If you look strictly at the survey data, it’s a wonder any of us are functional enough to get out of bed in the morning. Can you blame us for being a little depressed when it seems like a new survey comes out every month slamming us as worst in show? According to the numbers, most of us are drunk, unemployed and homeless with a tendency towards violence. I’m sure we’d win some sort of gambling award too if we just had a little more competition. Come on West Virginia, I know you want it.
When the surveys are released and the newspapers scream their headlines, reporters inevitably find a handful of head scratching locals who just don’t get it. They say, “Well, I don’t feel drunk, fat, a victim of violence or depressed. There must be some mistake.”
For instance, a recent article in this newspaper announced our newest trophy for the dysfunctional Silver State bookcase, honoring us as “least peaceful.” Many interviewees, when asked, guessed that we were around the “middle of the list” but certainly not at the bottom. I’ve read similar reactions in other articles listing us as the worst of something or other.
“To see ourselves as others see us!” said the poet Robert Burns.
Are we really this messed up compared to the rest of America? Or are we just an easy target for those seeking to feel better about their own lives? Residents of other states, especially blue metropolitan ones, are likely to see the survey results and accept them as gospel. We might as well be on a different planet. While they do shots of wheat grass, we do shots of whiskey. They watch models parade down the catwalk as we watch horses circle the rodeo ring. Their idea of gambling is that today’s Prada bag will still be in style in six months. Calling 911 is their self-defense weapon of choice. They count carbs, we count bullets.
As I write this, President Obama, speaking in Reno at a renewable energy facility, just asked “those who drive big SUVs” to consider a smaller, more fuel-efficient car next time. He’s telling ranchers to cram their gear into a perfect little Prius as a show of defiance to countries that “don’t like us.” These hypocritical words coming from the man who financially
supports those countries are almost enough to make me reach for the bottle.
I’m beginning to understand why the rest of the country will never understand Nevada. They’re trying so hard to be perfect in the eyes of the world that they’ve forgotten that part of America’s charm is our free-spirited imperfection. We shoot guns, ride horses, drive big trucks, hunt, fish, camp and speak our minds. The accessories to those activities often include a beer, a cigarette, a game of cards, a cheeseburger and a shot of whiskey (hopefully not all at the same time).
No, Dr. Drew, I’m not excusing addiction with Old West patriotism. But this is, in a sense, a matter of psychology. If you continuously tell a child that they’re stupid, what kind of test scores do you think they’ll have to show for it? It’s true that compared to the rest of America we might be flawed and a candidate for the best reality rehab show ever. Or perhaps we’re living in a different reality where flaws aren’t constantly measured, categorized and obsessed over.
Our neighboring city of sinners to the south, Las Vegas, also seems to be a paradox of new and old America. Old school drinking and gambling habits mingle with the newest high-rises and high fashion, where hospitality and tourism keep the lights on. And things are looking up. A recent article in the Las Vegas Sun identified Sin City as one of the top 11 “comeback cities for 2011.” The same people who read the survey results and can’t imagine living here see Nevada as a destination to discover their own deadly sins.
Maybe a Reno comeback is next. The head-scratching locals might be onto something. We have the choice to live our lives by the numbers and let our sins define us. Or, as the American rebels that we are, we can fight labels with pure, Old Western optimism that tomorrow, a whole new journey begins.
Christine Whitmarsh is the owner of local writing firm Christine, Ink. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.