Saturday, November 18, 2023



Blarney sounds like an Irish rip off of the purple dinosaur we all used to hate. But Blarney is loosely translated as the Irish gift of charming gab. Legend holds you could get that skill by kissing the Blarney Stone which was used to build Blarney Castle guessed it...Ireland six hundred years ago. 

The photo of a much younger me with an unfortunate ponytail above shows me pointing at a portion of the Blarney Stone that was in the wall outside of Fitzgerald's Casino in Reno back in the 1990s. It was always one of my stops when I'd visit my friend from college who lived in Reno and worked as a Slot Supervisor at Harrah's in Reno. We'd always swing by the Fitz, rub the Blarney Stone for good luck (there was no way I was kissing a rock on a building in downtown Reno) and go through what we called the Lucky Grotto inside the casino. It was one of the casino scams to draw in tourists. You when by displays of lucky charms like Buddha's belly, the Blarney Stone and leprechauns to give a spin on a wheel of fortune.  Although I technically you could win cash, we almost always just got a Leprechaun keychain, a four-leaf clover keychain or a pen. I think we once also got a Fitz trucker hat.

We never really minded winning cheezy things on the wheel of fortune at the Fitz because it was all part of the fun. Unless you were pretty stupid or a degenerate gambler, you didn't go to Reno to get rich. You went to drink, gamble a little and forget your day to day mundane existence. 

I have pointed out before that Reno was the blue collar version of Las Vegas. It was low key and low rent. Oh, they had bright lights and lots of slot machines, but it never pretended to be classy. And while Las Vegas bragged about what happened there stayed there, Reno pretty much didn't give a shit one way or another. That's why I liked it.

So why am I waxing poetic about Reno? I was at a Goodwill store a few weeks ago browsing the bric a brac and I found an ashtray from the Sands Casino/Hotel in downtown Reno. It reminded me of all of the ashtrays I used to pocket from various Reno casinos in my day even though I don't smoke. It was my way of sticking it to the man. I think at one point I was walking around with eight ashtrays in my pockets.

The ashtrays have long since gone the way of many of my obsessive collections from my younger days. I found them in a blue plastic bin I had stored in our garage for 20 or so years. I purged most of the stuff during the pandemic by either selling the stuff on eBay or donating it to Goodwill. I think that's where all the ashtrays ended up. 

Ironic, don't you think? Because now, when pretty much no one smokes or goes to Reno, the casino ashtrays have become trendy "trinket trays."  

Finding the Reno ashtray at Goodwill did make me Google some of the casinos I used to frequent when visiting my friend. And I'll be damned if almost all of them have closed, been torn down or both. 

Gone are Harold's Club, the Nevada Club, Harrah's and yes, even the Fitz. They left the Fitz building but now it is a multi-use building with offices and probably condos. But the Blarney Stone is still there (according to Google). Gone also is the Reno Hilton outside the city. I stayed there when it was the MGM, then Bally's and finally the Hilton. It is still a casino but not one I've ever heard of.

The Eldorado and Silver Legacy are still mega casinos in downtown Reno. And Circus Circus is still there, but it was disgusting back in the 1980s and 90s when I used to visit. I can't even imagine what it is like now.

In fact, I can't even imagine going to Reno now. They are trying to change their image and downplay casinos. Part of the demise of Nevada casinos in general was when they started allowing the Native American (or Indian or Indigenous People) casinos. Why travel to Reno when you can sit at a nickel slot and suck on watered down drinks in a smokeless environment a few miles away.

It's not that I was that into gambling. But I liked the excitement of randomly picking a slot machine and popping in a few coins and pulling the handle. Most of the modern machines don't have handles. Shoot, most of them don't even take coins. You purchase a ticket and feed that into the machine and spend most of your time trying to figure out what the machine actually does. In the meantime you've lost all of the money you put on the ticket.  No clutching your bucket of nickels or quarters. No satisfying click of coins falling a tray.  Just video games that mock you and take credits instead of cash.

I stopped going to Reno a good 25 years ago. My friend left there years ago. He ended up working and retiring from a Native American casino in Washington State.  So I stopped having much reason to return to Reno.  And now sadly they've torn down anything there I would remember or want to visit.

Sadly, Reno is kind of symbolic of much of my youth. Most of it is closed or torn down and it happened in a blink of an eye while I was growing old. 

I created this shadowbox to honor the Fitz
and the Lucky Grotto. Ironically I had to buy most of the
mementoes on eBay since I threw them away long ago
thinking I could always get more.

But maybe, just maybe, there is a Reno in an alternative universe much like the hotel lounge at the Overlook Hotel in Stephen King's  The Shining where I will someday saunter into after rubbing the Blarnery Stone for good luck and hear that music of coins falling into a slot tray.  And I'll have a bucket full of silver dollars just itching to play, and I'll burst in saying, "Here's Timmy!"

Because I'm feeling lucky!

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