As the whole world knows, Reno is Artown, and during the month of July the little city on the Truckee is teeming with accomplished performers, including some real stars, like Richie Havens and Itzhak Perlman. There's music, art and literature in a variety of forms, all of it reflecting a savvy sophistication that hasn't always been a part of the Reno reputation. You can see the schedule here and be sure of finding something interesting and enjoyable to attend.
Cindy Gunn's sea anemones cheerfully greeted visitors to Room #318.
Preceding Artown we had the Nadadada Motel. This is an art event in which you can be sure of nothing — even the name has been different in each of its three years of existence. In contrast to the orderly, painstakingly planned and presented Artown, Nadadada Motel is a nearly spontaneous eruption of unharnessed creativity that transforms the El Cortez Hotel, once a showplace of downtown Reno and now semi-seedy, into a hive of art, artists and their adventurous audience.
It's an ad hoc affair, in which each artist simply rents a room at the hotel (and at the Town House Motel across the street) for a week, and decorates it for the duration of the event. Some of them empty their rooms of their furnishings to create a minigallery devoted to their works. Others leave everything in place and cover the furniture or work around it. All of them transform the bleak little chambers into richly imaginative environments.
NPR interviews the participants at the Nevadadada Motel while Chad Sorg makes a video nearby.
Some are more appealing than others, but none of them can be ignored. They are beguiling, repellant, exalted, crude, ethereal, sublime, sexy, cerebral, studied, impromptu, positive, negative and 15 or 20 other contradictory adjectives too. They are not dull.
Neon sculpture by Jeff Johnson
Neither are they reliable: about half the rooms devoted to art were closed and locked on the Saturday afternoon that we visited. Those artists, we were told, had stayed up late drinking the night before and had not yet awakened. This nonchalance, or fecklessness, robbed the event of some of its charm, but we enormously enjoyed what we did see, and we're hoping the event returns for a fourth year.
Here's a mystery within a mystery. Michael Connelly is a best-selling author of thrillers, with 19 books in print and each new one eagerly awaited by his faithful readers. His latest, "The Scarecrow", is as compelling a page-turner as his previous works — until you hit page 133, when they stop turning under the impact of this passage:
"how far is Ely?"
"Depending on your driving, it's three or four hours north of here. It's in the middle of nowhere and they call the road going up there the loneliest road in America. I don't know if they call it that because it leads to the prison or if it's the landscape that you cross, but it's not called that without good reason. They have an airport. You could take a sand jumper up there."
WHAT!!?? That is so, so wrong. I weep at the failure of all our years of effort in promoting US 50 as The Loneliest Road in America. Where did things go haywire? Area 51?
US 93, not the Loneliest Road
In the book, ex-LA Times reporter Jack McEvoy is turning up evidence about a serial killer who has struck in southern California and Las Vegas. As Connelly goes on to write: "Highway 93 took me past Nellis Air Force Base and then connected with 50 North." Good grief. He must have been driving with his eyes closed. That's I-15 that takes you past Nellis (true enough, I-15 and US 93 coincide on that stretch of freeway, but nobody calls it US 93), and it's US 93 that turns north to Ely. Ah, jeez. There is no "50 North". US 50 crosses Nevada east and west, intersecting with US 93 at Ely.
And yet, as confused as he is Connelly may actually have made the drive: "It wasn't too long before I began to see why it was known as the loneliest road in America (sheesh!). The endless desert ruled the horizon in every direction. Hard, chiseled mountain ranges, barren of every vegetation, rose and fell away as I drove. The only signs of civilization were the two-lane blacktop and the power lines carried over the ranges by iron stick figures that looked like they were giants from another planet."
McEvoy is driving to Ely to interview a prisoner in the state prison, but when he arrives he discovers that access won't be provided untl the next day. He is frustrated and upset at the delay — he's tracking a murderer after all — but the official in charge calms him down: "I'm not telling you to go back to Vegas. I was you, I'd just go into town and stay at the Hotel Nevada. It ain't a bad place. They got a gambling hall and a hoppin' bar most nights. . . ."
The Hotel Nevada in downtown Ely
Okay, that's more like it. But then, to prove he's a city boy, he has to plug the Hotel Nevada into his rental car's GPS to find the hotel which is right downtown, six stories high and impossible to miss. "I took a forty-five dollar a night room on the fourth floor. The room was neat and clean and the bed was reasonably comfortable."
Once in his room (#410) he get on his telephone and makes some calls to advance the plot. Then: "I looked around my forty-five dollar room. There was a little pamphlet on the side table that said the hotel was more than 75 years old and at one time was the tallest building in all of Nevada. That was back when copper mining had made Ely a boomtown and nobody had ever heard of Las Vegas. Those days were long past."
Room 410, the Hotel Nevada. That's a Frederic Remington print over the bed.
After booting up his laptop and using the hotel's free WiFi, Jack locks his room behind him and takes the elevator down to the lobby. "I walked through the gaming hall and into a bar by the dollar slots. I ordered a beer and a steak sandwich and sat at a corner table with a view of the mechanical money takers.
"Looking around, I saw that the place had an aura of second-rate desperation, and the idea of another 12 hours there depressed me. But I wasn't looking at a lot of choices. I was stuck and was going to stay stuck until the morning."
Hold it right there, bucko. Everything in Ely is first-rate, including the desperation. This guy has just been laid off his job at the L.A. Times, had his credit cards revoked, can't access his e-mail, drove for hours to find his prison interview postponed, and he's laying the blame for his malaise on Ely. You have to wonder if he's ever going to catch the serial killer.
The slot machines, where the fictional Jack McEvoy struck it rich. And the serial killer who tracked him to the hotel bears a striking resemblance to the life-sized carving on the left.
"I checked my cash stash again and decided I had enough for another beer and a roll of quarters for the cheap slots. I set up in a row near the lobby entrance and stated feeding my money into an electronic poker machine. I lost my first seven hands before hitting on a full house. I followed that with a flush and a straight. Pretty soon I was thinking about being able to afford a third beer."
There's nothing like a little jingle to lift the depression, is there? And that desperation is now a thing of the past.
At this point a mutton-chopped stranger wearing gloves and mirrored sunglasses sits down a couple of machines away as Jack was puzzling over the ace, three, four and nine of spades plus the ace of hearts on the screen of his poker machine. The mysterious stranger ventured a chat: "Supposed to be a couple of brothels outside of town."
As even a casual visitor to Ely is aware, the brothels are conveniently located within the little city's western border. But Jack ignores this conversational gambit and cudgels his brain for a solution to the vexing problem facing him: "Do I go for the flush or stay conservative, take the pair and hope for a third ace or another pair?" Uh-oh, here comes that old desperation creeping in again.
After hitting his flush, Jack quit winners.
To forestall further kibitzing and discussion, Jack quickly makes his move. "I held the spades, dropped the ace of hearts, and hit the draw button. The machine god delivered. I got the jack of spades and a seven-to-one payoff on the flush. Too bad I was only betting quarters."
And so, like the smart guy he is, Jack quits winners and goes back upstairs. His new friend gets in the elevator with him, and follows him down the hall. Jack unlocks his dor and is surprised to find a former girlfriend (and current FBI agent) waiting for him. As he pauses in the doorway, she gets up from the chair by the window and says, "Hi, Jack." And so it is that Jack barely escapes being murdered by . . . the doofus in the shades! He was the serial killer's assistant, and he had tracked Jack to Ely! After that the action swirled out of the Hotel Nevada, and out of Ely back to Las Vegas. Jack never even got to sleep in that reasonably comfortable bed.
The chair will not fit by the window, so . . . was she behind the bathroom door? Doubtful.
But I did. On my most recent visit to the Hotel ("I love this place!") Nevada, I requested room #410. Unlike the description in the book, the door to the room is located in a little spur off the main hallway where it make a turn at the northwest corner, so the killer could not have continued past when he realized there was a woman in the room; he'd have had to turn around and go back the way he came.
And, she could not have stood up by the window unless she was sitting on the bed, because the chair is in the only available space, behind the door to the bathroom and hidden from the door to the hallway. Did Michael Connelly have that third beer himself? Something went wrong with his powers of observation. Oh, I know it's fiction, but just because you're writing a novel you don't put the Parthenon in Paris, do you?
Some of the larger and fancier rooms in the hotel are named for celebrity guests from past yearsl — Vickie Carr, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Mickey Rooney among others. Why not name modest little #410 for Jack McEvoy? True, he was only a fictional guest, and he didn't actually sleep here. But he did check in, and he did eventually solve the murders and catch the perp, at least partly because of his close call at the Hotel Nevada. That's more than those movie stars and politicians ever did.
And as it turned out, I wasn't the only hotel guest on a quest. Alice Ramsey was there too.
Alice Ramsey, 1909.
Not the real Alice, of course — she was a 22-year-old Vassar graduate who had come through Ely in 1909 at the wheel of a brand new bright green Maxwell 30hp DA on her way from New York to San Francisco. She was the first woman to drive across America (here's the story in Smithsonian Magazine). For two months she, two sisters-in-law and a 16-year-old female friend (none of whom could drive a car), bounced and sputtered across the USA, eventually crossing Nevada via what's now US 50 — with a detour through Rawhide — and arriving in San Francisco amid great fanfare on August 10.
In the book she wrote years later, ''Veil, Duster and Tire Iron'' (recently republished as Alice's Drive"), she recalled an experience in Nevada:
This mural depicting Alice's drive by John Ton is at Sierra and Liberty streets in Reno.
as the women chugged along a pair of ruts through the sagebrush they saw a group of Indians racing toward them on horseback and heard what they thought were war whoops. ''I could almost feel the color drain from my face,'' she wrote. ''I had read — not too long ago — about Indians having attacked people in the Western United States.'' Then a jack rabbit jumped frantically across the road, barely ahead of its pursuers, who galloped after it without a second look at Ramsey.
They visited Tex Rickard in Ely, and stayed at his Northern Hotel — this was 20 years before the Hotel Nevada was built — before heading off to Reno. "Good driving has nothing to do with sex," she said years later. "It’s all above the collar."
Christie Catania and Emily Anderson drove the old Maxwell along Alice's orginal route. Emily took my picture as I took hers.
I didn't have the chance to ask Emily Anderson her opinion on the topic, but fortunately Michael Hagerty of KUNR interviewed her in Delta Utah and got the whole story of the drive. It began with her father Richard, an antique car buff, who assembled the Maxwell from disparate parts — the one remaining 1911 Maxwell DA in existence was not for sale. The story of the project is told in detail here, including photos of the drive across Nevada and the merry pranksters of the Eureka County Sheriff's Office who pulled her over and wrote her a faux ticket for driving too slow. There are a zillion photos here.
The Spyker was another vintage machine accompanying Emily and Christie.
What I did was to drive south from Ely on US 50 until I saw the big green Maxwell heading my way. I pulled over, let it go past with the Regal right behind it, and the big trailer full of parts and tools, and then turned around, caught up, and passed it. I pulled over to the side of the road about a mile ahead and snapped off photos as they churned past. I jumped back in the car, pulled back onto the pavement and sped after them, passed them again, and pulled onto the shoulder a mile ahead for more photos. I leapfrogged the Maxwell this way four or five times as it made its steady way into Ely. By the time we got to town I was feeling like a stalker.
I don't know what larger lessons can be drawn from this re-enactment, but Emily, her dad, her co-driver Christie and all the others who invested so much time and energy into the project provided pleasure and happiness to everyone who saw them, and that's a major achievement.
Quick notes from beyond the mountains: There's a fabulous event scheduled for Tonopah August 5th through 9th: The Nevada Boomtown History Event. The first one was held in February 2006 when some 200 authors, historians, Nevada buffs, and others gathered at Longstreet Hotel & Casino in Armargosa Valley for two days of presentations that centered on the places, people, and occurrences of 100 years previous. Characters like Seldom Seen Slim, Shorty Harris, Jack Longstreet, Shotgun Kitty Tubbs cried out for their stories to be told. This year's conference is the third in the series and will focus on the Central Nevada Western Region. A full slate of speakers will share and preserve historic events and little-known facts about Nevada’s mining Boomtowns with human-interest stories on aspects of life in a mining boomtown, including businesses, mines, social life, newspapers, special events, railroads and freight operations. Many participants will dress in authentic costumes, there will be great food, and lots of fun! Among many others, Nevada Magazine will be on hand . . . The Bonnie & Clyde Death Car has come home
"Grease Lightning" is a 1948 Ford inspired by the movie "Grease"
to Primm Valley Resort, on I-15 at the California line where it is available for inspection 24/7 . . . And speaking of cars, the National Automobile Museum, in downtown Reno at Mill and Lake Streets has initiated "Museum Movie Nights" on the last Thursday of each month. Movie nights begin at 5:30 p.m. to allow plenty of time for movie goers to enjoy the Museum and the special exhibit before the movie starts at 7 p.m. The movie on Thursday, July 30th is “Grease” as a part of the Movie Cars: Cinematic Stars on Wheels Masterpiece Exhibit. For a special $10 admission, you can see the special exhibit of movie cars — and the whole collection for tht matter, and enjoy the movie . . . And speaking of museums, in Las Vegas, plans are maturing for the Las Vegas Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, aka The Mob Museum. "Las Vegas has a wonderful, colorful history, and The Mob Museum will educate visitors about the impact organized crime had on this great city," said Mayor Oscar Goodman, who tried his first case inside the building when it served as a federal courthouse. "This isn’t done to glorify organized crime, on the contrary it is to show how law enforcement successful managed to gain the upper hand."
An interesting look at the silver mines of the Comstock Lode, and of one of the innovations that made deep mining possible.
The emigrants using this trail were "seeing the elephant", as the phrase of the time had it.
The California National Historic Trail Interpretive Center between Elko and Carlin won't be open on a full time basis until next year, but there is a schedule of public events being held there in the meantime. On July 23 at 7 pm, Charles Greenhaw, Dean Emeritus of Great Basin Community College, will present a slide program entitled “Images of the Gold Rush Trail in Nevada, 1849-50: The Diary and Art of J. Goldsborough Bruff”; a free Shoshone basket weaving workshop using traditional and contemporary materials will be offered on Saturday August 1, 9 am till 3:30 pm (bring a lunch). Class size is limited so pre-registration by Wednesday July 29 is required. Register by calling David Jamiel at 775-753-0213 or Gary Koy at 775-934-2467; on Wednesday August 12 at 7 pm California Trail Center Intern David Low will present “Burning up the Trail,” how native peoples and early pioneers used fire, and how the California Trail contributed to the rhythms of wildfire and growth we see in Nevada today. To get on the mailing list contact Park Ranger Gary Koy at 775-934-2467 . . .
The Carson Valley is renowned for its beauty.
During July you'll want to bring a picnic dinner to the park in Minden and enjoy an evening concert or any of a whole raft of events and activities (including rafting); check out the lineup of activities including Movies In The Park, the Thirsty Third Thursday Wine Walk, Nevada Motocross Park Race events, Farmers Markets and Carson Valley’s unique blend of eclectic shops and activities . . . Tickets are on sale now at the Carson Valley Museum and Cultural Center in Gardnerville and at the Courthouse Museum in Genoa for "Taste of the Towns" fundraiser for the Historical Society. The event takes place August 1, 5 pm - 9 pm. You can park at the Carson Valley Museum and Cultural Center to begin your tasting at the 13 participating restaurants. Ben Crocker is playing in the parking lot at the Museum, the "Hot Two" are at The J.T. again and Mike Maloney is at Woodettes. Tickets are $20 for members and $25 for non-members in advance. Back by popular demand: The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) has re-introduced its popular "What Happens Here, Stays Here" advertisiing campaign. The LVCVA had shifted its advertising to issue a direct call to action to attract visitors, but research showed that people miss the commericals and want to see more of them. You can see the current "What Happens Here, Stays Here" commercial and get a sneak peek of more to come, please visit . . .
McAvoy Layne as The Ghost of Twain
McAvoy Layne, the Ghost of Twain is offering "Mark Twain's Paddlewheel Summer School" aboard the Tahoe Queen through Labor Day, information and reervations at 530-543-6104. He is also presenting “Mark Twain’s Tales of Tahoe” Monday nights at Aspen Grove, 960 Lakeshore Blvd in Incline Village. The gate opens at 6 p.m. and “the trouble begins at 7.” Performances are scheduled Monday, July 6, 20, Aug. 3, 10, 17 & 31 and Sept. 7th. Bring a picnic dinner and enjoy the full bar from 6 to 7 pm. Tickets are $22 in advance and $25 at the gate. Reservations are strongly recommended. Call 775-833-1835 for more information or buy ticket online here . . . Because of drastic state budget cuts, the Nevada State Museum system has established new hours of operation for all its museums effective July 6.
Overheard at The Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City: "A champion is a man who gets up when he can't."