Those who’ve lived here for just a decade or two can be pretty snooty about their home base. In fact, many of them love to deride the newly-arrived “out-of-towners.”
With the recent surge in our area’s population, I thought it might be helpful for new residents to know these eight tips to blend in during your first few years here. After that, feel free to complain about everyone else invading “your” town.
Eight ways to fake it until you make it:
Blame everything on Californians. Despite that fact that most of our earlier settlers were Gold Rush emigrants from west of the Sierra and our economy has always relied on California tourism, warehousing and/or infrastructure, don’t ever be caught saying anything good about the Golden State. The most common targets for your rage should be: California drivers, forest fire smoke and the high price of everything.
Complain about the daily newspaper. This is almost too easy. Newsprint journalism is in trouble everywhere, and the Reno Gazette-Journal is no exception. To make it local, recall the good old days when there was the morning Nevada State Journal and the evening Reno Gazette. Television is actually quite good here considering the small size of the Reno market. But, the best lines to use are “I like Joe Hart on 4 and Mike Alger on 2.” You’ll really sound like a veteran if you say you miss Tad Dunbar, Ed Pearce as an anchor, John Firpo and/or Bob Carroll. Some of the non-news types on local TV of note were Uncle Happy, Betty Stoddard, Chet & Link and Cactus Tom. The mention of their names will score bonus points.
Curse the Spaghetti Bowl. The interchange between Interstate-80 and Interstate-580 has been too small for the traffic for 30 years; naturally everyone complains. It is under construction now, and should be finished just in time for it to be too small once again. Do not tell anyone that the worst day at this intersection would be the best day on the Bay Area’s 101; or the 101, 10; 405 or 215 in Southern California.
Get a Wolf Pack sticker. This will help defer any suspicion that you and your car are newbies. The biggest national athletic achievements for UNR (University of Nevada, Reno) have gone to the school’s swimmers and divers, but no one knows that. Football and basketball are the big dogs. The best single line you can use is: “Remember when Chris Ault was coaching?” You’ll get extra points if you refer to him as “the Little General” (Note: he really was a good coach). Never, never, never say anything good about the athletic programs at UNLV. (If there is anything bad that you can’t blame on California, Las Vegas is a good secondary target).
To really gain some credibility, take a personal walking tour of the UNR campus. The best day is Sunday when you can actually find a place to park. The campus is one of the most beautiful in the nation, but most local non-alums have never walked through the grounds (start on south end near Morrill Hall and head north toward the stadium. It will be downhill coming home). A less strenuous way to soak up some campus lore is to have a beer or two at the Little Waldorf Saloon on North Virginia Street.
Visit Our Museums. There are several new and wonderful museums in Reno, but you need to talk about the older ones to seem like a local. The National Automobile Museum downtown is one of the best historic car displays in the country. It is truly worth a visit. However, it is important to say, “It was so much better when Bill Harrah had it in Sparks.” You won’t get caught in this lie, since only a few dedicated car nuts ever made it through all 1,400+ vehicles of the original “Harrah’s Automobile Collection.”
The old U.S. Mint in Carson City is the home to the Nevada State Museum and is definitely worth a visit. Their “mine tour” in the basement is fascinating and every local school kid has probably wandered through. You’ll sound like a native-born if you wonder where the old locomotive was that sat outside at the mine’s exit. (The “Glenbrook” has been restored and is inside down the street at the newer Nevada State Railroad Museum). Finally, hit the Keck Museum located in the Mackay School of Mines building on the UNR campus. It’s a great display of rocks, minerals and the state’s mining history. Most long-time residents have never been there so feel free to heckle them.
Use the Wrong Names. Over the years, many local landmarks have changed hands. Therefore, using the old names will cement your heritage. The power company is Sierra Pacific, not NV Energy. The Grand Sierra Resort (GSR) should be called the MGM Grand (or Ballys or the Hilton). Renown is Washoe Med, and the Sparks Marina is the Helm’s Pit. Most locals still call the north-south interstate “395,” instead of I-580. If you are older, you can get away with calling I-80, “US 40.” Anyone referring to it as the “Lincoln Highway” is just showing off. Don’t forget to mention that the Mt. Rose Ski Resort is actually on Slide Mountain.
Do some research
Read Some Books. Local journalist Guy Clifton wrote two humorous volumes of “You Know You’re A Nevadan If…” These are the absolute bibles of local detail, but you may need a true “old-timer” to help you interpret a few of the citations. Jack Harpster’s “The Genesis of Reno” is an excellent early history. Most locals will boastfully explain that Reno was originally called Lake’s Crossing. Harpster sets the record straight about C.W. Fuller who built the Truckee River bridge before Lake bought it. The true first name of Reno was Fuller’s Crossing. “William Fisk Harrah,” by the late Leon Mandel, will give you a good background on Reno’s legendary casino pioneer (mention that he’d be rolling in his grave if he saw his shuttered casino today). Advertising executive Mark Curtis Jr. has two books that will also enlighten: “Reno: A Fabled City Finds Its Soul” and the coffee table “One Of A Kind” that highlights Reno stories and photos from dozens of locals.
Learn a Few Local Legends. There are some things locals believe, even if none of them are remotely true. For example: “Never plant your tomatoes until the last snow has melted on Peavine Mountain.” This works about 50 percent of the time. You might as well flip a coin. Forget hunting for diamonds in the Truckee River. Reportedly, thousands of divorcees in town for six-week “quickie” divorces threw their wedding rings in the river off the Virginia Street Bridge. In truth, while some rings (along with coins, casino chips, toys and other junk) made it to the riverbed, most of the rings landed in our pawn shops. “Victims who drown in Lake Tahoe resurface in Pyramid Lake.” There’s not a shred of truth to this one, but since the Truckee flows exactly 100 miles from Tahoe to Pyramid, and the deep bottom of Tahoe is still above the surface elevation of Pyramid, this one seems like it could happen (not!). Get out your snow blower if there is ever a “Tonopah Low.” That’s a wintertime low-pressure system that sometimes forms near Tonopah, NV. They rotate counterclockwise causing snow to pile up in Reno against the east slope of the Sierra (Caution: this one is true!). Finally, it is seldom accurate to say, “Reno is so close to Hell that you can see Sparks.”
Buddy Frank is a retired local journalist and casino executive. He’s lived in the area since 1957, but his wife, who was born and raised in the Carson Valley, still considers him a “California newcomer.”