Posts Tagged ‘South America’

I had just spent four days and nights in the Grand Sierra resort hotel in Reno, interspersing gambling and eating with day trips to exciting outposts like Tahoe, Lovelock, Winnemucca, and Paradise Valley. I’d been away since Mother’s Day and now it was time to return home. I planned to leave Reno around 6:30 p.m., arrive in Oakland about 45 minutes later, spend the night at the Oakland Airport Holiday Inn, and get up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for the final leg of my journey via Hawaiian Airlines. My plan was perfect. Its execution left much to be desired. The best laid plans of mice and men…

The first warning sign appeared on arrival at Oakland when I attempted to contact Holiday Inn via the terminal courtesy phones. I tried each of the three phones several times but received only busy signals. I finally decided to take a chance that the shuttle would eventually make its scheduled rounds and pick me up at the shuttle and taxi waiting areas outside of the terminal. Instead of catching a shuttle, I caught a case of the shivers. Others around me were wearing appropriate outerwear whereas, fresh from temperate Reno, I wore paper-thin pants and shirt. I stood in the cold until I could take it no longer before I decided to hop a cab. The driver was a nice guy, but he must have pegged me as a sucker. He rolled right by Holiday Inn Express, hardly slowing until I said in an authoritative voice, “There’s Holiday Inn,” to which the driver lied, “Sorry, I couldn’t change lanes in time.”

He circled around while the meter ticked merrily along, finally dropping me at the entryway where he preemptively lied through his teeth again, “I don’t have any change.”  I’ve encountered drivers like this in Washington, D.C. An ordinary passenger may well take a complete tour of the District before reaching his or her hotel a short distance from Reagan National. Apparently, these guys can distinguish a rube from a Senator by smell or something.  Equally apparent, taxi drivers must have a nationwide network because my Oakland guy was a carbon copy of my D.C. guy, polite but shifty. I finally tossed the guy a $$ bill and said something like, “Burn in hell, Ratso,” quickly hopping out of the cab and running toward the Inn’s doors with two bags in hand. I am uncertain about this, but I would swear a polite voice wafted after me, a voice roughly translatable as “Screw you, Jack.”

Inside the hotel, I announced my reservation to everyone in earshot only to be told that Holiday Inn had no record of said reservation. But, the clerk announced, “I can make one for you.” Panicky now, I agreed to the “best available rate,” which, needless to say, was higher than the rate quoted when I made my reservation on line several days ago. Later, I learned that there are two Holiday Inns at the Oakland Airport, Holiday Inn Express and Holiday Inn and Suites. The Oakland International Airport is no longer a sleepy little dirt runway across the bay, the one with customer-assisted rubber band windup airplanes. Today, it’s the Oakland International Airport, replete with nearby accommodations and fast taxis as well as a FedEx hub. At any rate, I finally reached my room, set my clock for a four a.m. wake-up, and hit the sheets.

The following morning, I woke, completed the obligatory civilized toilet and left the hotel on the shuttle at fifteen minutes before 5 a.m. The trip was short, a couple of minutes at most. And little ole Oakland International was already packed to the gills with crowds of people heading God knows where. I suddenly realized the significance of the herds. It was Get Away Friday. Threading my way through the lines of checker inners, I noted that the Hawaiian Airlines check-in counter wasn’t where I expected it to be, on the main floor with all of the other airlines. Instead, Hawaiian was, to quote a TSA guy walking by me, “Past all of the counters. Turn right. Go up a ramp. Hawaiian is at the top of the ramp.”

Well, he got it right for the most part. At the Oakland Airport, Hawaii apparently hasn’t yet achieved statehood. So much for Hawaii 50. Hawaiian Airlines was in the International Flights section, a turn to the left at the top of the ramp and a sort of slight angled curve to the left beside the security check point. I noticed a single agent and walked over to her. She reminded me of the taxi driver when she preemptively said, “We don’t open until 6 a.m.” Okay, so here I am at five minutes after five thinking I’ll be the first in line only to learn that, sure, I can be Number One if I want to stand in the same spot for 55 minutes. I opted for a seat nearby and bided my time reminiscing.

We had driven 2,000 miles from Port Arthur, Texas, to Reno, with overnight stops in Amarillo and Las Vegas. We also stopped along the way to stretch our legs and empty our bladders and put away some victuals. By far the best meal we had was in a casino restaurant in Indian Springs, Nevada. This is open range country where cows wander among the sagebrush until gathered, branded, and sent to feed lots. We didn’t see a single cow the entire length of Nevada, but several cowboys were having an early Sunday morning breakfast in Indian Springs. These cowboys weren’t the Wrangler-butted, slim-waisted, broad-shouldered stereotypes in romance novels. Cowboys like these may exist but the ones we spotted were rather paunchy and leathery looking. Despite their ordinariness, a couple of them had good looking girls hanging on to them. Go figure.

But in the Grand Sierra Resort Hotel where we stayed in Reno, we actually saw many cowboys suitable for the cover of romance novels. The Reno rodeo was underway when we arrived. This is one of the top rodeos in the nation, with cowboys from all over the country and many from Canada, Mexico, and South America. There were no paunches among these lanky examples of Western horsemanship. They were, without exception, tall, slim, and muscled. They were the bull riders, the bareback riders, the calf ropers, and the bulldoggers. And they walked through the casino and the hotel dining spots with beautiful women on their arms. And I don’t mean just good looking. These were beautiful women, tall and perfectly proportioned. Where did these hunks and hunkettes come from? Go figure.

We also took a couple of day trips. The first was a drive South through Carson City and Minden and up a sheer cliff called the Kingsbury Grade to Tahoe. From there, we drove U.S. 50 back to Carson City where we turned North on U.S. 395 to Reno. A couple of things impressed me on this trip. The scenery is spectacular. The snow-capped Sierras served as a backdrop to the Carson Valley, Western Nevada’s premier farming and ranching area. Minden, a beautiful town of about 3,000 people and the county seat of Douglas County, has become a preferred retirement location for Californians, sometimes derisively referred to as “Calis” among Nevadans because their numbers have driven up the price of real estate.

Tahoe was at one and the same time a beautiful location that evoked a mixture of awe and disappointment. The area has been over developed, bringing with its condos and homes and crappy looking malls, traffic woes second to no other scenic visiting spot. Oddly, or not as you choose to look at the situation, most of the license plates on cars speeding like bats out of hell when an opportunity presented itself were from California. My nephew, a one-time house electrician for one of the big casinos, once told me that he moved to Tahoe to get away from the traffic, pollution, and crime of the Bay Area only to find them almost as bad around Tahoe. Besides, he said, the temptations were great. There were enough ready, willing, and able good looking girls hanging around the casinos on any given night to tempt John the Baptist.

Our second daytrip was a straight run East across the Nevada desert to Lovelock and Winnemucca. From Winnemucca, we took a short drive North on U.S. 95 until we reached Nevada 290, which led us to Paradise Valley, a small ranching community often described as a “ghost town.” We had our reasons for visiting each of these. My mother lived in Lovelock when she was young and I just wanted to see the town. From what I could tell, it probably hadn’t changed much since she lived in it, with the exception of a gas station, a MacDonald’s, and a convenience store at the off ramp to I-40. Before we left for Winnemucca, we drove out of town on a dirt road where we saw about four cows and a lizard sunning itself on a fence post.

My curiosity satisfied, we headed for Winnemucca. I had two reasons for checking out this town. My mother often talked about it, probably because she frequently passed through on her way to and from the Bay Area and Salt Lake City, a garden spot she also lived in briefly. But closer to my heart, I once slept in the back seat of a car parked on a side street across from a casino and restaurant in Winnemucca. It happened this way. Three of us decided to drive from San Rafael to Boise, Idaho, for an Air Force Reserve summer camp. Our route took us through Tahoe and Reno. In Reno, we decided to try our luck at Harold’s Club. Mine was bad, and I soon dropped my whole bankroll at a blackjack table. By then, it was late and we decided to move on. Winnemucca was about four hours away but we eventually made it and decided to nap and have breakfast before continuing to Boise. U.S. 95 North would take us through Southeastern Oregon and into Idaho. As we drove into Winnemucca, I could tell that the town hadn’t changed much with the exception of a plethora of fast food outlets that didn’t exist when we first drove through.

As for Paradise Valley, I had no particular reason for visiting it except to say that I’d read about it, and at one time, it was on my short list of retirement spots. But I crossed it off because I wasn’t equipped for its distance from the accouterments of civilization, things like McDonald’s and such. Nevertheless, I impulsively decided to take a look at it. The drive was a short 20 miles off of U.S. 95 on Nevada 290 through a surprisingly green landscape. The town itself was a beautifully bucolic setting surrounded by ranches and fields of alfalfa that virtually touched the cottonwood shaded streets. In the short time we were in town, we spotted only a couple of people and several obviously aged abandoned buildings, leftovers from the town’s booming mining heyday. Our short sojourn off the beaten path was well worthwhile.

Segueing back to the present, the Hawaiian Air terminal finally opened for business. Checking in was quick and easy, and before I knew what was happening, I was winging across the Pacific under the watchful eyes of some of the most accommodating cabin crew members you could imagine. The flight to Honolulu was smooth, the skies were blue, and the in-flight movies were first class. Still, I missed traveling on the Mainland and before we landed, I had begun to plot out my next trip.


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