Thursday, August 23, 2007

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

Tahoe can be expensive, but I’ve found a way around that: Sleep somewhere cheap and spend your days in places that look like a million bucks.

I spent both nights of my trip in motels. They were definitely bare-bones, especially the one in South Lake Tahoe, a family-owned, cash-only operation where not even shampoo was provided. But both were clean and quiet and provided a place to sleep for less than $100, which was all I wanted out of a solo trip. (The place in Tahoe City had free wi-fi and included continental breakfast--not bad.)

Both days I was in Tahoe I visited grand old houses that are open to the public. True, nobody let me take the boat out for a spin, but it was fun to pretend that I knew the kind of swells who had vacation homes like this. Pictured is the Thunderbird Lodge, near Incline Village, Nevada. This place was owned by a guy named George Whittell, Jr., who was basically useless while he was alive, having inherited so much money that he never had to work a day in his life. He spent his days collecting knickknacks, building a menagerie, and investigating mysteries such as the age-old question, “Can an elephant survive at an elevation of 6,200 feet?” (Sadly, the answer is no, but there was a lion named Bill who fared a lot better.)

After Whittell’s death, his land, which included virtually the whole Nevada shore, ended up in the hands of the state. Most of it is protected, and the eastern side of the lake is still undeveloped and beautiful. So by ostentatiously buying up more land than any one person needs, Whittell was actually doing more good than anyone could have envisioned.

And today you can hang out at his house and pretend you’ve been invited to a weekend at Jay Gatsby’s.

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