Having lived in big cities across the country, it wasn’t love at first sight when I moved to Reno in 2002. Yes, it was nice to have exceptional skiing just 45 minutes from my front door, but that wasn’t enough. I needed cultural diversity, sophistication, and a faster-paced city. People would cringe when I said I moved here from Detroit, but I loved that city – its rich neighborhoods and people who have a drive that’s as strong as the automobiles they build. I’m not sure what it is, but there’s something about Reno that lures and entices. Perhaps it’s the intoxicatingly pungent aroma of sagebrush that captivates the psyche.
I think it was my first Passover Seder when I realized Reno’s awkwardness. It was held at one of the casinos and I was too mesmerized by the busy carpet and chandeliers to find meaning in this religious holy day. Let’s face it – even the slogan Biggest Little City in the World is an awkward oxymoron. But it fits. Since its beginnings as a toll station somewhere in the middle of nowhere, Reno has remained rooted in the creatively adventurous and often awkward spirit. I’m immediately reminded of Roslyn Taber, Gay Langland, Guido and Perce Howland in the locally-filmed movie “The Misfits.” From cowboys to tech giants, divorcees to Mormons, young families to prostitutes — Reno welcomes all with open arms.
Reno’s early reputation as “Divorce Capital of the World” was only overshadowed by its growing reputation for seedy, smoky, second-rate casinos. While Reno initially lead the way to gaming in Nevada, its southern sister captured the world’s focus and reputation for sin, fun and swagger, leaving Reno all the more the ugly sister. And so Reno is, still today, thought a suburb of Las Vegas – a mere 450 miles away. I love sharing the fact that Reno is farther west than Los Angeles. Saying you live in Reno often spawns sideways, pitiful glances and remarks from strangers – not quite as harsh as those I get about Detroit.
There’s an undeniable, media-fueled expectation that Reno is, in reality, home to the cheesy insanity of Reno 911! Believing it is fueled by addictions to gambling, prostitution and the cheapest, low-brow debauchery available, the unknowing are astonished to learn anyone actually originates from (or lives in) Reno. And If they do, it’s certain they’re not sophisticated in any possibly way. In short, if you say you’re from Reno… a heavy sigh of sympathy is most likely your reward for civic pride. Loving Reno is awkward for those who proudly suffer it.
Protesting that Reno isn’t as misguided or seedy as it’s painted in media is, well, undeniably awkward. Our four-seasons of outdoor beauty in juxtaposition with the twenty-four hour gaming fame is an awkward marriage. As a destination, Reno touts its outdoor beauty, while having been focused on an clockless, darkened industry that focuses wagering, drinking and debauchery. If Mother Nature gambled…she’d awkwardly roll in Reno.
Reno’s residents have an independent spirit that’s deeply rooted in our culture and community. This is one of the main reasons this city is so attractive to artists and their visions – big and small. Those who love Reno revel in its collective quirky oddness – hoping you’ll jump right in and contribute to it.
Change is happening all around us and city officials are re-creating a master plan. Are we an arts destination or a tech city? I say we can be both – a city filled with creative minds and community doers that know how truly special it is here. But no matter what, I say let’s “Keep Reno Awkward.” With a knowing wink to those that understand we’re blissfully awkward…we say… it absolutely is.
We love this place…and dedicate ourselves to Reno’s long-time tradition of welcoming the awkward home.
(Beautifully awkward photography by Anicia Beckwith, Pixella Photography)
Keep Reno Awkward