by Suzanne Stormon
I met Bonnie in the spring of 1972, at the employee orientation meeting for new hires at the Overland Casino in Reno. We were hired the same week and we would start on swing shift together as change girls the next day. I sat next to her at the conference table in the H.R. office, learning the rules and other information about the job.
She looked easy to talk to, about my age of 22, not so beautiful as to be intimidating. I smiled at her as they handed out the forms for us to sign. She rolled her eyes at all the paperwork then smiled back at me.
We left the meeting together and stood in the parking lot talking. She was taller than me and very slim. Her light brown cords bagged a little around her bottom, looking like they’d been worn for months and washed many times. She wore a simple cotton blouse, untucked but clean and ironed. Her face was thin; her eyes a light hazel. Lank hair hung down her back and matched her faded cords.
I was more dressed up, black skirt, nylons, and suede boots. I was aware of our differences. Me, short and a bit curvier than I wanted to be. Everything about Bonnie was long and skinny.
In those few minutes in the parking lot, I learned a lot about her. She’d been in Reno for years, gone to a local high school. Worked in casino hotels before but never on the casino floor. She seemed to know a lot about the clubs around town. Now that she was old enough, she was going to work in the casinos and she was going to make a lot of money.
She had a little girl, she said. Kept her up the whole night before. That explained the dark circles under her eyes.
We found out that carrying change was heavy work but it had its advantages. We were on our feet all night, but we could move around the casino at will. That meant we could meet most of the other employees and regular customers very quickly. The Overland had its share of customers who could be called “characters”. We made it our job to get to know all of them.
The Overland had one of the most diverse clientele of any of the casinos at the time. It was a strange brew of cowboys, Californians, Indians, and African-Americans. Most of the time everyone got along. I was raised in an all-white neighborhood in Southern California. I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed until I began working in this mix. I loved it.
One other girl started work the same day we did. She was much more beautiful than either Bonnie or me, but she was friendly. She soon joined us as one of the after-shift drinking buddies in the basement bar. Paula* was a country girl really, with all the prejudices of her Wyoming farm background. She was judgmental about the black customers drinking and gambling and blind to the same behaviors in the white customers. We took her on as a friend, all the while working on her attitude.
After swing shift, the basement bar filled up with employees. One of the perks of the job was the free drink tokes we’d get when we clocked out. After the first drink, we began hitting up the keno writers who always seemed to have drink tickets. With no variation in the lighting downstairs, it was easy to lose track of time. Many times we stayed until dawn.
I was driving into Reno from Fernley every evening and taking classes at the University in the afternoon. The drive home into the sunrise in the morning was brutal.
I was tired and wanted to spend more time working, partying and studying. Soon a keno runner named Joanie* (AKA Happy Bottom, for the way her hips switched in her short black skirt and her fast and loose dating style) found out I was looking for a place to stay. She offered me a room in the house she was renting. She lived there with her teenage son and already had two roommates; a young white ex-priest and his black girlfriend.
I took the room and the adventures continued. You’ll hear about them in future posts.
*names have been changed.
What were some of the adventures you had as you started on your adult life? Do you think they changed the direction your life took or were they isolated experiences? Leave a comment and let us know.