nevada | train 7

I awoke to white sands and early dawn; our train rushing through a speckled desert, barren and cold. An 18-wheeler was pacing us on the parallel Interstate, his running lights sharp and eager and colored against the grey silhouette of distant mountains. My Palm Pre refused to respond to the power button, and I realized I had forgotten to plug it in overnight. Unless I wanted to leave my roomette, the time was going to remain a mystery until she got enough juice to wake-up herself. Maybe it was a godsend. I sat on my bunk and stared at the increasing light for thirty minutes, unscheduled and unhurried.

I ate breakfast with Mike and Mike. The elderly father and adult son are traveling together from Denver, cracking jokes about each other. I’ve ordered eggs and turkey sausage and the elderly Mike turns to me and says, “We should be coming up on the Mustang Ranch soon! Do you know about the Mustang Ranch?” I shake my head. “It’s a brothel!” Mike winks. “Dad!” says younger Mike. “How would you know about that?” “I’ve been there!” announces older Mike, a grin on his face.

-- We stop in Reno right below the Harrah’s Casino. I grab my jacket to head to the platform—if I hurry I may be able to take a picture of a slot machine. I’m stopped before I start: two large men are standing in the hallway blocking my exit. The one on the left wears a Phantom skater skull-cap and a yellow hoodie. The larger guy on the right has rows of earing studs and a ragged gottee. They both move quickly; reaching into their clothes they pull out—badges. “Nevada Police” says Lefty. “We’d like to talk to you.”

Apparently part of the Reno experience is automatic entry into a Western. I learned from the conductor that Birdeye, Nevada is the site of the first ever train robbery. 40,000 gold coins were nabbed from the Overland Express in 1870 by John Chapman and some pals. John was a Sunday School teacher.

Turns out that Left and Right are Narcotics Agents with the Reno Police Force, and every day they search this train, looking for people who are traveling all the way (Chicago to San Fran or back) and who bought tickets on short notice. It’s not actually drugs they’re looking for, they explain apologetically. It’s cash. The drugs flow West -> East, and the cash returns East -> West. Their search of my room takes about 30 seconds, and they are apologetic, wishing me a great trip, and then speeding back down the hall towards Coach.

Welp, okay.