Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Drowning in the Desert, on the Fringe of a Dying Empire

You know what the Nevada desert has too much of? Rain. It’s ironic that at a time when neighboring California is so bone-dry that wells are running dry across the state and residents are turning to bottled water for just about everything, the first day of Burning Man in the Nevada desert was canceled. Due to rain.

The skies opened up in a deluge. So much rain poured down that roads leading into Nevada's Black Rock Desert were deemed "un-drivable" by the event producers. State police turned away 50,000 or so people, who then dragged their butts back down the road to spend the night in Reno.

A photo from a previous Burning Man
I know this because I was staying in Reno. It’s about my fourth time in the city in three years. And my hotel was flooded with rained-out Burning Man refugees.

The big casino hotels in Reno are cavernous structures built for a boom of a different age. They were constructed just around the time the local energy boom was cresting and the nascent gold and silver boom was in its infancy. 

Meanwhile, Vegas was building glittery castles to the sky. So, the entrepreneurs of Reno rolled the dice, and they built big.

They bet their hunches, but hunches can be wrong. A recession that Ben Bernanke calls “worse than the Great Depression” went around kicking the state of Nevada (and everyone else) in the ‘nads, repeatedly. Real estate collapsed. The mining boom flamed out, stillborn.

And while Vegas seems to be back on its slippery feet, Reno hasn’t come back. Not yet.

As a result, these huge hotels in Reno tend to be half-empty at the best of times, and eerily spooky at others.

But on Monday, my hotel was teeming with freaks, geeks, musicians, groupies, hippies, hipsters and wanna-bes, artists, poets, satirists, and the kind of red-eyed dilettantes that populate the fringe culture of a dying empire.

And I found myself doing something I never thought I would do – enjoying myself in Reno.

One of the main reasons I enjoyed this trip is that Reno hotels don’t assault you with noise the way Vegas hotels do. So I was more relaxed from the get-go.

Also, the wine at the bar was dirt cheap ($4). The entertainment was women in bikinis wrestling in chocolate syrup, which was cheered enthusiastically by the crowd. While we were there, a waitress came by our table and handed out a round of free shots of Crown Royal.

A better photo than I could have taken
The food at the hotel restaurants was excellent. And the indoor pool and hot-tub was clean, uncrowded and relaxing.

And the Burning Man refugees made the place a people-watching gawker's paradise.

Sure, the electric sign out in front of the hotel may not work correctly, and half the machines in the exercise room may not work at all. But Reno has a certain shabby charm.

In fact, I told friends, “The people here seem genuinely friendly, whereas in Vegas they just see you as a target and want to hose out your wallet.”

“What is wrong with you?” one of my friends, Jon, railed at me long-distance. “Reno is shabby Disneyland for low-lifes. It's a low-roller's paradise.”

“I must be a low-life then,” I replied with a laugh. “It’s not paradise. But I’m much more relaxed than I’ve ever been in Vegas.”

Jon then regaled me with HIS Reno story:

“On my one visit there, we stayed at one of the older casino hotels on the main drag, right across from the pawn shop. You could stand at the window and watch the teenage junkies five floors below as they pawned their leather jackets.

“Also, whenever Allyson went down to the lobby without me, she had to show her room key to the security guard by the elevators, because hookers. Nobody ever stopped me and asked me to show my key.

“And there was the hundred dollar bill incident. We were waiting for the elevator and the door opened and there's a hundred dollar bill, lying on the elevator floor. Instant dogpile as four or five people scrambled for the money--finally a woman came up with it in her fist and said ‘Praise God! My luck's finally turning around!’ Allyson and I stood there, stunned.”

Jon added: “This was all on a two day visit.”

I sighed. “I’m staying at a slightly better hotel, Jon.”

The fact is, I did enjoy Reno, and I enjoyed the Burning Man refugees tremendously.  That’s after I gave up trying to explain Burning Man, an art, music and culture festival that is probably the biggest to-do in that part of the country, to my host who was showing me around the gold and silver project I’d come to see.

The guy who invited me to see the project is a born salesman, a deeply committed Christian, a tee-totaler, FOX News true believer, and an avid sportsman. I think Burning Man exists in another universe than he does. He’d never heard of it before.

A local drilling contractor who accompanied us on the tour expressed his contempt for Burning Man attendees. “They’re dirty hippies,” he said. “They’re filthy, they stink. They roll around in the dirt like animals, and they don’t even know the dust is poisonous.”

There are many reasons not to attend Burning Man, but that’s the first I heard that the desert dust is poisonous. I think if I was young, I would go. They’re expanding Burning Man for next year, by the way. I guess we have no shortage of dirty hippies.

And it’s funny how so many people hate other people without getting to know them.

Anyway, I had some good conversations, and a good time. I’m not mentioning the name of the Reno hotel I stayed at because they deserve a chance to at least fix their big sign.

Oh, and I checked out a gold-and-silver project. I’ll be posting a video from that tomorrow. I am NOT recommending the stock; it’s too small, and it doesn’t have enough volume.  And it will probably have plenty of ups and downs as it grows (or not).

But I did meet some fascinating people. There are some big things going on in the Nevada Desert.

I'd say the potential for a major discovery is better than average, thanks to changes in technology and geologists better understanding how that part of the world was formed.

Why try to develop a gold and silver mine when the price of precious metals is in a slump? Buddy, that’s exactly when you should be doing it.

For one thing, you can get contractors for a song. In fact, I hear they’re having a special on hippie-hating contractors right now.

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