I’m giving a speech on the 70s at an Automobile Museum. They have historical seminars on different decades every year, and you’d be surprised how little they have to do with cars. The audience consists of Museum members, curious locals, and a cohort of teachers who are getting continuing-ed credits for this.
When I checked my email before I left I noted a line about the presentation:
“Be sure you bring your powerpoint on a thumb drive.”
Powerpoint! That’ll make it easier. Okay, enough wandering around Reno, let’s sit in the hotel room and figure out what exactly I’m going to say, and why, and how.
I am of course not entirely serious. I had my speech in my head before I left - intro, big meaty exposition, broad strokes, something-something about that, half-baked sociological conclusion, and so on. I have been doing this since high school. It’s not a question of whether I can talk for X # of minutes on a subject; it’s a question of whether I can be better than Mr. Extemporaneous Blatheration. People who trot around the country usually have A Speech. I do not have A Speech, and hence tailor what I say to the venue.
Hey, what is the venue?
I walked over to the museum and met everyone involved; saw the venue, which made me happy: just the right sized space. Huge stage with a huge screen. I felt like an Alka-Seltzer tablet dropped in water. This is going to be fun.
The National Auto Museum has an extensive collection of very early autos, which don't interest me much. It's like the early days of computing - so many brands, one or two survivors. But then you see . . . this.
The 1937 Airomobile - 80 MPH top speed, and only one wheel in the back. More here.
The classic names and hues:
Thirties style: In just a few decades they went from boxy horseless carriages to machines from the future.
A Tucker! Don't know if I've ever seen a Tucker:
The middle headlight pointed in the direction you were turning.
In case the Tucker made you wonder, yes, they have a Delorean. And it's gold. They only made a few, for Amex customers; preposterously expensive, and if someone dinged your door in the parking lot it cost a hideous amount of money to fix. You couldn't buff. You had to gild.
This vehicle is amazing.
The 1938 Phantom Corsair. The only one ever built. It was designed by a guy named Rust Heinz - yes, the condiment people - and he died after it was built, which apparently put the kibosh on production. (See also EPCOT, change in direction of)
It was used in a movie, and called . . . the Flying Wombat.
You may wonder about the music.
You may really wonder about the music. All will be explained some day when I do the movie in B&W World.
I miss hood ornaments:
Not many cars from the 70s, for good reason.
The day of the speech I slept in, then went down for an excellent breakfast. I love this hotel. Everyone is just grand. Everyone’s cheerful. Everyone is awesome and I know that because they're response to anything going well is that things are awesome. I bought a granola bar, and when I handed over my card it was awesome.
From Ten to One I finalized my slides, then walked the Powerpoint over to the museum so I could see if it worked. I walked around downtown again and went back to my room, where I ironed my clothes. Then I walked around downtown again, went back to my room, and ate a small lunch of canned tuna salad and crackers to keep my energy up. Then I walked around downtown to deplete my energy. Then I had half a cup of coffee to bring it back up, but not so much that I would need to use the loo in the middle of my talk.
I've done this enough times to know that none of this matters: hunger, bladder, energy level - all are irrelevant the moment I start.
At 3:40 I went to the museum, got miked up, ate a granola bar, got dry throat because I ate a granola bar, had a sip of urn coffee, then . . . showtime.
What I love, more than most things, is doing the exact opposite of normal life. I sit in a chair and push keyboard buttons: that’s 99.3% of the annual work. But walking across a stage, improvising - that’s the rare joy. The chance to perform. Every day is performance, but when you put your public persona on a stage and there’s a light that blinds you if you hit that one spot, when you hear the audience rise and respond, well - for writers who work almost entirely in isolation, it’s just the best.
Unless you die right away.
Unless you launch your best bits and they explode in silence.
Unless you realize, to your great and immediate horror, that the audience has thrown up a stone wall between themselves and you for reasons you can’t imagine, and it doesn’t matter, because there it is: high and thick. They showed up bored. They showed up preoccupied. They showed up with some script in their head that shouts down whatever you’re saying. Something you did the first few seconds you took the stage switched the whole room to the OFF position.
You lost them before you said hello.
You have to power through an hour with a group of people who, for whatever reason, have decided you are something to be endured.
That, my friends, is hell. It bores right down to the essence of your pith. It’s what I always fear.
Annnnnd it didn’t happen.
They really liked it. Whew.
Afterwards I took another walk around downtown; I swear I've taken ten.
A year from now it'll probably be a restaurant or a nightclub. In three years it'll probably be a different one. You'd think there would be more downtown, since there are quite a few residential towers - just look to the right of the picture above - but the streets seem deserted, aside from homeless people trudging from one place to another.
It has great potential, and I wish them well - but they've lost so much of the old downtown that it seems hard to hope it'll ever have charm or excitement like it did in the neon days.
It will, however, have bocce ball.
My plane boarded at 4:55 AM: ugh. You can assume the security line will be light, but what of cabs? The valet at the hotel said there weren't a lot of cabs around at 4. Uber and Lyft? Sure.
Woke at 3:45, turned on the coffee, looked at the Lyft app.
There was someone three blocks away.
Well, of course! I'd be furious if there wasn't someone awake at this hour to make a small amount of money leaping when I said jump! Get here! Now!
As it turned out, he worked nights as a swing dance instructor. Also blues dance, which I can't quite figure out. You dance the blues away, but not to be blue. He had another job and so did his wife, who also helped with the dance business, and he was having a fine time in Reno. He loved it. A man could live well out here.
So I staggered through TSA and went down a corridor and saw people lining up at a McDonald's at 4 AM. Who am I to argue. Had a breakfast burrito, even though if you'd woken me up at 3 AM and said EAT THIS CONCOCTION I would have batted it away. Hot sauce at 4 AM, are you mad? But it was delicious. The other restaurants were starting to come to life; only the parts of an airport that really need to be open at 4 AM are open.
And the place that serves coffee really needs to be open.
I was amazed by the number of people who seemed to be perfectly okay with doing all this at 4 AM.
As I walked to the gate I heard something like the ambient music I play when I want to sleep on the plane.
It seemed as if the airport was singing farewell.
In case you're wondering about that guy, here's that guy:
Yeah, I need a copyright lawyer to tell me if using letters and colors in a certain fashion when using the idea "search" violates someone else's intellectual property?
He fights because he's also a boxer and boxing promotor. Welcome to Nevada.
Or, in this case: Nevada bids you farewell.
PS: In the end, I developed a peculiar fondness for Reno - which I'll explain on a podcast later this week.