The walk from the hotel, up the far end of town into Reno itself, is long.
I have had my early morning swim in the hotel’s pool. At 8am it is already corralled by deeply tanned and wrinkled ladies on their first margarita of the day. They wear fluoro bikinis, coconut oil, and pink lipstick. They advise me to sunbake, because I’m too pale. I have red hair, fair skin, and I wear a rashie over my bathers. I leave a slick of sunscreen wherever I go.
At 9am, the sun is beating down on the desert. I have on a hat, even more sunscreen and the world’s biggest bottle of water. I walk into town. It’s perhaps two miles. It feels like 50.
I’m told the Truckee River Walk is something. I should see it.
I go see it. The river itself has concrete banks and bed and the brownish water flows sluggishly, already exhausted by the day. A few sparse straggly trees in concrete tubs, with metal seats in between the dapples of shade are The Walk.
I’ve been told that it’s a lovely place to sit and eat lunch and indeed, further upstream I can see eateries that haven’t opened yet.
Heat throbs up from the concrete. Heat pours down from the relentless sun. I understand why that man spent a week in the desert on a horse with no name, because he would have been unable to think up any names after ten minutes.
I’m not sure I remember my own, and I’ve had two litres of water already. I don’t need to pee.
I turn inland of the river. Casinos tower, one like a giant stack of pancakes, another like a shard of glass. Squatting in side streets are the pawn shops.
Their windows are sparkling clean but look dirty. Rings of many sorts, mostly diamonds, sit in trays. Row after row of engagement and wedding rings, pawned for one last shot at the slot machines.
Traditional squash blossom silver and turquoise Indian necklaces are propped up on stands. They are heavy, with detailed work, and look as though they’ve been handed down in families for generations. There is no way to tell if Native Americans, or others, have pawned the jewellery. They are priced high. The turquoise mines in America are closing, emptied out.
Inside one pawn shop are many display cabinets full of more diamond rings and other jewellery. Horse tack hangs on walls. In the centre of the store is a full grown stuffed elk.
High on all four walls are racks of rifles. I count one wall. One hundred and thirty five guns, times four, not to mention the display cases of pistols, and the high security display cabinet of antique guns, some with well-worn silver handles.
I ask the manager if I can take a picture of the elk. He shakes his head.
“I can’t let you. I can’t let you photograph the guns.”
“But I don’t want to photograph the guns. It’s just that no one at home will believe me if I don’t have evidence of the elk.”
“I’m sorry, but the guns…”
“If I can find an angle where I won’t have the guns in shot?”
He helps me, hovering over my shoulder as I pad around the store with my little point-and-shoot digital camera. We find an angle suitable to both of us, and I click. Half an hour’s fussing for one shot. I take another one for good measure, because don’t professional photographers take loads of shots, and don’t I just feel all professional, worrying about angles and light and whatnot?
Pic taken, I chat to the manager. His name’s Boron. Like the element he says, but he calls himself Boris. His mother wanted to call him Boris, but she had to have a caesarean and his father was drunk when he filled out the birth certificate, right here in Reno, home of quickie marriages and divorces, and I suppose, dodgy birth certificates. His father wrote down Boron, and that’s the honest to God truth.
Boron, you can call me Boris, shows me some of the antique pistols, and asks if I’m interested. I explain about Australia’s gun laws, and his eyes open wide.
“Aren’t you pissed about that?”
I raise an eyebrow. “No. I think it’s quite reasonable. I like going into a house knowing that there’s likely not a gun in there.”
He shakes his head, declaring that now he’s heard everything. He phones his wife, Karen(not Karon or Koron) to tell her about the li’l Orsie girl in here who doesn’t want a gun, and says neither do her fella Orstraileans.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” says Karen.
I peruse the diamond rings.
“All pawned for the casinos?” I ask.
Boris nods. “People just gotta give the machines one more try. They always think they’ll come back when they hit it big, but they never do.” He pauses thoughtfully. “I’ve had stores here in Reno, and Las Vegas over the years. I coulda had a house made of diamonds with all the rings and bracelets and necklaces I’ve seen. A whole damned house.”
I tough my amethyst pendant that cost me all of $50 AUD and tell him I’m content with that.
“You had a turn on the machines yet?” he asks me.
I nod. “Yeah. The hotel gave me a $25 voucher for chips as a welcome thing. I used it.”
“I won a bit, and then I lost, and it wasn’t very interesting. So I went to the hotel art gallery and looked at that a while.”
“You’re a girl with your head on straight.”
“Tell that to my counsellor,” I say.
We part ways.
The pawn shops are many. All with diamond rings, gold, squash blossom necklaces from the tribes, horse tack, guns. All the hopes sitting in shops, waiting for those who never come back.
I buy another big bottle of water, and walk back to the hotel. To get to my room, I have to walk through the casino. The non-smoking part is right next to the smoking area, which is where the 24 hour buffet sits, congealing on ice.
The noise and lights bite at me like hungry dogs. I walk faster. It makes me feel a little ill. A lady at one of the slots is freshly ringless. I can see the pale marks on her fingers where her tan stops. It is the only part of her that will stop at all.
Photo: No Guns Please - Reno, Nevada, USA _ Helen Patrice