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Spanish Springs: A Witness Protection Community
by Christine Whitmarsh
Mar 07, 2011 | 798 views | 1 1 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
By Woodrow
By Woodrow
“What is this place, the Witness Protection Program?” my husband asked.

As we walked up and down and around, I looked around the familiar neighborhoods of Spanish Springs. It was the first and only town in Nevada I had called home so I never gave it much thought. Although at times, the nearby city of Reno seemed like a different planet to me.

The manic buzz of traffic, downtown architectural variety and casinos that never close all quietly fade away in the manicured silence of Spanish Springs. Nameless, faceless residents are protected by dark roads, stretches of empty land, brand new, identical homes and miles of organized communities where rules rule.

We had reached the top of a hill overlooking the identical neighborhoods and I began to see my husband’s point. We saw sprawling, dead silent neighborhoods with large homes — and no people. When the pricey SUV came home it glided noiselessly into the garage, depositing the faceless residents directly into their pristine home. When we did see another smiling person, jogging, walking their dog or doing something equally normal, they had the appearance of an extra in a movie about the perfect neighborhood and the dastardly secrets it was hiding.

I remember when a casino suddenly appeared in our local shopping center last year, placed neatly between the two restaurants that never seem to have any customers yet somehow remain open. Was our Spanish Springs movie about the perfect neighborhood or the perfect crime?

On the hill, my husband gestured toward the big, expensive homes, extending as far as the eye could see.

“What do all these people do for a living?” my husband wondered.

While I don’t think he was specifically implying that the real life casts of “The Sopranos,” “Goodfellas,” “Casino” and “The Godfather” lived on every corner, it was still a valid question. Based on local commercials, we seem to have an abundance of lawyers here in northern Nevada. But did I somehow miss Washoe County’s secret Wall Street, teeming with Gordon Gekkos? Exactly how many people does Raley’s employ? Perhaps our cluster of hospitals has a physician for every patient. Or maybe pyramid schemes actually yield those promised miraculous returns.

There are some Tom Waits lyrics that ask, “What’s he building in there?” As we looked down on the neighborhoods of familiar yet eerily immaculate Spanish Springs, I couldn’t help but ask, “What are they doing in there?”

Thankfully, the business of demographics exists to answer these very questions. Of our town’s population of just more than 19,000 residents, most falling in the age range of “family” (age 0-55), about 75 percent hold white collar jobs and 25 percent work in blue collar occupations. When it comes to breaking down the jobs by industry, the individual percentages are minuscule and come nowhere near 100 percent. Less than 1 percent — 0.91 percent, to be exact — is listed as “professional specialty occupations”; perhaps I have found the elusive lawyers from the television commercials.

What are they doing in there?

This would be an ideal location for the Witness Protection Program. Of course, this is based on my knowledge of said program from the movies. How better to hide an anonymous person with their secret and sordid tales than to slide them into a sea of photocopied earth-tone homes, secured behind automated gates? Forget your clicker and entrance to utopia is denied.

Snitch on the mob? No problem — there’s an identical brown home down the block for you. Witness a pimp strangling one of his ladies of the night? You won’t be judged, or even acknowledged, here in the Springs. Or perhaps your crimes were more of the Enron or Madoff variety; when you took that secretarial job you never imagined it could lead to a future title as “witness to the prosecution.” Dye your hair, walk your dog or simply stay hidden behind your matching designer blinds. Nobody will ever ask you to come out if you don’t want to. The days of door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesmen and the Avon lady have long passed. This is a place where your history can be erased and your present reinvented.

Come to think of it, Spanish Springs might be the perfect place for Charlie Sheen.

Christine Whitmarsh is the owner of local writing firm Christine, Ink. She can be reached at
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March 08, 2011
Ha! I knew there was something shady going on out there! Actually, I wonder what proportion of those earth-tone copies of a house are unoccupied? On the road to my house, there is a huge mound of backfill dirt that was just left when the bottom dropped out of the new housing market, and the construction stopped. It's covered with sagebrush and cheatgrass now, like a ghost town within the gates.
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