If Las Vegas was the child, and King Solomon had been able to carry out his insane judgment, Reno would be what remained; an ill-begotten bastard infant cleaved in twain by circumstance and poor governance. The grieving mothers in this case would be the state of Nevada and the world at large.
Though the description I have just given of Reno sounds bleak, I certainly have no intention of robbing this anomalous municipality of its own peculiar charm. For though I just employed a rather disparaging Biblical comparison (and to be fair, if at any point you’re being compared to something in the Bible, it’s likely in a disparaging light), I will instead give a rare spoiler at the preamble of the review; my judgment usually being reserved for somewhere around the back third. So here it is:
Reno is resolutely one of the best cities in the entire world. If I knew of other habitable celestial bodies and was able to explore them with any thoroughness, I still feel certain that Reno would remain on my short list. You should go there. You should spend time and money there. Five stars. 100% rating. The whole enchilada.
However, there is a catch. You should only heed my recommendation if you’re rather crazed, generally unstable, and this is the most important, possess a taste for the grotesque intermingling unrepentantly with the exquisite. There is no middle ground. There is no one or the other.
To properly enjoy Reno, you must self-identify with a term that I have coined and will spearhead with voracity until it has successfully entrenched itself into our daily lexicon. That being: bougie fluid.
Bougie fluidity is both a state of mind and a practice. It is a taste and a lifestyle. Best of all, by nature, it’s inclusive and can be acquired at any point in one’s life if they keep an open mind no matter your background. To be bougie fluid, you must be open to the idea that spending two hundred or more dollars on a meal every once in a blue moon is not to be written off as an extravagance but rather an enriching, worthwhile experience; a necessity for the advancement of refinement, taste, and your sense of pleasure. Because you deserve it. You must also be able to gleefully suck down Coors Light on a sweltering day by a low, ambling river while listening to bluegrass because any other beer is too dense, you’re not here to put up a fuss about your knowledge of microbreweries, and you know that bluegrass is a divine choice in any context. To be bougie fluid you must own at least one tailored suit or fitted dress and some article of clothing with either the sleeves or legs wrenched off haphazardly. You must be equally at home in a gallery opening as you would be in a dive bar and occasionally just as contemptuous of one or the other depending on your mood. You must know what salmon roe tastes like just as well as the head. You must both detest the scourge of irresponsible gun ownership and sales while at the same time knowing how to and enjoying shooting them. You must know that some of the finest works of visual art on earth exist in museums scattered across Europe and Latin America. You must also know that most of finest works of art could never be made by the hands of humankind: the low fog over a forested valley, the satisfying and conspicuous rustling of twigs and leaves under the hoof of a young elk in Autumn, perfect silence save the sounds of a crickets lustful song underneath a meteor shower on a clear august night.
Basically, you can’t be a jerkoff. White or blue collar. Capable of anything while concurrently above nothing.
With that in mind, I have yet to experience a city that will test how much you have truly actualized this practice within yourself better than Reno, Nevada. You will find no break from one or the other. You have no choice. Reno forces you to come to terms with both sides of your bougie fluidity and it has no patience for your wavering sensibilities one way or the other. It is a feral beast in a sequined jacket. A shambling, knock-kneed corpse in a Jean Paul Gaultier dress. A rodeo clown dining on foie gras while being gored by a bull donning a hot iron brand of the Monster Energy logo. It’s beautiful. It’s disgusting.
Aren’t we all?
Geographically, Reno is perfectly situated to its character. Nestled poetically between the naturally abundant splendor of Lake Tahoe and its titular national forest to the west and the desolate, hopeless ruination of the desert to the east. There is a burger joint there called Fat Cat that deservedly boasts simultaneously about the unparalleled quality of its burgers while concurrently touting their flagship sandwiches life threatening qualities. It’s the perfect metaphor for America at large: great for your soul and bad for your heart.
I could write an endless screed about the week that I spent there, however, for the sake of brevity I’ll localize it to one instance alone.
Several dozen of my dearest friends and I were there for an acting competition in college to see once and for all who was the best at make believe according to the small handful of nominally successful actors and directors judging the event. We were staying at the Circus Circus hotel and casino, and after a day filled with enriching our fertile thespian minds that were as of yet unspoiled with years of overwhelming disappointment, we made our way to a fantastically private nook of the hotel called Gecko’s. Its neon, lysergic charm was enhanced further by the faux-Mesoamerican décor and an unbeatable deal on decent margaritas for the next several hours. During that time, my friends and I discussed plays, acting, made jokes, and generally engaged in the kind of revelry that is worth more than anything when all is said and done. However, for my part, the joy came to a grinding halt when amidst the chaotic, high rolling fun I spotted a woman by the slot machines adjacent to the higher stakes poker tables. I will make mention of this woman’s weight not to shame her for its overabundance, but only as a descriptor to you, the reader, of what I saw. No, I will shame her for the actual sin she was committing. This behemoth of a human was chain smoking at her machine while ambidextrously trading between stuffing more coins into the slot and slugging whatever was in her cup. She was doing all of this while her two very young children that I assume were but pray to the powers that be were not her own were tugging on her pant legs begging to go home. She was doing all of that while wearing a t-shirt that said typed with the impact font: “SHIT HAPPENS WHEN YOU PARTY NAKED”.
Indeed it does. Life happens. Twice demonstrably in her instance and I’m sure an incalculably large amount of times throughout the lands and the ether with regards to all other living things.
Gazing upon this sight not only made me feel eternally fortunate for the parents that reared me and how they would have never even dreamt of doing something remotely resembling what I was looking at, but also for life itself. For whenever we peer at a snapshot of the void made flesh, and the gaping chasm of all that is unholy stares back at us with Pall Mall’s in its mouth and a ravenous desire for a big win in its heart, if we step back, we remember that we still feel something. Something that is real. Delightful or despicable. And that is what this all is isn’t it?
For better or worse, we are all Reno.