Wednesday, June 11, 2008


I'll admit upfront that I don't much like Reno. People here are mighty friendly, the skies are blue, and the humidity low, but I find this kind of barren, stark landscape soul-withering. When I drive to my brother's restaurant in Verdi, a tiny town on the outskirts of Reno, I see a landscape so spare that it might as well be lunar.

I'm not a gambler, so the casino culture that dominates downtown has little appeal. Reno lacks the high-end casinos and Disney-like fantasia of Las Vegas: it's far more down-market. And there's not much to do outside of gambling. If you're a skier, the very nice slopes around Lake Tahoe beckon, and other outdoor sports, such as biking or skateboarding, are eminently doable part of the year. Otherwise, there's not much here: a small, mediocre museum; a so-so branch of the state university; and the occasional road show floating through town.

I come once a year solely to see my mother and one of my brothers. I stay at the Peppermill Casino and Hotel, largely out of habit. I suspect they aren't entirely happy to see me return, given how little money I spend. I don't like gambling--I don't see the point--and I don't like casinos. In Reno, though, your only options are sleazy motels or casinos, so I pick the latter.

I'm happy to see that the Peppermill has replaced the ghastly orange-and-purple decor from the 80s (sort of New Orleans whorehouse meets psychedelia) with what they're dubbing a "Tuscan" theme. It's a huge improvement: my room is done in cool whites and beiges with subtle splashes of gold. I could do without the gilt, but it is, after all, a casino. One can only hope for so much.

To the credit of this establishment, they run things very well. The staff are unfailingly polite and helpful; rooms are immaculate; and food is surprisingly good. Tonight my mother and I will eat at Romanza's, an Italian restaurant that in the past has done very well by us. I don't get the appeal of squandering hard earned money on slot machines or blackjack, but I'm clearly in the minority. The array of visitors is quite astonishing, ranging from older couples to families with children in tow. One sees representatives from every ethnicity and class. Personally, I'd rather be in Southern France, with a nice glass of bordeaux and a good book, but I suppose that's why I ended up in a university: my tastes are rather rarefied.

So while the Peppermill has certainly done a nice job of taking care of their customers, I will be very happy to leave Reno and casino culture behind tomorrow morning.

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