Nick & Sara’s Tour de West – 15

Sat, Sept 19

I just don’t get the attraction to gambling.

I arrived in Reno, NV, last night, just after sunset. Apparently there’s some sort of air show (actually air race) going on in the Reno area, so a lot of hotels are booked. I tried my usual “Marriott points” trick to see if I could find a Marriott brand room I could get on frequent stayer points, but they’re all booked. Finally, I try and am given a not-too-terrible price on a place at the “Peppercorn Casino.” It’s got decent reviews on yelp, so I figure what the heck. I don’t have to gamble, and I’ve heard the food is pretty good at most of the casinos.

The Peppercorn is freakin’ HUGE. And like all casinos, you more or less have to go through the gambling area to get to anywhere else – restaurants, the hotel itself, etc. When I got here last night I stood in the middle of the floor, bewildered, with bags in hand trying to figure out where to go. Even after I’d checked in and found my room (oh-so tastefully done up in what I can only describe as a cross between 20 century New York Mafia and the 19th century early French Bordello styles) and came back down to find a restaurant – I still couldn’t really orient myself. Thank God they have little directional signs pointing you to various places – that’s the only way I could navigate.

The food was good, though not particularly inexpensive. The by-the-glass wine list wasn’t bad either, and after a nice meal in the casino’s far-east restaurant I wandered around the gambling floor a little while to see if I generate any enthusiasm in myself to maybe drop a little money somewhere. Nah – It’s just not my thing. The slots look boring and all the rest too complicated. Oh well, never mind.

That was last night. What I really don’t get is that it’s now not quite 7 AM in the morning and the gambling floor is as busy as ever.. there’s still people parked in front of the slots, shoving quarters in and pushing a button – you don’t even pull a lever any more. Put in a quarter – push the button, put in a quarter-push the button – Pavlov would be proud. Don’t these people have lives?

So it’s back on the Reno streets after rescuing Sara from the evil clutches of the valets once again (now, *that* was a bargain, compared to Seattle – $10 for the length of my stay in Reno). First impressions last night of Reno weren’t particularly positive, and I’ve gotta say, the early morning light doesn’t do much for it, either.. it’s kind of a grey, dingy city, which seems to be made up of mostly casinos and fast food joints.

After hitting the local Micky-Dee’s for breakfast (hey, an Egg McMuffin ain’t bad once in a while) it’s back on I-80 for the drive across the great state of Nevada.

Nevada makes Wyoming look populated. In fact, I think the state motto for Nevada ought to be “We make driving across Wyoming seem exciting.” There’s *nothing* out there. Just lots and lots of rolling brown hills.

And then you reach Wendover, NV, the last stop in Nevada before hitting Utah. Aside from the cluster of casinos right at the border (gotta get that Mormon gambling crowd from Salt Lake, I guess), the single most interesting feature of Wendover is the white, shimmering plane of sheer flatness you can see stretching out in front of you in Utah. From on top of a little rise on I-80, it almost looks like snow on the great plains.

Next thing you know, as you head down I-80, you’re on that white plane – the Salt flats north and west of Great Salt Lake, home to Bonneville. And then… you don’t….turn the wheel.. ..again…for 70 miles! It’s literally a *straight* as an arrow shot from the NV/UT border to Salt Lake. Big signs on the sides of the road warn against the dangers of falling asleep while driving, and admonish people to pull over if they feel tired. I can see why – even 90+ MPH feels slow out here – but unless they cross over into oncoming traffic (which would be a bad situation, no doubt), it’s hard to see what they’d hit. It looks like you could simply drive off the side of the interstate if you fell asleep and keep going for a while without hitting much of consequence.

Finally, Great Salt Lake comes into view, and then the greater metropolitan Salt Lake City area, with all of it’s traffic. I skirt the bulk of it by taking I-215 on the west side of town down south around Salt Lake until we join up with I-15 S, and just past the join up pull in to the ‘burb of Draper, UT for the evening.

Draper is your typical big city suburb. The girl at the front desk (Chipo, a pleasant enough young lady with a striking accent, from Zimbabwe – now that I didn’t expect in Salt Lake) tells me there’s a decent Italian place for dinner just down the street, so as is my penchant after checking and locking up Sara for the night I stroll down the road to the restaurant. Usually, when I’m by myself I like to sit at the bar and eat. It feels slightly less lonely, and if it’s not busy sometimes you can strike up an interesting conversation with the bartender or a fellow traveler sitting next to you. But this is Salt Lake City – they don’t have a “bar” per se – though they do have a bar area. So I sit in there, order a glass of wine and chicken parmesan for dinner. While I’m sitting, a younger looking guy – maybe mid to late 20’s, comes in, sits down at a nearby table, and orders a shot of Jack Daniels from the waiter – nothing else. The waiter says OK and goes off to get it, but returns a few minutes later:

“I’m sorry sir, UT state law says you have to buy some food before I can sell you any liquor, which you like to buy some bread or perhaps an appetizer?”

The guy shakes his head, says no thanks, and stalks off out the door. The waiter looked at me and said “Utah liquor laws, what can you do? Good chance he was actually from the liquor authority – they test us all the time.”

Welcome to Utah. Please set your watches back 30 years.