Sonny, is the Red Lion Inn in Winnemucca still a nice place?

Three times Sonny Bono sidled over to me at an inter-govermental relationship-building city/county dinner I was at in Los Banos.

He leaned in and whispered, “The Red Lion Inn in Winnemuca is a very nice place to stay.”

Three times. That was odd. So odd, I wonder. It was, obviously, a dream, but I’ve remembered it for years, pondering why tell me and tell me and tell me again.

Sonny (with Cher), a famous pop star in the sixties turned Congressman (and now dead), had stopped by the dinner on a cross country drive to somewhere. He must have thought I needed to know.

I already knew it was a great place to stay. My mother’s family lived in Colorado so practically every summer we were schlepped across the West on I80 through northern Nevada to visit. It took exactly 26 hours to get from our gate by the lane to my aunt’s front porch in Englewood.

The scrubby Nevada/Utah desert goes on monotonously and forever between the Mustang Ranch outside of Sparks and Wendover. It meant hours of boredom to this kid in the backseat, hours only occassionally interrupted to defend an invisible line on the backseat from an insurgent sibling.

To quiet us and partially compensate, my parents usually stopped for the night in Winnemucca. We stayed at the Red Lion Inn. Our room was air conditioned (the car wasn’t) and there was a large, cool pool. Dinner across the street at the casino was usually whatever I wanted. I was out of the back seat and not sweating.

I agreed with Sonny. The Red Lion Inn was a very nice place to stay.

But the last time I went through Winnemucca, the building was no longer a Red Lion and no longer lives up to Sonny’s or my memories. The last fifty years haven’t been kind to the tired old motel in that hardscrabble little town by the Interstate.

So if I don’t chalk that dream up to bad pizza and his advice still stands, what was Sonny telling me? This inquiring mind wants to know.

This summer I intend to find out. I’m going to a travel writing workshop in California and I’ll be driving from Boise to the Bay Area alone. I’m a little nervous, a little excited. My path leads right by Winnemucca.

This is an opportunity to get away from responsibilities, do a lot of thinking and writing. My goal for attending the workshop is not to write a best-seller or secure a travel writing gig, but to dislodge the cork out of this writer’s bottle, hopefully for good. I intend to motivate this ephemeral muse of mine.

I write to understand: myself, others, and the world. I need to understand. Sonny’s words to me in a dream too.

Is The Red Lion Inn still a very nice place to stay, Sonny? If so, where, and how in the hell do I find it again?

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I like going places: out West, west of the West, and all the way around the back of the globe to the East. I like to go by train, plane, automobile, horseback. Whatever. And I like writing about what I see, feel, hear, smell, and touch all along the way and once I get there.

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