A number of my old college friends, and probably a larger number of douchebags I really wouldn’t care to see, are back at Dickinson right now for Alumni Weekend. Meanwhile, I’m spending the night at a Travelodge in Reno where the sink faucet doesn’t work. I thought seriously about flying back east for the weekend to see who I’d encounter around campus, and I might have gone through with it if so much of the alumni body at Dickinson (offhand, I’d guess a solid third) weren’t made up of God-awful high-hats who will never really respect me unless I equal or exceed their professional success.
So I’m in Reno, trying more or less in vain to escape a heat wave in Sacramento, but the same heat wave had Donner Lake over 80 F this afternoon. At least the claim that it’s a dry heat is no joke; Pennsylvania is a fucking sauna all summer. I’m missing out on something good by missing Alumni Weekend, but it’s hard to say what exactly, since it’s hard to find the handful of people I’d like to see among the throngs of strangers and known wonders of self-importance.
I am not, however, missing out on threatening to take the front desk staff and their employer to Justice Court (yes, it’s called that here) in order to recover the $55 or so that they were planning to double-bill me for a second room that I did not intend to book and that I’m pretty sure I did not in fact book. The one lady kept telling me that I’d have to take the matter up with Hotels.com because she would have to charge both of the prepaid debit cards that had been sent for my reservations, even after I told her that I didn’t think this would be legal, since I had explicitly told her that I wanted only one room and could only have booked the second room by mistake or as the result of an unseen computer glitch. Then she referred me to her boss, a man she called “Mike,” if I heard her correctly. “Mike” had almost as strong an Indian lilt as the desk clerk, in addition to an old-country mustache. Neither of them seemed to grasp the seriousness of my threat to take their motel to court. At the time, I thought that this fuck-up was a function of low- or middling-caste Indian culture and accent; a few hours removed from it, I now think it was more accurately a function of lawful-evil bureaucratic idiocy and inflexibility (which isn’t necessarily ruled lawful at Justice Court), a sort of Kafka writ very small. In any event, maybe an hour after I was first invited please to enjoy this multicultural fubar, the desk clerk called my room and told me that she had cancelled the duplicate reservation. Just like I had fucking told her to do.
What would be surreal if I had the mental energy to process it all was that in the midst of the hotel reservation fuck-up, I had to jump out of the bathtub to take an automated call from Wells Fargo about unusual debit card activity and explain the activity to a customer service agent. What was objectively surreal about this was that it was pain-free, by contrast, to clear up a misunderstanding with what may be the single most fuck-you-son retail bank in the Americas. I was on my cell phone with a guy who was probably in Charlotte or Phoenix, and he had some trouble hearing me at first due to a reception problem, but he spoke fluent American English and had basic customer service ethics and was all around a pleasant fellow, and that, as Robert Frost liked to intone, made all the difference.
I now have a “travel plan” on file with Wells Fargo, with the option to update it online as indicated by Wow Much Travels. My plan for dealing with the bathroom sink is to wash my toothbrush under the bathtub faucet. Maybe I’ll report the Travelodge to code enforcement. I have reasonably good mechanical aptitude, and I truly could not get the faucet to work. There’s probably a lot of other shit that’s wrong with the motel, and the City of Reno is starting what sounds like a major campaign to clean up the SRO’s (most of which, I assume, are worse than my current dive). But, just in case in Soviet Washoe County, code enforces YOU, it’s the Travelodge on North Virginia, Room 321.
I’m only there for one night, and yes, in only one room. If anyone sees this and drops by for a visit, it’ll be a Christmas miracle in June. “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” was written during a summer heat wave, too, by a Jew in Los Angeles; around here, the classic white powder is that righteous crank, and it’s a Cracker thing. Or maybe it’s more like a rock; I don’t smoke that shit. An old friend of mine spent a day or two in Reno not awfully long ago and posted some panoramic pictures from her hotel room on Facebook. I’m confident saying that she didn’t take the city bus to the airport. It’s an ugly-ass barrio on the near southeast side, with some gnarly Crackers a bit farther out, and this chick was in town for proper bougie conference-going. One does not simply take RTD to the airport, unless one has exact fare on hand, is willing to put up with a multicultural assortment of Reno’s not-quite-South-Virginia losers, and has business at the airport between 6:00 am and 6:00 pm on a weekday. Even I don’t remember the number of the bus line, so that isn’t exactly my scene, either, but there’s something wrong with Reno for providing such shitty bus service between downtown and the airport through a heavily-populated string of ghettos. (Ed.: It’s RTC, not RTD. I used to know that. But as I said, not my scene. Not any more, at least.)
This is a city where the down-and-out get stuck. I’m here for the cheap lodging and the marginally cooler weather. I slept in my car at Donner Pass last night, but I didn’t spend anything on a room, had a ten-minute walk to the Pacific Crest Trail, and was awake in time see the sunrise and listen to Scott Simon’s entire broadcast, things that at least verge on #WINNING. If I want to clear the fuck out of this shithole town posthaste, I can load up and roll. Many people here can’t. They’re still waiting on that fucking airport bus. Nevada has the highest unemployment rate in the United States. Elon Musk hiring a few thousand new employees to run his latest subsidy dumpster out past Sparks won’t do a hell of a lot to fix this mess. His new hires will have above-average educational and professional attainment. Washoe County has enough skilled and educated workers to spare Tesla the need to hire high-school dropouts who regularly get laid off from warehouse jobs, let alone any of the teeming downtown drunks, druggies, nutters, and washed-up gamblers who would be lucky to be last-in-first-out. These low crowds exist on a continuum, so there’s some movement between mostly down-and-out and totally so, but it’s a pretty damn separate part of the continuum from the part where Bougie does business.
There’s something exceptionally ugly about Reno as a place, especially under the summer sun. A guy at Starbucks has been bending my ear about how the “black sun” is upon us and Earth has been pulled to the edge of the abyss of the universe by the lizard people, so maybe the weather will be getting cooler, but today it bloody well didn’t. Most of Reno’s natural environment is enervating, and most of its built environment is enervating. It’s no wonder that the local underclass looks enervated walking past the proliferating vacant offices and boarded-up houses. Mad Max isn’t sci-fi fantasy here; it’s an incremental reality, and has been for years. Drive through the wrong neighborhood around here, or let RTD (again, correction: RTC) do the driving for you, and you’ll be blown away by a feeling that this town is fucked. But can Bougie be blamed for not wanting anything to do with the downtowners? They’re a lost cause in their own right. The suburban neighborhoods are at least functional in their ugliness.
I don’t know how to fix this shit. I’m just reporting it; you decide, if you can even think about making a decision. If Reno is quintessentially American, America is quintessentially fucked. It certainly doesn’t harbor the only hideous desert urban shithole in the country; Vegas provides stiff competition, in case you were bamboozled by the sexiness of the top-heavy club skanks or the enduring fabulousness of Liberace. Vegas has residents maintaining apartments in its fucking storm sewers. God Bless America. Excluding gambling, there’s enough of a genuine economy to support each of these cities at maybe the size of Elko. The rest are either hustlers or leftovers, and there’s plenty of room for downward mobility from the former to the latter.
This kook who’s still carrying on about NASA/military/Illuminati conspiracies an hour into his discourse isn’t the only incoherent thing around here. (BTW, he used to live on Kauai. I’m surprised but not surprised.) Maybe he can conjure up enough cosmic oneness of humanity and healing of the earth to get some urban infill going on South Virginia. Maybe even some weekend bus service to the airport.