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40 years on the High Desert Plantation
by Andrew Barbano
Feb 06, 2011 | 636 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
I hit this town just over 40 years ago in January of 1971. I wondered what wonders awaited as I drove past John Ascuaga’s Nugget on I-80.

My Gomorrah South bosses at what was to become the largest ad agency in the state had flown me to Reno in January to look over the promotion they offered. Upon my return, I immediately turned them down. I saw all that dirty white stuff on the ground. That didn’t look like any snow I ever saw on a Christmas card.

My first encounter in Reno media was the taping of a Nevada Chrysler-Plymouth spot at the old pre-fire KOLO TV-8 next to the closed-due-to-

shoddy-construction Wells Avenue overpass.

Jim Hayes and Odis Bass bought the dealership from Kohlenberg Chrysler-Plymouth and moved it from across the street from the Ponderosa Hotel to what is now the Peppermill north parking lot at South Virginia and Carano. The Peppermill Coffee Shop would not be built until later that year.

Country boys Jim and Odis stood in the TV studio with a Chrysler on one side and a table loaded with 100 pounds of bloody freakin’ beef dripping onto the floor and cooking under the hot lights.

“C’mon in today folks. A side o’beef with every purchase, two New York steaks just for taking a demo ride. Right Jim?”

“Right, Odis.”

And you wonder why I went back to Las Vegas in semi-shock.

My bosses were nothing if not the ultimate odd couple of good salesman.

Bob Brown, conservative former editor of both the Carson City Nevada Appeal and Las Vegas Review-Journal had left the largest paper in the state to run the campaign of Lt. Gov. Ed Fike against the last man standing from the old McCarran machine, U.S. Sen. Alan Bible, D-Nev. Fike almost won, lost for governor against Mike O’Callaghan in 1970 and ended up in serious trouble with the law a few years later. His campaign PR person was Sig Rogich, the man who would later infect Nevada with term limits.

Bob’s partner was the Big Kahuna, a blond adonis Great Gatsby who was so gorgeous in his early days that he was one of the Sands Hotel-Casino dealers used in national media dealing blackjack in a swimming pool. He had been a pro gambler for mobster Bill Graham who ran the old Golden Hotel where Harrah’s Reno now stands. Jerry was a world class card counter and supersalesman. He porked up in his later years and was notorious for big cigars, his Lincoln Continential Mark III and his Gatsbyesque golf attire — pink shoes, pants, shirt and sweater.

Jerry’s saturation TV after-Christmas campaign for Montgomery Ward in 1969 broke every record in corporate history.

The odd couple gave me a try and I quickly became their superstar copywriter. We broke the Ward’s record again and elected every politician we handled in the general election. We also helped a few we didn’t officially handle, one of whom was Lt. Gov.-elect Harry Reid.

Jerry and Bob gave me advice I never forgot about northern Nevada.

Bob said “Reno is very cliquey, very clannish. Wear a tie, get a haircut, you’ve got to fit in.”

Jerry was more basic: “There’s nothing wrong with Reno that 12 selected funerals wouldn’t cure.”

Fast forward 40 years. All of those funerals have happened, but the sons and grandsons of the power elite still run things the old-fashioned, paternalistic way. Try to organize a union and you are personally insulting the boss.

Harold Smith Sr. bragged about wearing a six-gun in the early days of Harolds Club. He typified the casino attitude which lingers today that everyone, including and perhaps especially employees, are trying to rob the place. So keep ‘em down.

So here we stand at the end of the chain letter of Ronald Reagan’s New Federalism in the middle of Great Depression II with the nation suffering crisis after crisis. Actual unemployment is over 20 percent, almost to 1930’s levels.

I wrote years ago about the Devil Children of Ronald Reagan, those who formed their ideas when Reagan ruled. I mused that the Baby Boomers’ only salvation would be our numbers, that we would have to outlive them and the twisted perspective of King Ronald the Vague they drank like poisoned Kool-Aid.

On Jan. 23, local journalist Guy Clifton profiled new Gov. Brian Raggio’s senior staff — Reaganauts every one.

A decade ago, UNR poli-sci Prof. Richard  Siegel wrote a piece for the Nevada Public Affairs Review making a case that Nevada was becoming a more average state with respect to funding of basic services. I disagreed with my old friend then and moreso now. We are becoming an average state alright — a 19th Century state.

After more than four decades on the High Desert Plantation, it’s pretty clear why I’m here.

This place needs all the help it can get.

The bitter end

Gov. Brian Raggio just delivered another speech repeating the same pablum that boils down to “it’s necessary to destroy Nevada education in order to save it.”

He calls that reforming education? Actually, he’s deforming education.

Be well. Raise hell.

Andrew Barbano is a 42-year Nevadan, chair of the Nevada César Chávez Committee, member of Communications Workers of America Local 9413/AFL-CIO, and editor of NevadaLabor.com. E-mail barbano@frontpage.reno.nv.us. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks Tribune since 1988.
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