Saturday, May 19, 2007

the deathstar biosphere

Recently I flew to Texas for a work conference, held at a resort called “The Gaylord Texan.” The conference was organized by a couple of federal agencies we work with, and all of the attendees were people like us from companies like ours, all over the united states. I had only been to Texas one other time in my life, and that was over 12 years ago when some friends and I traveled around the country for a few months. I didn’t really remember what it was like, because we had been traveling by train, and I was either drunk or really hung over when we went through Texas. I remember the train stopped for a while in Dallas and Austin, but have no recollection of either stop. At any rate, I was excited about the prospect of going somewhere new, even if it was a work function.

I shared a flight in with one of my co-workers and my boss, so after we retrieved our baggage we shared a cab to the resort. As we were pulling up the compound driveway, we all remarked at how massive this place was. My boss said, “wow that place is really big,” and I remarked, “It looks like the deathstar biosphere!” On cue, the looming complex blotted out the sun as the cab rounded the driveway to the main entrance. Valet staff and bellhops were dressed like cowboy stormtroopers, strategically dancing around—jockeying vehicles (and there were a lot of cars and vans there, it was worse then the airport), pushing or pulling carts of luggage, talking to and directing people, speaking into walkie-talkies, or just standing and observing everything. We checked in, and the hotel clerk handed me a map and explained to me how to find my room. It was a really long walk; I seriously couldn’t believe how far it was from the main lobby. The hallway maze to my room had an identical repeating pattern and theme, and as a result twice where the hall split, I realized after walking for a few minutes that I went the wrong way.

infinity hallway

My room was awesome. It was beautiful, large, clean, very upscale interior design, comfortable huge bed, down comforter, flat panel large screen TV, and a balcony! I went on to the porch and my room overlooked…the inside of the biosphere! It was so weird. After consulting my hotel map, I learned that this area was called “Hill Country.” I was overlooking a very large indoor glass dome ceiling space, a big landscaped plains scene, and an indoor river complete with waterfalls, fountains and small ponds, large trees, walkways and fences, and a few independent structures, such as a small farmhouse, a tall weather vane, and a margarita bar. It reminded me of Disney World, the manicured controlled artificial environment reproduction, complete with shopping and restaurant options.

view from the balcony in my room--

--my room is the top right balcony

The pathway through Hill Country meandered through to another even larger room, I forgot what this room was called, but it had higher waterfalls, a complete Alamo reproduction (I thought this really especially ridiculous), more structures, restaurants, and things to look at.

part of the Alamo reproduction

There were more pathways into another room, which was very similar to Hill Country, but it was called “Riverwalk.” As you could probably imagine, there was a large river flowing through the room, filled with large Koi fish, and a man-made boardwalk with different stores for a shopping experience. The Spa, Fitness Center, Indoor Pool and another restaurant were also over here. And not to deviate from the oversized theme, I saw the largest bird of paradise plant I have ever seen in my entire life.


indoor themed landscaping

What a strange, large, excessive resort this was. After I settled into my room, I took off to wander around and see first hand what was going on. In a state where most people don't talk about or accept homosexuality, I found it ironic that the resort was named The "Gaylord Texan." Everything was so big, large, jumbo, and super sized…it was overwhelming. I felt like Alice after she encountered the “drink me” bottle in that crazy hallway. I felt disproportionate in scale compared to ceiling heights, hanging lamps, door frames, food portions, everything. There were speakers placed in the ground, hidden in the landscaping, belting out country music everywhere you walked. No matter which atrium you were in, or what store you were shopping in, or where you were, there was some crappy country song playing, pumping out twangy guitar and nasally gravelly vocals.

the largest bird of paradise plant I have ever seen in my life.

The center of the resort was this giant biosphere dome, glass everywhere to allow in a lot of natural light (UV filtered, I’m sure). In the center, there was a giant yellow glass star in the glass ceiling. I started to notice these single stars everywhere, in the carpet, wall papers, in pictures, in murals and mosaics, carved into furniture and welded onto railings. It was pretty scary, I felt like I was dealing with the 4th Reich or something.

symbol of the 4th Reich.

The actual hotel rooms were within the thick biosphere perimeter; if you started jogging down the hall from wherever your hotel room was, you would eventually completely circle the resort and return where you started. The perimeter wasn’t completely circular; there were areas where the different atriums met, and the hall split in two or three different infinite directions, identical carpeting, light fixtures, wall and door colors as far as the eye could see. On my first night there, I wanted to map out the route to the pool so I could go swimming, and I was lost for about ½ hour. The only way I could reorient myself was to have several people show me the way to the main check in lobby. By the way, there are very large fireplaces in the lobby, so large that a few people could stand inside side by side. And even though all the fireplaces displayed a roaring fire, the climate was controlled to a comfortable 78 degrees. The only place the temperature wasn’t comfortable was in the actual conference center part of the resort, where the conference and sessions were taking place. I had to bring and wear a light sweater in every room I was in over there. I suspected that they kept it cool so the conference attendees don’t fall asleep during a class or presentation.

the conference area at The Gaylord Texan

The place where the conference was located through the main atrium, and through a network of halls, up a couple of escalator banks, and in a very, very large lobby. I think you could safely park a few airplanes in this lobby. Our conference had use of a huge exhibit room, a super big theater/ballroom with a stage and curtains, and many smaller partitioned ballrooms for the class sessions and trainings (you know, roundtables, committee updates and all that). The conference included food, and the food was generously served in large or help-yourself portions. During breaks between classes, the hotel staff set up large snack areas for the attendees to help themselves. One break there was cookies, coffee, tea, and milk served. Another time several ice cream freezers were loaded with boxes of individual Dove or Ben and Jerry’s chocolate-covered vanilla or chocolate ice cream bars. Breakfast was always a smorgasbord of fresh fruit, coffee cakes, cinnamon rolls, eggs, breads, bagels and spreads. The only thing that wasn’t covered were alcoholic beverages, but being a lightweight and also having a fear of drinking too much around co-workers, I only had a margaritas and a beer during my visit.

partial outdoor view--this is just a fraction of the resort

I spent a lot of time observing everything; I definitely felt a different vibe from Texas. I was really aware that this region was not Portland. For example, most of the local males brandished very large belt buckles. From young to old, gold, silver, painted, ornate, plain…it almost seemed to be part of the Texan uniform. But it’s not just because of the belt buckles they were wearing; it’s was the whole Texan package—the boots, the cowboy hats, saying things like “y’all” and “reckon” and “those Mexicans.”

The local women weren’t as bad; they had a whole different passive snootiness going on. It seemed more like a righteous religious thing, and was easily ignored. Other then quantities of make up and hairspray, there wasn’t too much out of the ordinary about Texas women. Most seemed to have that Laura Bush look.

I can’t believe the amount of people who are wearing those stupid cowboy hats for real. I think very few people can pull off a cowboy hat wearing look, but as soon as I stepped off of the plane in Dallas, I saw a crowded sea of tan, white, black, gray, and brown cowboy hats bobbing up and down with the flow of foot traffic.

This place was an amazing example of gluttony and excess, the scary brave new future is upon us.

The area around the hotel vast expanses of flat greenery, with the occasional shrub-like scrub oak tree dotting the landscape. The scary element that broke up the rolling desert plain was about 4 other partially constructed deathstar biospheres; tall gray ominous structures, in various stages of assembly jutting defiantly into the sky, accompanied by a huge crane or two, and several small scattered support structures, vehicles and equipment.

To see many more pictures of this ridiculous, excessive resort, visit my Flickr set devoted to The Gaylord Texan.

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