A Place Called Nevada

NC-17 vision, that is.

When I was a sophomore in high school, our marching band took a big road trip to Reno to participate in a marching band competition at the University of Nevada. From the second we got off the buses at the suburban high school where we were staying, we could tell something was wrong with this place – the air smelled like sewage, the water tasted like the air smelled, and the bathrooms had foregone toilet paper in favor of a small napkin dispenser full of little paper napkins bolted to the wall of the stall, which made for one of my least satisfactory bowel movements of 2004.

Once we’d competed, picked up our small plastic trophy, and departed, we agreed pretty much unanimously that Reno was a terrible place – and that means something coming from a bunch of people who lived in Salem, Oregon. What we didn’t know, though, was that by staying on the outskirts of town we’d only scratched the creepy, sewery surface of Reno and Nevada in general.

I spent this past weekend working as a production assistant at a small ranch outside Reno where men legally pay women to have sex with them. (There is also a four star restaurant and motocross track.) The experiences I had this weekend could fill multiple completely awesome books, but the circumstances of my non-disclosure agreement prevent me from discussing much of it in detail. That said, my five days in Nevada gave me a lot of opportunities to reflect on what a goddamn bizarre state Oregon and California share a border with.

First, the good:

1) On November 26th, 2010, the University of Nevada handed Boise State their first loss in 24 consecutive games when Boise State kicker Kyle Brotzman missed two consecutive field goals, crushing the Broncos’ hopes of attaining any sort of relevance by going to the BCS Championship. This day was henceforth known as Football Christmas.

2) In Nevada, gambling is legal statewide, prostitution is legal in most counties, and alcohol sales are permitted 24 hours a day. Let me go on the record as saying, here and now, that I think this should be the case in the rest of the United States, because I’m of the firm belief that the government has no fucking business legislating morality, and in Nevada they clearly agree. When these sorts of activities are properly licensed and regulated, I think they do one hell of a lot more good than the financial industry – the brothel I stayed at generates the vast majority of the revenue in the county, and so far none of the working girls there have orchestrated a worldwide economic meltdown.

But then, the bad:

1) The University of Nevada didn’t so much win that game as Boise State lost it.

2) I’d encourage anybody on the fence about my pseudo-libertarian philosophy on vice legislation to not visit Nevada – I believe it’s fully possible for a place to have legalized gambling and prostitution without being all skeevy and weird; Nevada just happens to be all skeevy and weird on its own.

On Halloween – our last night in town – a bunch of us decided to leave the rural brothel and drive the 20-odd miles into Reno for a drink and something to eat. Imagine our surprise when we arrived in downtown Reno to discover that the city seemingly exists in a vortex where it’s perpetually 1986 and ground zero for the crack epidemic. Drunks and tweakers stumbled the mostly empty streets, lit by faded neon lights on the few downtown casinos that hadn’t closed. A billboard on a strip club advertised a ‘$5.99 PRIME RIB!!!’, along with a picture of easily the least appetizing cut of meat I’d ever seen. Photoshop, Nevada. Photoshop.

Nevada, I’d say, is the equivalent of a kid I knew and disliked in high school named Dan – so desperate to be liked and accepted by others that it engages in outlandish activity in hopes of attracting attention and friends. In the early 1900s, when the Silver Rush died down and the people living in Nevada started to realize that there was no reason to live in the desert anymore, the state legislature started legalizing every vice they could think of in hopes of keeping the population they had and drawing some more back. Likewise, Dan wore outlandishly colored contact lenses and openly bragged on his direct relation to a Nazi war criminal.* The difference here is that Nevada is now among the fastest growing states in America, whereas Dan still has no friends.

*I think Dan saw this as a calculated risk because there are only seven Jewish people in Oregon at any given time, but that still doesn’t make it okay.

The reason I’m turning around and criticizing Nevada’s lax vice laws after praising them earlier is because they’re so inconsistent – in Nevada, a minor caught in possession of any amount of marijuana is looking at between one and four years in prison and a $5000 fine. I mean, screw inconsistent – inviting somebody to your state to gamble and pay for sex and then not letting them herb up afterwards is practically criminal. When you think about it, that really makes Nevada kind of a tease. They want to act like some kind of Libertarian paradise, but they’re not prepared to go all the way.

During the shoot, we took a trip to Carson City, Nevada’s tiny capital city, to film the annual Nevada Day parade. Nevada Day – the anniversary of Nevada’s statehood – is such a huge deal in Nevada that everybody gets the day off from work, which explains why seemingly the entire state had gathered in this small town to watch a whole bunch of floats, horses, and classic cars inch down a mile of Carson Street. One of the camera guys and I ran ahead in hopes of getting some good B-roll but were stymied by the crowds of proud Nevadans lining the streets, blocking our shots.

We spotted a second floor balcony on a local law firm, and I ducked inside to ask some of the employees lounging around if we could get up there to use it as a vantage point to film the parade.

“Hi there,” I said to the handsome middle-aged lawyer who the employees told me ran the place. “My name’s Truman. I’m here with [production company] and we’re shooting a documentary about [brothel] – is there any chance we could get up on your balcony to film their float in the parade?”

He flashed me the warmest, brightest, most blinding smile in the universe. “Sure! Head on up there. Door’s on your right. You want a doughnut? Have a doughnut. We’ve got too many. Just take one.”

This is why I can’t fault Nevada completely – everybody I met there who wasn’t a meth addict or one remarkably dour waitress in Reno was overpoweringly nice in a good natured, happy-go-lucky, small town Americana kind of way; sex workers included. As it turns out, nice people can and do live in a creepy, awkward place – even Dan had a couple of cool hangers on from time to time.

Truman Capps can’t stress enough that he doesn’t consider himself a Libertarian – he just hates getting kicked out of bars at 2:00 AM.