Monday, March 20, 2006

The turn of a friendly Nugget

KJ and I spent this past weekend hanging out with the quartet and a gaggle of other barbershop singers and enthusiasts at a regional convention in Reno, Nevada. (Technically, we were in Sparks, as the convention site was John Ascuaga's Nugget Hotel and Casino. But since you can pretty much hurl a spitwad into Reno from any location in Sparks, I doubt the distinction makes much difference to anyone other than the locals.)

We had big fun. As a foursome, we probably gave the best big-stage performance of our career on Saturday evening. We also got to hear quite a few amazing quartets, most of whom were far younger and immeasurably more talented and good-looking than the four of us. So we hated them. (Just kidding. Sort of.)

I always enjoy a trip to Reno, even at the tag end of winter when the weather is still dicey. (A number of years ago, KJ and I got snowed in at Circus Circus for an extra two days past my December birthday weekend.) Reno's like a friendlier, more intimate Vegas — less glitzy and adrenalized on the downside, less crowded and costly on the upside. And as mini-resorts go, you could fare a good deal worse than at John Ascuaga's Nugget. The accommodations are congenial, parking is both convenient and free of charge, and the restaurants serve tasty fare accompanied by solid service. (Even the buffet is reasonably decent, as casino buffets go — and anyone who's ever risked his or her intestinal tract choking down the toxic steam-table spread at Circus Reno can attest to the measure of compliment that is.)

I can't testify to the quality of gaming in the Nugget casino, because I've never played there. (People who know of my near-rabid fascination with Las Vegas and Reno are often surprised to learn that I'm not much of a gambler. I play a considerable amount of online poker, but mostly free games or low buy-in tournaments. And I garner more enjoyment playing my other game of choice, blackjack, solo on my computer in an environment where the air is unsullied by tobacco and alcohol and my tablemates are both sober and silent.)

KJ put three bucks into a quarter slot machine without positive return. She did, however, get to see the real live John Ascuaga wandering his casino floor. She thought briefly about telling him how much she enjoyed his Nugget. But she figured that might come out wrong.

For those not as enraptured by barbershop music as we, the featured headliner in the Nugget's Celebrity Showroom over the weekend was the Alan Parsons Project. The hotel was liberally festooned with placards advertising the show, all of which featured a photo of Alan Parsons looking as though he'd just come off a lengthy bender and wanted to be anywhere other than onstage at the Nugget. For what they were probably paying the guy, you'd figure he could at least smile for his picture. Then again, it's been 25 years since The Turn of a Friendly Card, which was the last time anyone gave a royal rip about Alan Parsons or his Project.

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