Thursday, July 31, 2008

Reno: Day Four

Not able to find the local Fox station on our Circus Circus basic TV, we hit the phone books looking for a sports bar so we could watch the German Grand Prix. It’s what we do on a Formula One Sunday. We found a local chain called Bully’s which cleverly evades the statewide smoking ban (allowed in casinos and “some” bars, whatever that means) by occupying an adjacent building at each location and putting in a bar named Smokin’ in which you can order food from Bully’s kitchen. Sweet! So, of course, we went to Bully’s for late breakfast (the race started at 11:30) and adjourned to Smokin’ afterwards for the rest of the race. No, audio, but if you pay attention you can follow the race.

Decided to take in some of the midway circus shows at the hotel. Right. Three trapeze artists do some basic moves over the course of, oh, about seven minutes. Sigh. So we wandered the midway, which is where all the carnival games are for the kids, went and gambled awhile until, exhausted, we were beckoned by the comfy bed for the early evening nap.

We got hungry and walked the indoor path among three hotels: ours, the Siver Legacy, and the Eldorado. The only easy food to be had seemed to be in our hotel deli, so we headed back there around ten o’clock and had a sandwich. I was surprised that so many kids, I mean little kids—of the age where they still take naps in the afternoon—were still up, eating, drinking, and playing, and acting as though it were noon. Well, I supposed that they wanted to stay up until the midway closed at ten, but these were just toddlers!

We gambled some more, decided to get an ice-cream cone because dinner had been light, and headed back to the deli. If I was surprised to see wee ones there at ten, I was astonished to see them after eleven. Is it just me? I can’t imagine what it would be like for the parents to try and get the kids back on a regular schedule.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Reno: Day Three

This would be Saturday. We liked Friday’s breakfast food so much, we decided to have more, and so we ambled down to the hotel café. Having a taste for chorizo, I ordered up a Mexican burrito while my partner requested corned beef hash (corned beef is one of two foods forbidden in our house; I promise never to bring Brussels sprouts inside) and eggs. Then it was down to the hospitality room and my introduction to the slot machine. Yes, we stepped out of the suite for a quick smoke, and what else was there to do? I made a few bucks, about twelve, I think, and then we went back to mingle a bit.

The later part of the afternoon we split up: one for a manicure and pedicure while sipping a mojito and the other to Walgreens to have some photo prints made. Now, you’d think Reno, being a cosmopolitan city with an international airport, people speaking a wide variety of native tongues, and a spa on every corner would be able to come up with a decent manicure. After the first french manicure proved too embarrassing to show in public, a second operator redid the job. Now I ask you: does this look like a world class manicure, or does it look more like an eight-year-old said, “Hey, let me do your nails?”

Yeh. And that was the better job. Sheesh! But there was no time left. One redo put us off schedule enough to miss the cocktail hour as it was, so back to the hotel for a quick shower and change of clothes.

The banquet was a barbecue; the raffle was held (we didn’t win); and the speech was very long but very entertaining. It was a story, really, rather than a speech, about a mission aboard the Sculpin, details of which were only recently declassified. The storyteller was the captain of the boat during that mission and his story was most compelling. The only reason we realized that it was very long was the urge to smoke coming on, then subsiding, then coming on again. But we didn’t want to miss the story. I may summarize it at a later time, but it’s too long and off topic for this vacation post.

When we finally stepped out to smoke and find the restrooms, we discovered that a Quinceañera was being celebrated in the next meeting room. We also noticed that everyone entering the room, including toddlers, had to be wanded by private security officers, and when people came from that room to the shared cash bar, they were served drinks in plastic cups. No glass was allowed at that party. It rather made me wish I’d been packing.

After the banquet, we headed back to the hospitality suite for the final time. The reunion organizer had announced that there was still a fair amount of liquid refreshment in the room and he preferred it be disposed of hydraulically rather than ported out via heft, and several of us were happy to oblige.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Reno: Day Two

We don’t normally rise early on vacation, often dawdling around in the room until eleven or so, but today’s bus tour would begin at nine, so early up, room coffee, shower, dress, and out the door. The reunion organizer told everyone that there would be a big cooler on the bus and urged us to buy drinks from the hospitality suite to bring with us for the day, so we bought four bottles of water and put one in my pack and the rest in the cooler. Then we found a couple of seats and settled back for a day of sightseeing.

Our tour guide was a former teacher very interested in the rich history of the state of Nevada, which I won’t relate here because you obviously can look it up elsewhere on the Web, but her knowledge and enthusiasm made for anything but a boring monologue. Before we made our first photo-op stop at a vista, she pointed out a herd of feral horses grazing at the side of the road—very cool—and told us about local efforts to have the horses captured and adopted. It seems that there a too many horses to be sustained by the food and water on the free range, so many of them die in the scrub. Yes, well, animals die, don’t they? Don’t we all? I’d guess that before mankind came to Nevada, all the horses eventually died in the scrub. If I were a horse, I’d rather live a short free life than a long contained one. But that’s just me.

Outside Virginia City, we boarded a train that took us past the ruins of several silver mines and their abandoned towns. In contrast to our school-teacher-cum-tour-guide, the conductor on the train sounded as though he was reading from a script with which he had long become bored. Too bad, because the area has a rich and colorful history that our tour guide imparted after the train ride. Her stories would have been nice to hear as we saw each mine.

We didn’t have enough time in Virginia City, barely enough time for lunch. Because we tend not to eat upon waking, we were in need of some sustenance. We went into a local restaurant and sat with a submariner from Texas and chatted while we had a nice breakfast for lunch.

Like most summer days out there, the day was hot and dry. After another photo op, I went to the cooler on the bus to pick up a nice bottle of chilled water. All I found were a couple beers and about eight little chopines of Merlot. Greaeaeaeaeat. Apparently some fellow travelers anonymously allowed us to display our generosity by buying them three bottles of water. Had I known, I would’ve bought extra bottles for those poor souls. I have never done well in warm weather and was miserably hot and listless until after our next stop, where gratifyingly cold water could be found in the gift shop.

That stop was at the Nevada State Railroad Museum in Carson City, where we rode an antique train pulled by a steam powered locomotive for which, I must admit, I have little appreciation. The reunion group did have a few train enthusiasts who got quite a kick out of riding with the engineer and ringing the bell! They were like little kids in a candy store up there and one couldn’t help but grin at their delight.

We were back in Reno just after four, just in time for The Nap. We woke up a little late, cleaned up and headed out to a Basque restaurant not far from the hotel. They serve family style, no menu, but you do get to select from a handful of entrees. That night, the choices were steak, salmon, leg of lamb, and sweetbreads. We sat with a family of five from Fallon, NV, all adults, whose exact relationships were a little hard to determine. Based on their apparent ages, they might have been two generations or three. The youngest was in his early twenties and worked on the new geothermal plant under construction in Reno. That was nice, because we saw the construction site on our tour earlier in the day, and he was able to tell us a bit more about it. Anyway, we had good company to round out the meal and no one walked out hungry.

We went back to the hospitality suite for a few more laughs and to pick up a bowl. On the tour bus, we met Chris and his wife Georgianne, who makes baskets out of cloth. She uses strips of cloth, much like the tubes used in rag rugs, and stitches them in a circle with a zig-zag stitch. It’s similar to putting together an oval rug, but the gradation in ring sizes is not great enough to allow the rings to lie flat. Voila! A bowl. She figured that since the guys got mugs and other souvenirs, the women should have something to take home, too. So she brought enough for all of the submariners’ wives and SOs. How nice is that? Then she took orders (gratis) from anyone who didn’t particularly like the color schemes available (how snobby is that?) and promised to make and send them after the reunion. Here’s our bowl:

Once again, we closed up the hospitality suite. Tomorrow would be a free day with the reunion banquet at the end.

Reno: Day One

The day was mostly consumed by the usual air travel events and getting to the hotel. We got to our room around 1:30 and took the all-important nap. We are such exciting travelers!

From the airport we first went to downtown Reno and scoped out the hotel. Not knowing whether it was too early to check in, we decided to find some lunch. I played navigator, directing us north past the University of Nevada–Reno. One would think that being a fairly large campus the property would be ringed with places that serve up cheap eats. I guess college kids in Reno have a lot more money than those in IL, IN, and WI, as we found no “burritos the size of your head” in that area. However, we eventually happened upon the only Sonic drive-in in town. Sonic is the one thing my partner misses from having stayed in Oklahoma for most of a year while working on contract. When I went to the Sooner state to visit and as company for the ride back home, I became particularly fond of Sonic’s Powerade® slushes. So in Reno we stopped and had a couple of their promotional Island Fire sandwiches with an order of cheddar poppers (not available on their web menu), and we satisfied our soft-drink joneses with the crucial slush and a fondly remembered cherry limeade. We would return to Sonic several times over the course of the next week, which leaves me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, there’s so much good food available in the Reno–Sparks area that we really should have tried a few more places; on the other, convenience is a big factor when we are on vacation.

We arrived at the hotel, Circus Circus, and immediately saw a plaque inviting us to “check in as early as 8:00 A.M.” The valet took our car, we checked in, and then we checked in at the reunion hospitality suite. We were given a Sculpin mug and a chance to win one of several prizes in the fundraising raffle. The proceeds, along with the dinner fee, drink fee and donations, paid for the reunion. We bought lots of tickets. Drinks in the hospitality suite were two dollars each regardless of the kind of drink purchased. Being in a generous mood, we drank a fair amount of coffee at two dollars a pop and put some extra into the kitty as well.

Then came time for the all-important nap. What more needs to be said?

When we got up we headed to Walgreens for some forgotten items—hair brush and the like—and, since the hotel put only two single-cup coffee packs in the room, some alternative caffeine delivery systems: a gallon of Arizona tea and some test flavors of Mountain Dew. Then we went back to Sonic for a quick meal, to maximize the time we could spend with the other veteran submariners. We closed the place down, helping the reunion organizer to clean up the mess and count the day’s proceeds. Then to bed because Friday would be an early day.

Reno Trip: the Summary

We took a week off, from Thursday the 17th through last Wednesday, and went to Reno for a reunion of any who served on the USS Sculpin, SSN-590, a Skipjack class nuclear fast-attack submarine. The reunion opened Thursday for registration and camaraderie in a hospitality suite that was open through Sunday at two in the morning. On Friday, the reunion group had a bus tour that went to Virginia City and Carson City and included two short train rides and, of course, more camaraderie. Friday night and Saturday day were open for…you guessed it! More camaraderie. The reunion banquet was held on Saturday night, with several guests adjourning afterwards to the hospitality suite for, well, camaraderie, I guess you’d call it. I probably should mention that “camaraderie” in this context means “a bounty of embellished sailing stories, choruses of belly laughs, and copious amounts of liquid refreshment.” The hospitality suite had a seemingly endless supply of said refreshment, both hard and soft. Personally, I think I drank more alcohol that week than I would in an average six-month period. So, if you know me, you know that that means I had something like two beers and two mixed drinks, one each on four separate days. Oh, and I almost forgot: half a glass of wine with Friday’s dinner. Yeh, I prefer a clear head.

On Sunday we rested. On Monday and Tuesday we did some sightseeing, putting several hundred miles on the little rental car. Did you know that a Toyota Corolla is considered, at least by Hertz, to be a mid-sized car? Yeh. We reserved a mid-size and that’s what they gave us. Well, it was a car, and it got us around. We had booked a helicopter flight over Emerald Bay on Lake Tahoe for Tuesday. On Monday the tour company called us to say that the trip would be postponed from its original departure time of 11:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M. because the chopper was in for maintenance and would not be back until early afternoon. On that early afternoon, as we were driving south of the lake, we got another call, this time saying that the flight would have to be cancelled, as the whirlybird was not yet back from maintenance. It worked out all right, though, because it gave us more time to walk around and enjoy the beauty that is Lake Tahoe and its surrounding mountainscape.

I do not recommend Circus Circus of Reno. I traveled for business in the ‘80s and stayed in a lot of mid-rate hotels (Holiday Inn, Ramada, etc.). Circus Circus is a mid-rate hotel, or less, of the ‘80s: little formulaic square box of a room with only one chair; charges for local phone calls; no free wi-fi (at $9.95 for twenty-four hours, it’s one of the “additional amenities available for a small fee”); and even short sheets! On the positive side, the room was very clean, and when the cleaning staff observed that we were coffee drinkers (based on the king-sized stryo cups we left in the room right next to the four-pack of Frappuccinos and assorted caffeine-laden soft drinks), they left five one-cup packs in the room instead of the prescribed two.

We gambled a little: slots; no table games. I had a few good wins and some long, drawn out losses and ended up losing about thirty dollars overall, so it really was pretty cheap entertainment.
I have some notes as to what we did each day, so more detail is coming in later entries.