11 and it’s the 70s: see if you can sneak into a casino (you can’t); see if you can sneak into the cemetery next door to the apartment complex (you can); go watch GREASE every night at the cheap cinema two-plex down the street because it cost a buck fifty and hey, what else are you going to do?

    When I got back home, my voice had changed. I chalk this up to something in the air in Reno.

    (and just to wrap up – I love the road trip posts. I know I say that every time, but hey.)

  • Rill says:

    My boyfriend and I decided to take a bus tour a few years ago(all seniors except the two of us – hey, we were broke and $200 bucks apiece for a 1-week trip across 4 states with meals + hotel included = jackpot) that went from BC to Wendover with a 2-night stopover in Reno and passed thru Elko and Winnemucca. I couldn’t get over the slots in supermarkets, it just seemed very wrong somehow.

    The only thing worse than walking miles through an endless casino? Walking miles (and over an hour) through a casino in search of your partner who is also walking miles to find you and you keep missing each other. Fun times.

  • Cyntada says:

    Ya’ll need parents that live in Laughlin. I chatted with a neighbor of theirs who was a casino security guard… he informs that the casino security pretty much was the police force in Laughlin, at least at that time, because the offical police were just two unfortunate dudes who drove in from Vegas.

    Biggest police/casino cop problem? People who locked pets and children in vehicles so they could enjoy some hassle-free gambling. That still blows my mind to this day.

    My Dad tells me that they finally gave it up with the inflatable cop. Someone down there actually parked a squad car on a speedy stretch of road and put an inflatable plastic cop inside. (I’d like to know how they kept it from melting.) The cops in Searchlight had a better idea: just issue a ticket to *everyone* who speeds so much as one iota over the town’s 35 mph limit. Nobody, and I mean but nobody, who lives anywhere in Southern Nevada disses the speed limit in Searchlight. Inflatacop just got laughed at as people sped by.

    Even the corner market has its bank of slots there. Apparently one gets used to it.

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