Day 6: As We Go Up, We Go Down
Traffic on the street below my room at the Red Lion Hotel in Salt Lake City was loud enough to roust me from sleep at 6AM, far earlier than I’d hoped to get up, since I didn’t get to sleep until well after midnight. Not only was I up too early, but I had such a splitting headache that I thought maybe someone had attacked me with a shovel in my sleep. I got dressed and wandered down to the lobby, where I pushed through two full charter buses’ worth of Norwegians—or possibly Swedes—who had just arrived, and walked down the street to the Raw Bean coffee shop for my daily constitution.
After gathering myself and putting rubber to the road, I took a quick detour to Ikea, since I’d never been to one. I was disappointed to find that they were out of lingonberry juice.
Having had enough of mountains and not finding myself interested in Mormons, I gassed up and started driving toward Reno, The Biggest Little City In The World.
After I escaped SLC, there was a stretch of I-80 that was so straight and flat and deserted that I drove at 75mph—the speed limit—without so much as moving the steering wheel for nearly 100 miles. It wasn’t long before I approached the Nevada state line, so I decided to celebrate by visiting a casino as soon as humanly possible. I’d used nearly all the cash I’d brought on the trip—I don’t like carrying large sums of cash on me, as I tend to lose things or let them fall out of my pockets—and played a penny slot with my last dollar, which I promptly lost. Back to the car I went.
The next stop on the road to Reno was Elko, which I only knew as part of the title of “Fear And Loathing In Elko”, a short story Hunter Thompson wrote, published in the January 23, 1992 issue of Rolling Stone. The purpose of my visit was not to gamble, but to refuel, get coffee and find an ATM, not necessarily in that order. Something I discovered is that it’s difficult to get coffee in the afternoon in the West if you’re trying to avoid Starbucks. I tried four different places I found searching the GPS, but all were either closed for the day or closed permanently. Phooey.
A friend sent me a link to a story in the Washington Post about Battle Mountain, and after reading it and seeing the place from the interstate, I’m pretty sure I did the right thing in moving along.
Up another mountain and down again, I switched from listening to podcasts in favor of Richmond Fontaine’s excellent 2002 album Winnemucca as I approached the city of the same name. The first song on the album, my favorite, is called “Winner’s Casino”, so I thought it fitting to stop at Winner’s Casino. It was the saddest place I’ve seen on this trip. Still, I won $3 on nickel video poker, so I can’t complain.
I approached Reno, with its glitzy, gaudy casinos and hotels beckoning on the horizon, and, after two days of hard driving across deserts and mountains, I couldn’t help but be tickled by the prospect of a place that tries to lure people into its clutches with yellow and red and blue and pink, when all it wants is their green.