Tuesday, April 13, 2010
The Cal Neva Closes
Here’s a news item that made me a little wistful: The Cal Neva Casino, in Stateline, NV has closed.
All the articles I’ve read about it say the closure was inevitable because the place was so run-down and its time had so clearly passed. That may be so, but to me, the place had its charms and I’m a little sad to see it go.
The Cal Neva was once owned by Frank Sinatra, and served as a hangout for the Rat Pack and associates (including, allegedly, J.F.K and Marilyn Monroe). The place coasted on that reputation for a long while, but all that was a bit before my time, so I can’t say it was any lingering ring-a-ding-dinging that attracted me to the place. Nor was I pulled off the highway by the architecture, a mix of ski-chalet A-frame and faux Native American kitsch that passed from “retro” into the territory of “somewhat embarrassing” decades ago.
No, the Cal Neva’s charms were, for me, subtle and twofold. The first thing I loved was that the building lay right on the state line separating California from Nevada. Just outside the gaming area was a large room with a fireplace and a silver-and-gold stripe running along the floor and up the wall, straight through the fireplace. This line represented the border between the two states, and just about everyone who visited got a photo of themselves straddling it. (I was traveling alone the last time I went, so my picture just shows my two sneakers on either side of the line—but I know it’s me.)
Geographical quirks aside, I also loved the fact that the casino had real old-fashioned slot machines, the kind where you pump in real coins and pull the handle to set the reels spinning. Every other slot machine I’ve seen recently (which is admittedly not many) has been credit, not cash based, and most seem to be activated by tapping a button, not pulling a lever. I guess I’m old-fashioned about such things because I love the tactile sensation of jingling a tumbler full of coins in one mitt and shaking the bandit’s hand with the other.
After my first such session, during which I managed to make several handfuls of nickels last all evening, I looked at my grimy hands and realized for the first time how literal the phrase “filthy lucre” can be. So I fully understand, and on some level approve of the trend towards electronic funds. But I still love pawing through buckets of coins. Once I did find a real treasure—a minor one, but a treasure to me nonetheless. Looking through the rolls of nickels I’d purchased (no, I’m not exactly a high roller), I found a buffalo nickel. It was so worn I can’t be sure of the date, but I know it can’t have been minted any later than 1938, because that’s the last year they made that kind of nickel. I had a few in my collection already, coins I’d either purchased or been given, but this was the first and so far the only time I’d ever found one in change.
So there you have it—two highly personal and idiosyncratic reasons that I will miss the Cal Neva casino. Will I get over this loss? Yes, pretty quickly, I’m sure. I’m not even up at Lake Tahoe very often. But the next time I am there, the experience will be a little bit tidier—and a little bit less colorful.