By Claire Booth
A real one-armed bandit, where you have to pull a handle.
Not like those horrible new ones where you just push a button.
I have this in my living room. Why, you might ask? Because it reminds me of my childhood. I grew up in Reno, Nevada. And I’ll be heading back this week for Left Coast Crime. It’s a convention for fans of crime fiction. It’s a great time – full of panel discussions, laughter and murder plots.
It will be good to go back to my hometown. I do it fairly often, but I rarely go into the “Reno” parts. Reno is two cities: the normal one with schools and houses and doctors’ offices and road construction. And the Nevada one, with casinos and $2.99 steak & egg breakfasts 24-hours a day and a walk-up window in the county clerk’s office for instant wedding licenses.
The Great Reno Balloon Race in 1984. Balloons come down everywhere –
the sides of roads, parks, anyplace the wind blows. One landed on my high school football field one year.
There are ways that the gambling industry infiltrates the normal Reno, however. Many, many people are in the business – working everything from blackjack tables to restaurants to accounting departments.
There are slot machines in the grocery stores.
Teenagers cruise the strip on Saturday night. An actual strip.
The business that adopted my high school was a major casino. It provided rewards for student achievements, and sponsored things like assemblies. Once, it brought comedian Rich Little to perform for the students. I later realized this kind of thing was not a normal occurrence at most people’s high schools.
So my childhood was a mix of the ordinary and the ordinary-to-me. Now I get to see my mystery community experience my hometown. And I can’t wait to see what they think – and what they write about it.
Me in my driveway sometime in the ’80s. Note the lack of trees in the background. This is the terrain you’ll see when you fly into Reno. High desert.