He wasn’t an icon in the sense we often think of upon a person’s passing. He did not build a children’s hospital or serve as mayor or anything like that. He was an icon in the sense that, to me, he was symbolic of some of the good and bad I have come to learn about the Biggest Little City.
His name was Jake. I first came to know him through my girlfriend, who had known him for about five years. Before even meeting Jake, I was warned that he was a bit on the wild side, especially when he drank. And he drank a lot.
In our first encounter, Jake met up with a group of us in Virginia City on a warm afternoon. We were there to hang out and have a good time, both of which Jake took literally. When he joined us at one of the pubs, he was already feeling his good time from the inside, which then carried over to the “hanging out” part, if you catch my drift. He was very discreet about his flirtation with a public indecency arrest, but to say the least I got to know more of Jake than I imagined I would — on our first meeting, anyway.
The next time I saw Jake, it was a different story. It was at an early morning business networking meeting. I was enjoying my complimentary bacon, eggs and coffee and listening to the obligatory introductions when Jake, dressed in nice business casual attire, got up to say his name and a little about the staffing agency where he worked in administration. Was this the same hard-drinking party boy I had met a few months earlier? He was suddenly well-spoken, courteous and presentable.
A few more casual meetings with Jake showed me that he was a man of many faces. One minute he would be talking sincerely about a painful falling out with a friend, while the next he was making new friends by buying drinks for a bunch of total strangers. Knowing Jake as they did, it was both fitting and tragic that his friends held an informal memorial for him at a bar a week after his death.
About three weeks ago, Jake drowned while swimming in the river on a camping trip. He had been jumping into the water and, according to the story, at one point he never came up. As he was engaging in summer weekend frivolity, there was no doubt alcohol was involved. Whether or not this contributed to his lungs filling with water and then the lack of oxygen to his brain, we aren’t sure. Either way, he’s gone.
Only having known him a little bit, I was able to reflect as I listened to his friends share stories about him at his memorial on the rocks. As I watched slideshow images of Jake and his friends it occurred to me that he was the embodiment of two sides to Reno: the side that boasts a good place for young people to work and play and the side that makes it the Drunkest Little City in the World. He toed the line between being a grown-up and a lifelong frat boy and for 32 years.
Perhaps what struck me the most, however, was the fullness of his short life. The stories that were told and pictures that were shown reflected a young man who let no opportunity for fun and friendship pass him by. He went anywhere and did anything all in the name of saying he’d been there, done that. Whether or not that is always a good idea is one thing, but it sure made me think about the times when I make excuses to sit at home and do nothing. Time is something we think we have an endless amount of, but that just isn’t so.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I going to go see what the world has to offer.
Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.