The Millennium Dome
Sometimes after an overseas trip it is necessary to get back into the groove as quickly as possible. It was an early morning and junior reporter Junko was in my office from the newsroom and asking about my first night back in Tokyo from London.
"Made the usual rounds," I said in adjusting my necktie and propping my feet on my desk.
"Three hostess clubs and four hostesses?"
"Nope three and three. Say, why did you think it was 4?"
"The bulge in your shirt pocket looked to be worth about 4 cocktail napkins and I know cleanliness is not one of your priorities."
"I will have you know that one nice young lady wrote down the name and address of her congregation on two separate occasions," I said in looking at the napkins and stuffing them to the bottom of the pocket.
"So drunk that you asked again, huh?"
"Details are a bit sketchy, but I could have been suffering from the effects of jet lag or something similar." I eased a pack of smokes out of my jacket pocket.
"So is this jet lag of yours going to prevent you from telling me about the Millennium Dome?"
I removed one smoke and flipped the pack onto my desk.
On a recent visit to the banks of the Thames in Greenwich, England, a 4-piece band was indulging in Lee Morgan's "The Sidewinder." They were a walking band in search of an audience. Certainly nobody was coming to them. Not because the sax player didn't have the chops for Mr. Morgan's trumpet parts, but because not a soul was around. This wouldn't have been a problem if this were any average stretch of the river that parts London. But this band was supposed to be entertaining the anticipated throngs of guests entering one of the largest creations of the past century - the Millennium Dome.
Why nobody? Aside from it being a giant eyesore (resembling an eyeball going through acupuncture therapy), let's start with the promotion. Check this tour advertisement (which was not doctored in any way):
The Millennium Dome at Greenwich is the largest building of its kind in the world an the centrepiece of Britains celebrations for the year 200. The dome consists of 14 exhibitor zones each with different themes. You will explore the Mind zone which illustrates areas of our brain responses. Other zone topics include Body, Work, Learn, Transaction, Play, Mobility, Atmosphere etc. The Dome cost over 1 billion pounds and will only be open for one year.
With inducements like this, what is the motivation? Perhaps a more important question: Why even continue enrolling kids beyond primary school when they can land tour operator positions?
But even though a little more than two months remain in the above-mentioned promise, keeping the lights on in Blair's Bubble sounds a tad optimistic. In addition to slagging attendance, souvenir stands have slashed the prices on most goods by at least 50%. They have some nice ones though. Hungry for a Millennium Dome cake? All it will cost is what you would pay for dinner for two. How about some circular Dome playing cards? Or some freshly minted Millennium Coins?
Price is an issue as well. The standard adult ticket of around $30 is reduced to $15 after 4PM. Even with this incentive, only 6 of the 48 ticket booths were open when I arrived on a recent Friday afternoon at 4PM on the dot.
Or heck, maybe people got a look at one of the brochures in advance and read the description of Act I of the Millennium Show that takes place in the Dome's Central Arena:
In the beginning, the Sky people and Earth people play in a natural world. Skyboy from the air, and Sophia from the Earth, meet and fall in love. A storm shatters the harmony of their world.
Has dinner theater ever sounded more appealing? Or how about banging your shin will a ball peen hammer?
But these are all merely incidental items relative to the big picture. What about - as it is referred to in numbing repetition - the Millennium Experience? In other words, what goes on inside that bloated turkey belly? Glad you asked.
The most imposing figure upon entering the Dome is the Body attraction. Sort of resembling a giant lounging burn victim, this exhibit allows the visitor to take a limited look inside a human body. An escalator rises up inside and through the throat. A pulsing heart and veins await at the top only to provide a precursor to the deafening roar of digestion. Then, after being greeted by a series of joke-telling brains near the exit, the visitor is shown exhibits that encourage healthy living, all with the help of Boots, that is.
You see, most Zones (arranged in a circle around the Central Arena) have a sponsor. Boots is a pharmacy chain and they think an enhanced well-being can be achieved by, amongst other things, aroma therapy and massage. Additionally, Boots announces that one should "Ditch the remote. Less TV and more fresh air." This then is the general pattern of the Dome's attractions; a little education with little entertainment followed by a lot of promotion.
I wonder what Sky thinks about folks tossing their remotes in the Thames. Sky is a TV company that sponsors the movie Blackadder Back and Forth in the Skyscape Theater, the Millennium Show, and the "voting" at each attraction. Yep, the people have a voice. Even though the results of the voting can be checked on the Internet, the necessity of this is a little hazy.
Multiple "Yes" and "No" voting stations are set up at each attraction. Each guest is given a "VOTE!" card upon entering the Dome and can answer such puzzlers as: "Do you think people will still be using currency by the year 2020?"
And currency is an important issue in the Money Zone where each guest receives a fictitious million pounds and then is able to "see how world events affect the cash in your bank account" through personal computer terminals and giant stock market ticker screens. While this is technologically well done, it would seem that any visitor to Money probably waited in endless petrol lines a few weeks prior when the Middle East burped. Therefore, he already knows that world events affect money and that it ain't all that interesting. Certainly when compared to slugging down a few cold ones accompanied by a glossy-eyed blonde at the pub down the street.
This then is the Dome's downfall. Nobody wants to be educated in their free time, at least not on a mass scale, and certainly not if it means forking over the kind of money that can buy a pair of stereo systems at the open market in Hackney on Sunday mornings.
In Tesco's Learning, who wants to solve enlarged versions of the ring, rope, and wood block puzzles that you find next to the space crystal displays in those learning stores across the US?
Who wants to be told, "I owe, I owe...It's off to work we go" in Manpower's Work? We know this. That's why we refrain from punching the damned bastard in the cubicle next to us for cutting his fingernails.
Does anybody want Living Island to explain to them that the world's rivers are polluted with trash when a perfect example lies just outside the Dome's doors? Hell, that's where my kid tossed his chocolate wrapper on the way in.
But all this is putting the cart before the horse anyway. Everything is meaningless unless Skyboy and Sophia make it back together again, right?
Junko dealt me another card from the Dome deck.
"So what did happen to Skyboy and Sophia?" she asked as I turned over a ten of hearts to go with my six of diamonds.
"Well lets see here, I should get this exactly right," I said in pulling out my Dome brochure and reading from Act III: "they meet again and fly together as one. Their union brings together the liberated Sky and Earth people to look forward with hope to an unknown future." She gave herself the ten of spades as her up card.
"Unknown future? That sounds just like the Dome itself. Well, were you able to conclude why Nomura International backed out of buying the Dome last month?"
"Even though distressed properties are their specialty, it looks as though cooler heads have prevailed. Something about the proposal of adding an attraction called 'Walking with Dinosaurs,' based on the popular BBC TV program, not going over so well with the top brass. They will probably just buy another 5,000 British pubs instead. Uh, hit me."
She tossed me a three of diamonds and I sat back in my chair. She then flipped over a five of hearts and proceeded to give herself a five of diamonds.
"Oh, Christ!" I said, flipping the cards back on the desk, "What do I owe you now?"
"A Dome cake, four Dome key rings, and your Tony Blair autographed photo."
Coming next week: a visit to the Tate Modern