Temenos Journal II

October 25, 2014

Stranded in Reno

Filed under: Branding,Reno,Writing & Creativity — by Genie Webster @ 9:33 am
Tags: , , , , ,

 

Stranded in Reno

Sign from Genie’s show in front of Harold’s Club in downtown Reno circa 1995

Only one person that I know witnessed the short period of time in the mid-90s when I sang on the street in Reno, Nevada to make a few bucks so that my roommate and I could buy groceries. Now mind you, I was not a kid… I was a 40ish grown woman. We needed immediate cash and that’s what I knew how to do. Susan (my roommate and only witness) was my side kick, percussionist, and promoter.

Being the good citizen that I am, I sought out a policeman on the downtown Reno beat and checked to see if singing for tips on the street would be okay. He pointed me to a spot in front of Harold’s Casino, which had recently closed, but which still had a lot of foot traffic. “You won’t be blocking anyone’s business over there,” he said.

I treated this as any gig… put on my make-up and show costume and went out to give the passersby an entertaining show and hope they would throw tips into my open guitar case at my feet. Most of my songs are finger-picked ballads and at the time I only knew two or three up-beat songs that I could strum. Since there was no amplification, I had to sing songs that were lively, that I could belt out. Well, due to poor planning, I wound up singing the same couple of songs over and over again. It was a windy night, too, and somehow that made this outdoor unplugged gig very exhausting.

Reno attracts a lot of conventioneers and bachelor parties so there were groups of drunk horn-dogs who would gawk and heckle us as they walked by. One obnoxious guy touched my arm and said, “Hey honey, are you working tonight?” Aggravated, I pulled away and hollered at him, “Of course I’m working! What does it look like??” Being brand new to Reno, I didn’t know yet that this was lingo for hiring a hooker.

After three exhausting hours, I counted the change in my guitar case and it was about $30… enough to feed us for a couple of days. But I was utterly exhausted. “This has been the hardest thirty bucks I’ve ever earned,” I said to Susan, who was also exhausted herself from banging a tambourine for three hours in the wind.

The friendly policeman who had given me advice earlier must have seen us sitting on the sidewalk, leaning up against the wall exhausted. He walked up and said, “You’d probably do better if you weren’t dressed nicer than the tourists… You need to look more downtrodden, like him (and he pointed to an apparent bum sitting on a milk crate playing terrible harmonica across the street).

My roommate and I looked at each other and nodded.

We went home and that’s when I created the “Stranded in Reno” sign above. The next night I dressed in ragged jeans and a flannel shirt and I propped the sign up in my guitar case. At first Susan objected because she thought the sign was misleading because it wasn’t true… “false advertising,” she said. She felt better about it when I explained that “Stranded in Reno” was the name of our band.

The cop was right! People not only dropped in more money, but they offered us a place to stay, and we got invitations to get something to eat. One person even stopped by to offer the use of her phone to call long distance to anywhere we wanted (that was in the day before cell phones). About 30 minutes into our show, the harmonica-playing bum came across the street and set up his milk-crate about ten feet down the street from us. “Hey, quit trying to ride on our coattails,” Susan admonished him.

We made $30 again the second night, but it only took us a little over an hour. Which proves three things: 1.) you can’t always judge a book by its cover; 2.) the way you package your product determines your perceived value; and 3.) there will always be opportunistic imitators lurking in the wings.

genieCDcover

The Susan in the above story (my best friend/biggest fan/partner in adventure Susan Cerny) inspired the song “Walk the Dream.” She died in 1997, but she was alive every day of her life. Sometimes I still feel her encouragement…..

 

 

 

 

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1 Comment »

  1. I love this story.

    Comment by Sherrie — February 12, 2015 @ 6:21 pm |Reply


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