Unfolding the Map
William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) hits Reno for the night. Jack Kerouac described Reno's "Chinese lights." I'm not sure what he meant by that, but Reno has always been in the back of my mind as a place I should visit. I've never been able to get there, however. My parents went, in a wild and crazy way and I heard the stories. Check out the On the Road entry for that. For this post, I'll talk about my lack of luck in gambling. Click on the thumbnail at right to see where Reno is on the map.
"...into hills, along the Truckee River, under a shelf of glowing clouds above downtown Reno, past signs offering CANDLE LIGHT WEDDINGS - NO WAITING - FREE WITNESSES. I stopped near the University of Nevada and put my case to bed...It was one crazy state."
Blue Highways: Part 5, Chapter 10
In the above link to my On the Road post about Reno, I related briefly the story of my mother and father eloping and racing across California to Reno to get married at one of the wedding chapels. Of course, that made Reno synonymous with the place where my parents got hitched.
Despite that story and the significance of the place in my personal history, I've never been to Reno. Even on our trip by car back to my childhood home in Northern California, we bypassed Reno on Highway 50. Frankly, all I know of Reno I've gleaned from episodes of Reno 911, and I'm not sure that's a comprehensive view of the city.
I also know Reno as a gambling mecca. My parents liked to gamble, and would occasionally go to Reno to play the slots, blackjack or Keno. They made regular trips to Lake Tahoe, and since Reno was not that far they'd occasionally drive over to try the gambling there or to see a show if the show looked good. These trips occurred when I was very small, and I know they left me with a babysitter in Tahoe while they went out and did these excursions.
My uncle and aunt, both inveterate gamblers, made regular stops into Reno. My uncle died a few years ago, but my aunt and some of her kids still make regular stops into Reno. I am always envious of them because it is rare that they don't win something. They are the type of people who after winning $500 in blackjack, and another couple of hundred in Keno, put a quarter in a slot machine on the way out of the casino and hit the $5,000 jackpot. It kills me...because I have never had that kind of luck...and some people just seem to have it all the time.
I've read about the science of risk a little bit. It was often employed in my political science studies. I used to think that when people win big, it's because they are betting a lot. And in a sense, it's true, but not in the way that I thought. People tend to be risk-acceptant when they don't have much to lose. Why not? Why not let it all ride on hunch? However, people tend to be risk-averse when they are ahead. Suddenly, they have something to protect. This is why those with lots of chips in front of them think a lot, while those who have only a few chips in front of them often let it ride.
But then I think of my mom, the best gambler I have ever known. She is always calm, cool and never lets her face show what she has. I've learned a lot from her about how to keep my cards to myself, both playing poker and in life.
There's an interesting passage in Blue Highways about Reno, where LHM reads that a little old woman won a huge jackpot. "Rigged," says a guy that he's talking to. The guy goes on to say that the casinos rig the machines so that little old ladies will occasionally win a jackpot. Why? It's good business and keeps others coming in thinking that they'll score big.
I'd be a little wary of this kind of generalization usually, because I don't see how they can be that crafty. Of course, in the age of electronics, they could have the machines wired so that they can control them and cameras trained on them so that they know when a little old lady is working the slots. But back when LHM was driving through, I don't think the electronic capability was that sophisticated.
However, the guy points out to LHM that you never see scruffy, disreputable people or gambling addicts that are in the casinos every day hitting the big jackpot winners. And come to think of it, he's right. You hear about housewives, cute little old ladies or old men, and other photogenic people winning the big jackpots. They make good stories for the paper and the casinos look good presenting them with their haul or their big checks. Never do you see the down and out sleep deprived guy with the rumpled clothes and the five o'clock shadow who smells vaguely of alcohol pulling down the Big One. Why is that? Might there be something to this after all? After all, if a casino can tell when one is counting cards, they should be able to decide when someone will win something. I don't know, but to use an overused phrase, I'm just sayin'.
If you want to know more about Reno
Downtown Reno (blog)
National Automobile Museum
Nevada Museum of Art
Reno and its Discontents (blog)
Reno Gazette-Journal (newspaper)
Reno News & Review (alternative newspaper)
Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Bureau
Reno Tahoe Blog
University of Nevada-Reno
Next up: Hallelujah Junction, California