If Reno is the biggest little city in the world, then Mercury would be the biggest little planet. The honor of most diminutive fell to the planet nearest to the sun, when pint-sized Pluto was plutoed in 2006. Mercury may be small, but its orbit is speedy, like the messenger of the gods for which it is named.
With the 180-foot diameter Legacy Dome as the sun, the planet Mercury would be 7.5 inches in diameter, and about 1.4 miles out from the dome. As such, Mercury would be the size of a tiny tikes soccer ball, and its orbit would encompass all of downtown Reno, including its tawdry casinos, fashionable midtown district, fetching minor league ballpark, and popular automobile museum.
Like most locals, we rarely visit Reno’s downtown casinos. Enduring the incessant ringing and breathing the stale smoky air is just not worth the occasional complimentary watered-down cocktail. This week, for the sake of research, we put in ear plugs, held our breath, and entered the Sands Regency at 9:00 in the morning to play seven thrilling games of senior BINGO for only $3. After an hour of dabbing cards and drinking free Bloody Mary’s, we concluded that gambling is actually a pretty good deal.
Like the greasy food in the casino coffee shop, Reno’s downtown hotels and casinos have been sliding down a long slippery slope, ever since the California Indian tribes got in the game. Once the largest gambling town in the country, before the emergence of Las Vegas, Reno’s downtown casinos are now second-rate at best. Today, many of the once-thriving operations have been demolished, boarded-up, or just hang by a thread.
In an attempt to modernize downtown, the city has been installing innovative sculptures in many of its public spaces. To show off its artistic side, the city hosted Reno Sculpture Fest, a three-day celebration of larger-than-life public art. Many of the exotic pieces were originally exhibited at Burning Man, which materializes every summer in the Black Rock Desert, about two hours north of Reno.
Across the Truckee River from downtown, Burning Man’s principles express themselves in Reno’s modish midtown district. This commercial-centric corridor is occupied mostly by small independent tattoo parlors, body piercing shops, gastropubs, and cocktail bars. Where downtown is sleazy and rundown, midtown is cool, hip, and up-and-coming.
In 2009, downtown Reno took a step toward big city status with the opening of Greater Nevada Field, home of the Reno Aces of the Pacific Coast League, the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. We recently attended the Dog Days of Summer promotion where dogs were allowed to come out and watch the action for free.
Since they like to pee on white-walled tires, dogs are not welcome at the National Automobile Museum, TripAdvisor’s #1 attraction in downtown Reno. Considered one of the top five automobile museums in the United States, it is an exceptional collection of exquisite machines. On a recent visit, I even saw a famous Mercury. Not the planet, but the 1949 Mercury Club Coupe driven by James Dean in the 1955 movie “Rebel Without a Cause”.
Like the James Dean Mercury, the planet Mercury is speedy and smokin’ hot. On the other hand, downtown Reno’s once fast nightlife has decelerated and its sizzling casino action has cooled off. Determined to reinvent itself; however, Reno is slowly transforming into a chill and artistic, biggest little city in the world.