Letters from the Real World

Who says, ‘You can’t go home again’? Some of Reno’s teens left the city and can’t wait to come back. Some are less enthusiastic.

If there is anything that unites young people in “The Biggest Little City,” it seems to be a mutual and intense desire to get as far away from here as possible. Talk to any student in one of our high schools, and you’ll find that many of them are actively pursuing a means to “get out.” For most of them, that means getting into any school that is not UNR or moving as soon as the candles are blown out on their 18th birthday cake. In a city that has put so much emphasis on quick, no-hassle divorces and the gaming industry, it is simple to see how many are bogged down by the idea that there is nothing here for people under 21. Over the past year, several of our friends and acquaintances were successful in escaping the clutches of Reno. We expected them to send back word of how much greater and how much more cultural anywhere-but-here was. However, we were surprised to find that some of their letters and stories reflected a sentiment that transcended traditional homesickness. They genuinely missed this place for the scenery, the people, and the local atmosphere.

Elena Wall

It is hard for me to translate the relationship I had with Reno before I left. Throughout the second half of my life that I was situated in the town, I had this constant desire to leave, and I did. I am currently in Oregon going to college and enjoying it immensely, but the truth of the matter is that I miss that town that I ended up resenting so much. As much as everyone says there is nothing to do in Reno if you are under 21, IT IS A LIE. There is so much to do. You are surrounded by mountains for hiking in the summer and snowboarding in the winter. Lake Tahoe is less than an hour away, and, of course, the Truckee River, one of the coolest parts about Reno, runs right through the middle of everything. Everyone in Oregon always talks to me like Reno is just a desert, when really you have mountains and forests and meadows all around you. And the people of Reno, I thought they were dreadful, but in all honesty, Reno people are some of the most welcoming, exciting, down-to-do-whatever people that you will meet. All these things and more make it extremely hard for me not to come back, but I refuse to walk backwards through this revolving door—all I can do is tell anyone who hates it now, learn to appreciate it. You will love it, and you will leave it, and you will miss the hell out of it.

Elena Wall, 18, moved to Eugene to attend the University of Oregon with hopes to pursue her career choice as a neurologist.

Lyla Rowen

Hello Reno. It’s been awhile since our last encounter. I miss you … sorta.

The crackheads and casinos I could do without, but nothing is comparable to your desert sun. It’s cloudy up here in Portland, and the people aren’t as cool.

Sure, the motto up here is “Keep Portland Weird,” but they don’t know the first thing about strangeness. One stroll through the [now defunct] Park Lane Mall, and you’ll quickly be uncomfortable with the overabundance of irregularities. Plop one of these Northwest hipsters into the Little Nugget for an Awful Awful at 5 a.m., and their whole perception of what’s weird will change. As much as I’m happy about moving away from the downtown Reno freak show, nothing will ever compare.

Things are more genuine when they’re original. Lord knows there’s a lot of originality in Reno, and that’s what I miss. The burners, the house show-goers, the artists, the whatevers just don’t feel as real when it’s all they’ve ever known. What makes the Portland liberal raised on Whole Foods and the Beatles any better than the conservative Texan? They’re both just doing what their parents told them to. Not in Reno. Instead you are so disgusted with alcoholics and divorcees that you find your own way as far from the beaten path as possible. Thank you, Reno, for making me a true individual unsheltered from harsh realities. But goddamn am I glad I’m not sitting at the “the top of the world” wondering if there’s more to life than the same shit I’ve always known.

Lyla Rowen, 19, is attending Portland State University.

Austin Gajewski

Reno has never been known as the most welcoming place for teens. This is especially evident in my small, South Reno neighborhood, where teens are watched almost hawk-like for any sign of misbehavior. There just isn’t much to do in Reno, and a voyage downtown is costly and short-lived. My world has turned completely around since moving to San Francisco. If I could think of one place in the world where teenagers are welcomed and embraced, it would be in this city. The youth had the right idea in the ’60s, and that spirit of independence is still strongly felt in this city. There is always something going on in San Francisco, and everywhere you turn there are exciting and odd events. Another benefit of a large city is its well-planned public transportation (critical in San Francisco), which makes traveling a lot more entertaining. I also love the sounds of the city and the constant activity that surrounds me. San Francisco feels distinctly separate from the rest of the world, filled with very odd and eccentric people. Despite all this, I still find myself drawn back to Reno. It seemed to have the perfect balance between being a city and being a large town. If you think about it, Reno is a unique place. It has a distinct character which everyone grows to love and adopt in their own way. It may not always be home, but it was a very nice induction into life.

Austin Gajewski, 18, currently lives in San Francisco and is studying at the University of San Francisco.

Sara Upton

As my high school career came to an end, I couldn’t wait to move out of Reno as soon as possible. I always thought spending my whole life in the same city wasn’t exciting enough, and moving somewhere new would be the answer to all the problems I believed I had. I chose to move to Las Vegas a month after graduating from Damonte Ranch High School to begin college to major in animation. The morning of the big move, I was anxious and excited for the beginning of my new life. My parents and I packed up our cars and took the long drive through the desert to my new home. Since moving here, I have learned a lot, especially about myself. Though I don’t regret moving at all, I realize how much I took Reno for granted. Looking back, I am so thankful for my childhood. I’m embarrassed that I thought so poorly of my home, because I couldn’t ask for a better place to grow up. Having a ski resort 30 minutes away for snowboarding in the winter, and Tahoe not much farther for swimming in the summer was something not many people can say they have at their disposal. My family, friends, teachers and everyone else who influenced my life made me the person I am today. I think it took the move for me to see how much more I had than I thought I did. The city itself has its own unique qualities that separates it from other places to live. I’ll miss the events like the Rib Cook-Off and Artown, the mountains, and the memories I shared there with others. Though I’m not sure exactly where I’ll end up in the future, whether it’s back to Northern Nevada or not, I will always consider Reno home.

Sara Upton, 18, grew up in Reno and moved to Las Vegas to attend the Art Institute of Las Vegas and pursue a career in animation.

Sean Bassney

Dear Reno,

I moved away so long ago, from a city of hundreds of thousands, to a town of well, hundreds…

I miss your mountains, I miss your air; I miss having to never fake a smile.

I miss your river, with rapids roaring,

and I miss your forests with brown hawks soaring.

I miss your people who didn’t scoff, who wanted to be your friend,

I miss your punk rock music scene; a scene we must defend!

I miss all my friends most of all, Reno, the ones you keep so safe,

the one with a mousey look in his eye, the one with a

Columbian face.

I miss the taste of Mickey’s Malt, add a Sparks for good taste,

I miss the movie theater, I miss sneaking in with haste.

I miss the way your skyline has seen me through my woes,

it’s seen me through my high points, though, it’s seen me

through my lows.

I miss the snow; the pow up in the mountains,

I miss South Virginia, and the Atlantis’s blue fountains.

I miss how people are proud of “The Biggest Little City”

I miss how people love it there, whilst others call it shitty.

But regardless of what they do or say, you’re always there for me,

Reno, you are my home, it is where my heart will always be!

Sean Basseny, 18, moved with his family to Massena, N.Y., and is finishing his senior year in high school.

Austin Wright

I’ve lived in Reno all my life but never really respected it. Growing up in Reno was OK, I suppose, but I never knew any place different. So naturally I was always certain that there were boundless opportunities anywhere else but here. It was not until after my recent move to Pensacola, Florida, that I gained appreciation for Reno. Before I left, I thought of Reno as a small city that was too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter, with not enough interesting things to do. However, when things didn’t work out for me in Pensacola, I ended up back in this town, understanding how much more it really had to offer. I realized how much I missed about this city when I came back to it; the view of the city lights, the mountains that surround us, and hanging out downtown. I realized how much I took for granted about this city. I think living in Reno all my life made me lose sight of everything that is truly great about it. Reno’s just one of those cities that’s not too busy and not too calm at the same time, but that is exactly what is so nice about it. There isn’t outrageous traffic everywhere you go, and it doesn’t take an hour to get to the other side of town. Reno is just small enough to be nice, not large enough to be obnoxious, and just uninteresting enough to keep away millions of tourists. Considering all things I could have to say, Reno is a convenient place that was great to grow up in. It’s unfortunate that I had to move to a place that wasn’t quite as nice to realize this, and to realize just how much I took this town for granted.

Austin Wright, 19, has returned to Reno after spending a semester at Pensacola Christian College in Florida.

Rob Stachofsky

I moved from Reno to Seattle in August 2009. I lived in Reno for 11 years, and after graduating from Galena High School, I decided to enroll at the University of Washington. I just finished my second quarter of my freshmen year here, and I feel that I’ve really started to think of my hometown differently.

I knew coming to a much bigger city like Seattle would be a big change, but living here for over six months has really made me realize how small of a city Reno really is. Seattle has so much to do, so much diversity, so many things to see that I look forward to every weekend as an opportunity to explore the city and everything it has to offer. I never really felt this living in Reno.

I think of being from Reno as an essential part of who I am as a person, and I think fellow Renoites would definitely agree. When I meet friends, and they find out that I am also from Reno, they often respond, “Really? No way! You Reno kids are really cool!” Instances like these make me feel so proud of where I’m from, and I take a moment to think about what it means to me to be from Reno: the Truckee River, the casinos downtown, the Reno Arch, Lake Tahoe, Lakeside, driving on U.S. 395, and the southwestern suburbs all come to mind. I’ve come to realize that there is a lot more than Reno out there, but I still love it and am proud to call it my hometown.

Rob Stachofsky, 18, now resides in Seattle and is attending the University of Washington.

Leigh Troppe

After graduating from Galena, I moved to New Orleans to do my undergrad studies at Tulane. Things are totally different here. NOLA is big. There are a million different things to do; you almost never bump into people you know, the food is wild, you get breaks for Mardi Gras parades and can celebrate the Saints Superbowl victory on Bourbon Street. It’s a different world. As much as I absolutely love New Orleans, there’s always a place for Reno in my heart. When I came back for winter break, my mom had me run some errands and at every store I went to, I saw someone I knew. Although there’s nothing like New Orleans, there’s also nothing like the 775. Even 20 years from now when I land at the RTO airport, I guarantee I’ll always think, “I’m home.”

Leigh Troppe, 19, graduated from Galena High School in Spring 2009 and attends Tulane University in New Orleans.