30 years in the wilderness with pride & prejudice
From the 1-2-00 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune
A little over three decades ago, I journeyed to Las Vegas to work through the warm months. As I drove my freshly-painted canary yellow Riviera through that bright desert, I didn't know I ventured into an endless summer.
Thirty-one have come and gone. I have learned you can remain forever young in this youthful land, a bullish and bullyingly adolescent country. Even as years advance, Nevada allows me to conjure at will a young man's sense of wonder.
Herewith, the things I'm proudest to know after 30 years of wondering and wandering the High Desert Outback of the American Dream.
THE HEALING SKIES OF NEVADA. Whenever you feel small, look up and you'll feel big, connected, important. Whenever you feel that too much of a burden rides your shoulders, look up to see all the space available to put it. The big sky will refresh you, put you in your place if you need it, and remind you that your time in that place is so very, very fleeting.
MY WIFE, who daily endures someone who by reputation can be quite moody and mercurial. At times I've wondered why I ever stuck around here in the early days, then I'm always reminded. I waited to meet a beautiful blonde named Betty.
THE LITTLE UNION THAT COULD, the valiant once-and-future security guards of the Reno Hilton. In 1996, United Plant Guard Workers of America Local 1010 won a strike, then a contract from the biggest, baddest casino company in the world. They did it in a town that hadn't seen such in two generations. They were illegally fired for their efforts and fought back. They have beaten Hilton in every round through the highest courts in the land. One of the Fabulous 41 now lays dead at 40. Some are sick. But most of them eagerly await the day they will proudly return to their jobs, victorious where so many others have fought for their rights and lost.
THE SPIRIT OF THE MAPES HOTEL, just the most recent example of the power people can seize for themselves if they are motivated and willing to work and organize.
WE AIN'T BROKE, BUT WE'RE BADLY BENT. Compared to so many other places, what's wrong with Nevada is eminently fixable. We've got the tools, but time is tight. Will we have the courage to use them?
THE U.S. CONSTITUTION makes whatever's wrong rightable. Like the warm, nurturing lap of your grandmother, you can always be alright under the covers of that 210 year-old blanket. The big, mushy, vaguely worded, flexible, non-absolute, see-whatever-you-want-to-see document works like grandma's medicine chest. It will always have the prescription to cure whatever ails us.
THE INTERNET. Just as in other times when monopolists gobbled everything in sight, another great equalizer has arisen to level the field. Thanks to glorified typewriters which can add zeroes and ones very, very, very fast, more and more people become increasingly empowered with knowledge, the seed of our renewal.
FRESNO, CALIFORNIA sent Nevada Coach Jerry Tarkanian, Gov. Kenny Guinn and me, among others. For all the times I've made fun of the sleepy farm town over the years, I have always learned from her similarities to the Silver State. Nevada is little more than the population of Fresno spread over a larger geography.
Fresno has been bypassed by much of the progress of the last two decades because of narrow-mindedness and public corruption, both of which Nevada possesses in abundance. Notwithstanding our local faults, we are not nearly as crooked as Fresno or Las Vegas, and that can facilitate a better future if we wisely husband our resources.
The U.S. was blessed with vast natural wealth. Some cynics say we've merely cashed our reserves at the bank, and little else. We did a lot more: we invested in public education. How well we continue that pursuit will measure our rise or fall.
Fresno has a well endowed, first-rate university unable to overcome the community's shortcomings. Fresno State produces well-educated graduates who escape to the benefit of places like this. Nevada's university system seems unable to lift itself to higher levels because its state government and private enterprise will not adequately support or manage it.
Nonetheless, northern Nevada is much better positioned than the south 40 for the 21st Century. Our educational system is superior, as are our quality of life and diversity of opportunity. An attorney friend of mine recently said "Reno is changing from a gambling town to a town with gambling."
Las Vegas runs ridiculously retro by comparison. Gomorrah South long considered pursuit of military contractors as adequate economic diversification and has become a true company town as a result.
MY WARHORSES. Three things happened in 1973 for which I remain eternally grateful and proud. First, I met freshman Sen. Joe Neal, D-North Las Vegas. Today, he stands alone as the only public official in Nevada willing to take on the gambling-industrial complex in his lifelong fight for justice. I am honored to stand with him.
The year 1973 also brought my first byline in the then-weekly Sparks Tribune. I believe it was a piece on water rights. About that same time, I acquired my beloved Bessie Mae, a brand new, tricked out Pontiac Grand Am muscle-car.
All three became great champions and remain dear to my heart. More than a quarter century down the road, we have lots of races left to run in this land eternally young.
Be well. Raise hell.
© Andrew Barbano
Andrew Barbano is a member of Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of U-News, where the past three years of columns may be accessed. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks Tribune since 1988 where an earlier version of this column appeared on 1/2/00.
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