the biggest little city in a gold buick.

(this story started here…) Long before the joy of Reno 911 came into my life, I got to experience “The Biggest Little City” sitting in the passenger seat of a big gold Buick. This Buick was driven by a highschool friend who was living there with her mom during one of those “break from life” moments young people have every-once-in-a-while. We were both 19. I had graduated high school a year prior, she had just taken a break from college after two years. She was one of those amazingly smart kids that got the principal’s permission to graduate early and start college. I was awed by her ambition, drive, and fortitude. She picked me up in that big gold Buick, complete with a boombox on the bench seat because the radio didn’t work, and I regaled her with my horror stories of Phoenix.

We were a-flutter with teenage energy, nearly jumping out of our seats while talking. We pulled up to her mom’s house: a fairly new two story concoction, not quite as horrific as the architecture of Phoenix but it still wasn’t the gorgeous 100 year old brick and mortar of home. I was still getting used to what “new construction” looked like. The house was comfy, her mom was gracious (as always), and we quickly went upstairs to her bedroom and found ourselves laying on the bed and joking about everything. Then she pulled out this book and was like, “let me read you this story.”

At the time I thought nothing of it, but in the years past I have thought of it so fondly and repeatedly wished she would read to me all the time. Being read to, especially by someone that is good at it, is amazing. It was normal before the invention of TV, now it is weird and unheard of. The best part, it was David Sedaris’ “Barrel Fever” that she had pulled out. I rolled on the floor laughing as she read the story called “Season’s Greetings to our Friends and Family!!” and almost died when she got to the now famous “SantaLand Diaries.”

It was the perfect catharsis for my failed trip to Arizona. A friend, a comfy house, a million laughs.


The next day, my friend and I decided to dine at Romano’s Macaroni Grill, mostly because she worked there part-time – as there was a severe lack of cool-hip-independent restaurants in Reno. We sat down and ordered our Spinach Artichoke Dip – this was back when the phenomena was just beginning – and she looked me straight in the eye and asked, “Do you think I’m a failure?” At that moment I could have collapsed. From what? I’m not sure. Surprise, maybe. Or possibly confusion.

This woman that I saw as independent, confidant, interesting, bold, and not afraid to do what she felt was right for her life (i.e. leaving high school early, going to an “alternative” college, moving around the country) was looking at me for approval. I didn’t feel deserving, at all. And I certainly didn’t understand why she didn’t see herself the way I did. It was a definitive “ah ha” moment where I saw the first inkling of what I now know of as perspective shift.

I saw her one way. She saw herself another. We both were looking at the same person, with the same values, making the same choices. One object, two perspectives.

Not clearly remembering what happened next, I can tell you that I told her what I saw. I told her of what those same life choices she saw as failing, were the ones I saw as amazing and awe-inspiring. This was also the beginning of that adult moment when you begin to realize that not everyone is inside your head thinking the same things along with you. I just took my perspective as “the truth” or “reality” – but I was starting to figure out that those things are all very subjective. Don’t worry. It was just the beginning. I have had to (and continue to) learn that lesson many, many times again.


After the mind shattering conversation at the Grill, we roamed around Reno a bit – checking out a casino, the downtown Riverwalk, going by the “Biggest Little City” sign, the mall. It was all still so new to me, the West. The layout of the cities, the architecture, the flora and fauna. After a few hours of this, we were both pretty bored. My friend suggested we go up to Lake Tahoe and camp for the night.

Camping!! Cool!! I’d seen that in movies (my family wasn’t really a camping family). Oh, I guess I camped once in eighth grade with my “boyfriend.” One of those uncomfortable moments when he tried to kiss me and I ran away and slept in a friend’s tent. I didn’t understand any of that stuff at that age.

Anyway. Back to Reno and Lake Tahoe…so we loaded up the car, that big Gold Buick, with food and water and sleeping bags and hit the road. The hour long drive started in the parched countryside and wound up through the wooded foothills surrounding the lake. I had never been so close to such grandeur before. I had flown over the Rockies once, but to be driving up the windy cliff face at 40 mph was a totally different experience. And did I mention we were in a HUGE gold Buick. This thing took up about a lane and a half on this tiny two lane road that was cliff face on one side and a steep drop on the other. I can’t say I wasn’t totally scared out of my mind as we whipped around turns and passed cars. I began to understand those old cartoons where Wile E. Coyote drives himself off a cliff.

Safely making it to our destination *phew* we found a flat rock to set up camp. We gathered kindling for a fire and laid our things out before it got dark. But there seemed to be something missing – a tent. We didn’t have a tent. My friend seemed like this was normal, so I just put on my straight face and played along.

All the while I was freaking out!!! What if a bear bites my head off, what if a giant spider crawls in my ear, what if it rains?!! So as we drifted off to sleep, with the huge trees and star lined sky above, my fear melted into awe. It was too beautiful to be scared of.

For a minute at least – then I shoved my head into my sleeping bag, as far down as I could go – so no bears would eat it. I awoke to a dewy morning, surrounded by the birds and the trickling stream and the sun peaking through and I knew I had survived the night. Thank goodness.