As the lyric says, this is a true story. True-ish, anyway; we always reserve the right to improve upon reality.
Jay and I had spent most of the Fall of 1988 couch-surfing in San Francisco, working on the “Making Fun of Bums” video and playing the occasional show at the Paradise, but mostly just drinking and playing pool. As T-day approached, we realized we were wearing out our welcome with the various friends at whose apartments we’d been crashing, and decided a road trip was in order.
It seemed like a good idea at the time: hotels in Reno were pretty damn cheap, and so was the food, and we figured the place would be relatively empty. Wrong.
Depression set in at dinner, at an honest-to-goodness $5.99 buffet with turkey and cranberries and a smorgasbord of other selections. The single folks sitting at tables by themselves made sense. It was the families that got to me. I wondered aloud what they were doing there, and Jay, who is prone to uttering pearls of wisdom every so often, said, “Dude, what are WE doing here?”
So we smoked and drank and gambled a little more than we might have, otherwise, trying to erase that feeling of wrongness, and, of course, failing.
There was no girl to save me, as the song eventually confesses, and we didn’t win any money from a slot machine (though a roadie of ours did actually win $600 in Reno a year or two later — only he won with triple clowns, not triple bars, a detail I changed because, weirdly, it felt too fake). There was only melancholy, mitigated slightly by the fact that we were friends on an adventure. So it makes sense that in my sad stupor I would have a vision of a red, white and blue angel trying to soar above and beyond the neon and the debauchery.
At the end of the weekend we drove home the long way, through Lake Tahoe, where we stopped to gamble some more, and Jay balanced the karmic scales by being the opposite of a wisdom-spouting Buddha, standing drunkenly in front of an ATM machine on a casino floor, shouting, “This machine’s the best! I always win!” as it spat out more twenties for him to go lose at the Blackjack table.