Silver beauty and self-inflicted wounds

Cizauskas is a former public radio reporter who has written for the RN&R.

As I write this, the Rib Cook-Off is underway. I don’t know if I’ll make it this year. I’ll miss the fun of an area known for its festivals, but my husband and I are moving to Madison, Wisconsin, to embrace a new life.

When I moved here in 1990 from my Washington, D.C., hometown, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew I wanted something different, smaller, a slower way of life. After three weeks in Reno, something happened. I fell in love.

That fun quality exemplified by our festivals permeated the air I breathed each morning as I looked up to a bluer, clearer sky than I had ever seen. It reminded me of beach summers. Over time, I realized that vacation quality of Reno was the lighthearted fun this resort town oozed.

My love grew even as I saw the underbelly of a city focused on fun to the detriment of many. Consistently, this state ranks in the lowest 10 of so many measures of mental health—suicide, depression, teen pregnancy, to list some. I realized how the dominant casino industry supported by no corporate taxes and the regressive high sales tax led to a two-class society—the haves, dominated by the good-ol’-boys network that came to its heyday when a few white men rose to power, propelled by the success of their casinos and brothels; and the have-nots, the majority of workers in the casinos and satellite businesses.

As someone who could be classified privileged with my middle-class, suburban, college-educated background, I experienced the downside of the two-class society promoted by Reno. Any career success I experienced was hard won and characterized by much lower pay than I would have earned in other similarly sized cities with a lower cost of living. And I call myself a survivor of the mental health system here after having been misdiagnosed and treated for nearly a decade as bipolar after severe postpartum depression. I call myself a survivor of the legal system, too, after having not been protected from an ex-boyfriend who stalked me for months. In this state also, I’ve seen the legal system regularly practice retribution, rather than rehabilitation. The pain these systems cause would be reason enough to leave a state, despite what other good it holds.

Still, I will miss the great good of Northern Nevada—the loved ones who changed my life for the better, the incomparable beauty of Lake Tahoe, the Sierra, and Reno itself, the vibrant and growing art scene, characterized by Artown and the Nevada Museum of Art. I wish for Reno a turn to social justice marked by economic fairness for all, not just the powerful elite of old and the new power brokers, the owners of high-tech moving to Reno and their workers imported from other states. I wish for Reno to grow its social structure to match the beauty of its natural surroundings.