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Tales of Jethro Bodine and true Nevadians


Let me see if I've got this right. The Dukes of Castle Eldorado want a quonset hut convention center at their front door and the Reno city council can't approve it fast enough. The town is hurting, we need the business. Ramshackle away.

Actor Max Baer, Jr., wants to build a $100 million theme casino and the brahmins of the bistros get all over him. The mayor poo-poos the idea. Might increase auto traffic.

The Reno Gannett-Journal casino newsletter raises serious questions about such an outlandish contraption. Not classy enough for a town which just approved a tourist facility better suited for one of Sheriff Kirkland's concentration camps for the homeless.

The Reno-Sparks Convention Center, depending on who you talk to and the whim of the moment, is overbuilt, too small, underutilized, obsolete or all of the above.

A closer look reveals the true design for downtown: waste tens of millions, but do nothing which might take foot traffic from the N. Virginia casinos to the riverfront.

The block upon which sits the Citifare bus station will become the site of a new downtown convention center. With skyways in all directions like the arms of some plug-ugly octopus, the Carano-Circus orbit will have put together a self-contained, above-ground resort at great public expense.

The street-level wind tunnels below will act as de facto homeless shelters, heated in winter by car exhaust providing cold warmth for people with nowhere to go but Kirkland Land.

A recent Las Vegas survey attributed 20 percent of the homeless population of Gomorrah South to gambling addiction, a subject rarely discussed in these parts.

The North Virginia gang even wants the Reno arch moved to their front doors if railroad trench construction ever starts.

Reno had two chances to become a world-class resort. The first came in 1974 when Bill Harrah killed the idea for AutoLand after citizens voted down the crosstown interceptor sewer line. Harrah wanted the corporate welfare so that he could move his fabulous auto collection west of town and make it the centerpiece of a world class resort.

The voters were not convinced. Harrah folded the idea and died four years later. His corporate descendants sold off the cars for more than $100 million.

We got a second chance to escape mediocrity in 1983. The Centennial Plaza was to have been a 3,000 room theme casino with a skyway across S. Virginia St. to the convention center. We would have upstaged Vegas, home of Harrah's best cars.

The project became a political football, painted by opponents as the symbol of uncontrolled growth. Nearby residents screamed about all the extra traffic.

That property on Kietzke extension is now peppered with boxy strip shopping centers which take more in city services than the property taxes they pay. They brought tons of traffic right to the backyards of the protestors.

To prevent formation of a Vegas-style strip, downtowners have always owned huge tracts of land on S. Virginia. Meadowood Mall sits on the old Smith family ranch, once owned by the proprietors of Harolds Club.

Their industry descendants still fight any new southern strategy. The Peppermill and Atlantis grew by slow encroachment and an occasional zoning lawsuit.

Which brings me to Jethro Bodine's Beverly Hillbillies theme casino at Park Lane Mall in a heavily commercial area.

Baer is dead meat in Granny's smokehouse. The dons have spoken in truly Nevadian fashion.

A TRUE NEVADIAN LOST: Harry Copelan, 69, bought it in a one-vehicle rollover in Elko County on May 7. On the surface, the Jewish guy from New York was an unlikely candidate for Nevada cowboy. But in a stetson and boots, Harry fit perfectly.

He was a salesman born with ink under his fingers. About 20 years ago, he started a monthly tabloid called "Nevadian," one of the best publications this state has ever seen. Its title placed a new word into my personal lexicon.

Had the Territorial Enterprise survived to the modern day, it would have looked a lot like Harry's Nevadian. A mutual friend called him the dark genius of Nevada newspapering. He could be funny, charming, abrasive, pushy, warm, cold, generous and downright cantankerous. Truly Nevadian.

Salesmen love the road and Harry was happiest hitting the highways of the High Desert Outback of the American Dream to put out his papers. Like the Nevadian before it, his award-winning Wendover-based High Desert Advocate weekly became ubiquitous in eastern Nevada.

I always harbored a vague fear that Harry's salesman compulsion for highway mileage would one day do him in. And that's how he went, a latter day version of dying in the saddle. I'd bet my bottom dollar that his van was filled with newspapers.

I'll say kaddish for you, old friend. We'll meet again in the big Nevadian newsroom in the sky. Until then, I'm pulling out my file collection to remind myself how good you were.

Be well. Raise hell.


© Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a member of CWA Local 9413. He is a Reno-based syndicated columnist, a 29-year Nevadan, editor of U-News and campaign manager for Democratic candidate for Governor, State Senator Joe Neal.
Barbwire by Barbano has appeared in the Sparks Tribune since 1988 and parts of this column were originally published 5/17/98.