NO cross-country skiing on BART

January 4, 2022
Unofficial BART rule

 

Last week I got on BART, turned around, and noticed an unfamiliar new rule: “NO cross-country skiing” according to a sticker on the door.

Now at first glance this seems pretty reasonable, but of course it’s one of those rules that should go without saying. For example nobody needs to be told that on BART they shouldn’t practice golfing, perform dentistry, or experiment with nuclear power. Common sense, right?

So then I turned around and noticed the same sticker with its original caption:

 

Official BART rule

 

Oh. Well that makes a little more sense.

Christmas decorations in and around downtown

December 24, 2021
Christmas at the SF Centre

 

With things slowly (maybe?) opening/reopening this Christmas, I went around downtown San Francisco and the surrounding area to check out the “big name” decorations. Mostly I was curious to see if this year seemed at all normal again.

Obviously normal is relative at this point; I’m well aware of the many downtown retail closures like H&M, Uniqlo, The Gap, etc. But I went in fully expecting those changes.

As usual the new half of the Westfield SF Centre mall has an upside-down Christmas tree shaped decoration hanging under the historic dome.

Sadly, the so-called “Restaurant Collection Under the Dome” on this level is now entirely vacant. Even before the pandemic this concept never seemed successful. The last high profile restaurant to pull out was Martin Yan’s M.Y. China.

 

Christmas at the SF Centre

 

Meanwhile at the 1980’s half of the mall with its twisty escalators, a set of bright white snowflakes dangle down from the top of the Nordstrom level.

Or maybe you don’t think it looks like snow? I grew up with this 1980’s mall aesthetic and that’s my interpretation, make of that what you will.

 

Christmas at Neiman Marcus

 

It wouldn’t be fair to discuss historic glass domes with Christmas decorations without a visit to Neiman Marcus. The hula hoop style tree shaped decor hangs over the cosmetics counter just inside the entrance.

This glass dome dates back to the City of Paris department store which once stood here. Much like the Westfield SF Center, the glass dome is the only element of the original building that remains today.

 

Christmas at Union Square

 

While the City of Paris used to sponsor downtown’s “official” Christmas tree, that burden has now fallen on Macy’s. In addition to the tree on Union Square, the temporary ice skating rink is back as well this year.

One part of Union Square is slowly being unwrapped as though it were a late and very overdue Christmas present: the new entrance to Union Square Station is now visible through the fencing. The latest timeline says this station will open next fall, but this entire subway was originally slated to open in *checks notes* the year 2008 so adjust your expectations accordingly.

 

Christmas at the Fairmont Hotel

 

I was too cheap to pay for a cable car ride so I hiked all the way up Nob Hill to see the decorations at the original Fairmont Hotel. The lobby was crowded with people taking photos of the tree and the gingerbread house overlay of the restaurant. It was tough to get any clear photos.

It’s never mentioned by name but the Fairmont Hotel appears prominently in Disney/Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. I have to wonder if that’s brought any additional visitors this year, or if I’m the only one who noticed.

 

Christmas at Hyatt Regency Embarcadero

 

On the opposite end of both downtown and the California St. cable car line is the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero.

This lobby has a Christmas tree — one lonely, small Christmas tree. But I think you’d need to chop down a small forest to fill even 10% of the massive atrium.

Honestly I think they’d be better off skipping the tree and filling this enormous indoor cavern with some lights or other effects. Otherwise the mismatch of scale between the tree and the atrium will always look out of balance.

In the end I think it’s safe to say that even if COVID-19 has disrupted another holiday season, at least it’s starting to look normal. I’m not sure that’s all we need right now, but realistically it’s the most we can hope for.

Dusk to Dark: San Francisco as the night falls

December 10, 2021
Downtown skyline at sunset

 

There’s something about the San Francisco skyline that feels like home whenever it comes into view. It’s tricky to pinpoint why. I’ve spent so much time working near all those big office towers yet the skyline from Dolores Park at sunset (pictured above) actually feels a little new to me. The first time I took a photo from that location was over a decade ago, and many of those towers didn’t exist back then. I guess you could say in the past 18 years I’ve grown up with all those new buildings.

It certainly can’t be the skyline alone that gives San Francisco its allure, but it can’t hurt.

 

Sunset at the Embarcadero waterfront

 

As the sun sets, Coit Tower (above) is lit from below. This changes its appearance from a gray building one’s eyes can easily skip over to a somewhat imposing presence on Telegraph Hill.

It almost looks like someone stuck a giant pin at the top of North Beach to guide people over. North Beach is always worth visiting at night, even if it’s just to check out City Lights Bookstore. You can never go wrong with a visit to City Lights… unless of course you visit the other City Lights — the one that sells lights.

 

Sunset at the Embarcadero waterfront

 

As daylight savings time ends and we go back to standard time, the edge lights on the four Embarcadero Center towers turn on a little too early.

Unfortunately one thing that doesn’t completely turn on are the ye olde fashioned lights at Pier 7. It wasn’t that long ago that these lights all worked. Hopefully they’ll get fixed before the masses start showing up for their wedding photos here once again.

Either way, the silhouette of the Transamerica Pyramid is prominent in the background. It hasn’t been the tallest building in San Francisco for a long time, but it’s still the tallest pyramid in North America. Suck it, Aztecs!

 

Ferry ride back from Alameda

 

The red neon “Port of San Francisco” sign on the Ferry Building feels like a homing beacon of sorts. I don’t ride the ferries often — let alone after dark — but there’s something about this vantage point that feels welcoming in a way arriving any other way can’t even compare.

Don’t get me wrong, most of the time when I return to San Francisco it’s on BART. Nothing against BART, but it’s pretty boring compared to arriving at the Ferry Building. The funny thing is that even though it’s an iconic view, it’s not one you tend to see in movies or on postcards. It’s almost like a secret hidden in plain sight.

There is now official BART merchandise, for some reason

November 28, 2021

 

Although BART ridership decreased significantly due to the pandemic, at some point in 2020 official BART merchandise became available.

Online store Rail Goods launched sometime last year with a wide selection of official BART merchandise as well as a somewhat smaller selection of official Capitol Corridor merch. 

Now don’t get me wrong. The BART “Brio-style” trains look fun enough, and some of the more stylized t-shirt designs wouldn’t look out of place at Oaklandish.

The problem is this: I wouldn’t want to wear a shirt, hat, etc. with a BART logo on it, because it would be a terrible idea to wear that while riding BART. Or even around a BART station. Why would I want anyone to mistake me for a BART employee?

This goes beyond the annoyance of people coming up to you and asking for directions. People will obviously assume you work for BART, and some of them will get indignant when you say you don’t. There’s an entire subreddit called I Don’t Work Here Lady where this type of interaction happens on a very regular basis.

If you think about it, wearing a BART shirt or hat on BART without being an employee would be a slightly worse social faux pas than accidentally wearing a blue polo shirt to Best Buy. It’s just asking for trouble.

Personally I think it’s fine for BART to offer merchandise, my only quibble is with the available selection. More toys and stylized t-shirts, ditch the official looking clothes and hats. It’s best for everyone.

USS Hornet Museum

November 14, 2021
USS Hornet Museum USS Hornet Museum USS Hornet Museum

 

On Friday I not only had the chance to visit the USS Hornet Museum in Alameda, but also to take the engineering tour which descends deep into the ship’s underbelly with one of the tour guides.

Oh and the best part? This was all for a work event so I was technically getting paid to be there.

What is it?

For those unfamiliar, the USS Hornet (CV-12) is a World War 2 era aircraft carrier that was mothballed in the 1970’s and was opened as a museum in 1998. In a lot of ways it’s similar to the USS Midway Museum in San Diego, another mothballed WWII aircraft carrier.

If you’ve been to the Midway, the Hornet is a little underwhelming — particularly the flight deck which currently only has two aircraft. That said it is worth climbing up to the flight deck for the great view of the San Francisco skyline and the Bay Bridge, weather permitting.

The main exhibits in the Hornet are largely based around various airplanes, helicopters, and NASA projects the ship was tasked with, from fighting Japan in WWII all the way up to picking up Neil Armstrong and his fellow astronauts.

What was the Hornet crew tasked with for the astronauts? They have that in their collection — the first moon astronauts were placed in quarantine in a modified Airstream trailer parked inside the Hornet. At the time there was a concern they might have picked up “moon germs” and started a pandemic. As ridiculous as moon germs may sound today, when it comes to pandemics I’m totally on board with a better safe than sorry approach.

 

USS Hornet Museum USS Hornet Museum USS Hornet Museum

 

The Engineering Tour

As a heads up all of the ship tours require an able body. I was a little apprehensive about some of the extremely steep stairs (they’re almost ladders) and low ceilings. The thing is the tour guides all served on either the Hornet or one of its sister ships and most are old enough to be my grandfather, and they’re all still nimble enough to go up and down the steep steps. So I had to figure if they can do it, so can I — even though I had to admit they’re faster at it than I am.

The engineering tour takes you down below water level to explore the ship’s massive steam engines. Some of the tour highlights include:

  • Daily life on the ship, from the mess hall to the Marines running security to the limited fresh water available.
  • The hydraulic mechanism that yanked the giant cables to “slingshot” airplanes off the flight deck.
  • The absolutely massive steam engines and the primary control interface deep in the belly of the ship.

Our guide was great, happy to answer questions and even extended the tour a little when asked about the section where he worked.

Getting there

The ferry is by far the easiest way to get to the USS Hornet Museum from San Francisco. SF Bay Ferry takes you from The Ferry Building to within a ten minute walk of the museum.

After exiting the ferry, turn right as soon as you hit the sidewalk and follow the signs. Not that you’ll need them, it’s pretty hard to miss a giant aircraft carrier.

There are plenty of dining and drinking options nearby. Although Alameda isn’t very pedestrian friendly it’s also almost entirely flat and the car traffic is light.

My recommendation: Anyone interested in US military history and NASA history will be interested in the main exhibits. You must be able to climb stairs to visit at all. Tours and the flight deck both require climbing extremely steep stairs.

Review: Nocturne X

November 2, 2021
Nocturne X Nocturne X Nocturne X

 

Okay so before I review this one, let me just say this isn’t worth checking out. This is bad, I’d even go so far to say it’s an embarrassment.

The story, such as there is one, starts out when you check in and they hand you a pamphlet. Strike one. A second barrage of text strikes as you enter the main stage. Strike two.

Strike three is uncovering the main story in the “hidden” backstage area where a series of letters are inexplicably glued to poorly lit walls. 

For better or worse San Francisco is forever linked to immersive storytelling but that doesn’t mean everything that comes along is interesting. This is nothing more than a homework assignment with tacky decor.

My recommendation: Hard pass.

Las Vegas wrap up and stray observations

Arts District

 

With the pandemic slowly on the wane I decided to make a trip to see Omega Mart. It’s fair to say I planned the Las Vegas parts around it. While there’s a lot to like about Las Vegas, to be honest there’s a lot more to dislike. All things considered I think I made the most of it.

First of all, let me say I’m glad everyone has to wear a mask indoors everywhere in Las Vegas. Nevada is a state that notoriously does not care about health. And that leads me to my main issue: all the indoor smoking.

So it turns out a cloth mask absorbs smoke just as well as any other fabric, except it’s worse: since you’re breathing through it after an hour or so on the casino floors you’re not just smelling like smoke, you’re also smelling smoke everywhere you go. Yes I realize there are plenty of non-smoking places in Las Vegas but most of us are either staying at a casino hotel or going to shows at them.

I eventually figured out the hotel shampoo got the smell out so I was washing it by hand every night. Kinda gross, but I was never above doing laundry in a bathroom sink to save a few bucks.

Let me break the trip down by subject for all the stuff too small to fit into one of the other blog posts.

 

Mystery rainstorm from hotel room window

 

Accommodations

I stayed at the Downtown Grand Hotel & Casino. Since this was my first trip in a while I booked a premium (hotel speak for “newer”) room and paid extra for a fridge. I had a corner room for a week in their newest tower with a great view of the Mob Museum.

Part of the reason I went with this hotel was that I’d never been to downtown Las Vegas before and wanted something removed from the noise of The Fremont Street Experience… more on that in a bit.

Overall I thought the Downtown Grand was a reasonable value even though I didn’t go for the cheapest room. All the exciting downtown casinos are a very short walk away.

The only issue I personally had with the hotel was the elevators. It has one of those RFID card systems where it takes too long to read the card. I understand why this might be hard to fix in older buildings, but I don’t get why this is still an issue in brand new construction.

Oh and the entire building’s grid freaked out and went haywire the one night it rained. As a Californian I get that.

 

Fremont Street Experience

 

The Fremont Street Experience

Let’s rewind time and then fast forward: the oldest casinos in Las Vegas were located downtown mostly along Fremont Street and now operate under names such as Binion’s and The Golden Nugget. After The Strip opened, downtown Las Vegas suffered until the mid 1990’s when they intentionally turned several blocks of Fremont Street into a massive tourist trap.

The most notable feature is the pedestrian mall with a semi-indoor roof and a giant screen (recently replaced with LEDs.) This tends to sync to the music played on giant speakers throughout the area. A set of ziplines hangs just under the screen for those adventurous enough to try.

What really gives it the tourist trap label in my book are the street performers, doing everything from dancing to magic shows in exchange for tips. You could put any one of these types into any other tourist trap anywhere in the world and nobody would bat an eye.

I will say the musical aspect is entertaining, especially at night. And if you’re staying nearby there’s a Walgreens at one end of the Fremont Street Experience and an ABC Store at the other for all your basic needs.

 

The Strip The Strip The Strip

 

The Strip

Last time I visited Vegas, I stayed at and spent all my time at The Strip. Which, by the way, is only located in “Las Vegas” because of some weird postal rule. It’s not located within the actual city of Las Vegas for tax reasons.

Tacky as it is, I felt compelled to check out The Strip again about a decade later. It’s surprising how little has changed, aside from the live shows. And even some of those simply moved to a different casino.

Another thing that hasn’t changed about The Strip is how expensive it is. Somehow the $5 Footlong at Subway is a $15 Footlong here. Even the ATMs are charging rates that the IRS would be embarrassed to collect.

Overall I don’t mind the wacky theming, with various versions of Italy and the skylines of both New York City and Paris. At its best The Strip is kind of like the World Showcase at Disney’s Epcot Center but with big name shows and concerts. At its worst it’s endless smoke-filled casinos floors and bad life choices.

Now that said, I want to clarify that I will not defend Caesars Palace. If Julius Caesar himself proclaimed they were going to build a disproportionately stretched out tower with a big red neon sign on the top, they would have stabbed him to death on the spot. Or maybe that was how he died? Do your own research, people.

 

Area 15 Area 15 Area 15

 

Area 15

I’ve never seen anything quite like Area 15 before. The concept is like a small indoor mall where everything inside is some type of “experience.” These range from virtual reality to axe throwing to their anchor tenant, Omega Mart. 

There are places to eat inside Area 15 including a restaurant, a bar, a cafe, and an ice cream shop. They’re all somewhat expensive. The bar sits under an artificial tree with twinkling leaves that looks like it belongs on the planet Pandora from the movie Avatar.

Outside the building there’s a bunch of sculptures to check out and a giant mural on the wall around the corner to the left of the entrance. There’s also a second building currently under construction for a planned expansion.

Mercifully, Area 15 is one of the few large shared indoor places in Las Vegas where smoking is not allowed.

 

Not the best day to fly Southwest

 

Getting there

Normally it’s not an issue to get to Las Vegas but I happened to travel during the weekend Southwest cancelled most of their flights — including mine. They automatically rebooked me on a flight so late I would have missed seeing Penn & Teller, so I went with an alternative flight with a short layover in Burbank.

This wasn’t the first time Southwest cancelled my flight although it was the most annoying to rebook because they cancelled so many other flights. Maybe Southwest’s motto should be “You can change your flight, but so can we.”

Getting around

Taxis, Uber, and Lyft are the best ways to get around in Las Vegas for the most part. The only walkable part is the downtown, and even that gets to be a stretch for further away destinations like the Neon Museum. Unfortunately it may seem unwalkable because the stop lights are timed for an order of magnitude more car traffic than exists — the truth is the lights are there for cars, and when there aren’t any cars as a pedestrian you need to look both ways and use your common sense.

I took the RTC buses a few times. It’s not an unusable public transit system, but it’s not great. The buses are slow as hell and are meant to be used as a regional transit system, not a local one. The worst offender is a line known as “The Deuce” that goes from The Strip to downtown. Because it’s a double decker bus it takes forever to board and de-board at every stop. 

The most insulting thing about RTC is they charge out of state visitors double the fare. It’s expensive enough that even if you have the extra time it’s tough to recommend for most tourists.

My only tip here is to consider how you’re getting to your hotel from the airport. If the hotel doesn’t have their own private shuttle, the two RTC buses to downtown are alright. It’s not well marked at the airport but all buses, hotel shuttles, and limo services meet downstairs from the baggage claim in the parking garage.

 

Container Park

 

Dining and drinking

Coming from California I’m obviously used to high quality but very expensive food. Las Vegas used to be known for cheap buffets but these days it’s mostly expensive restaurants with celebrity chefs.

To be blunt I don’t think it’s worth considering dining at the casinos at all. Between the outrageous prices and the smoke filled dining rooms you’d be wise to go elsewhere. 

One of the best meals I had was at Casa Don Juan in the Arts District. It’s not the only Mexican place downtown but they’re very friendly and the portions are generous. If I were in the area again I’d definitely return.

On Fremont Street it’s worth the short trek to Container Park if the weather’s good. Lots of great dining options and it’s mostly outdoor seating. The giant mantis sculpture out front puts on a fire show on weekend evenings, check their website for details.

If you want alcohol I recommend skipping the outdoor bars altogether on The Strip and The Fremont Street Experience. Their outdoor bars mostly serve sugary ice sludge that’s only going to give you a brain freeze and raging headache. 

Tours

Aside from the previously mentioned Neon Museum tour I also went on three walking tours of Las Vegas and the surrounding area. 

  • Downtown Las Vegas day tour from Las Vegas Walking Tours. This is a great history tour about where Las Vegas got started and how the downtown has changed over the years and is continuing to change. The tour goes into a couple of buildings but it’s mostly outdoors. Headsets are provided due to the noise level.
  • The Vegas strip walking tour expert via Airbnb. This is a highlight of some of the best parts of the strip like the conservatory garden at the Bellagio and the living flamingos at The Strip’s arguably oldest casino, The Flamingo. The guide was a real character who mentioned he had multiple weddings to officiate that day. Be warned that like any walking tour of The Strip you’ll be inhaling a lot of secondhand smoke.
  • DTLV Art Walk. To be honest most of the Fremont Street area street art photos from this post were taken on this tour. I was the only one who signed up, so I got to know the guide a little and he gave me easily the best advice on what else to see and do in the area.

Spoilers: What is Omega Mart, really?

October 27, 2021

In my previous post about Omega Mart I talked about it in general without any spoilers. 

Well now it’s time to dig in and discuss everything down to the last detail about Omega Mart with spoilers.

So if you want to avoid spoilers, STOP READING NOW.

 

Omega Mart

 

Yes, the above photo is of an actual sign inside Omega Mart. Seriously though: spoilers follow.

Getting in

As you enter Omega Mart, you’re handed a “Boop Card.” This is your employee badge of sorts. There’s no rush to become an employee and of course you’re not really signing up to work here.

I should point out that the real employees here have different roles. Some of them are actors, others are there to keep the place clean and safe. Regardless, guests need to follow their instructions.

What you see entering the store is a little under 1/4 of the total physical space you’ll go through on this adventure. To the left of the entrance is the bag check, and to the right is the checkout.

To be absolutely clear, Omega Mart is a real store in the sense that they have items you can buy. The only food items are things like snacks, cereal, and soda. Basically stuff that has a long shelf life. There are also gimmick boxes such as the mysterious “Done” and a can of something called “tattoo chicken.” The rest of the items for sale tend to be more gift shop items like t-shirts.

Oh and yes there’s also a typical gift shop. It’s located outside of Omega Mart though.

Back to the store. If you walk in and straight to the fridges in the back, on the left there’s the bathrooms, elevator, and stairs. To the right is the hall to the pharmacy, which is the location of the “hidden” bar called Datamosh. To be perfectly clear it’s entirely optional to visit Datamosh and has no impact on the story.

Datamosh is an upscale cocktail bar with prices to match. The theme from Omega Mart extends into the bar with drinks allegedly made from their products. One particularly alarming example is Old Fashioned Spray, a typical old fashioned cocktail dyed a shade of blue that makes it look like Windex. The worst part? The blue dye is sprayed out of a plastic bottle labeled “Old Fashioned Spray.”

There are a number of secret passages in the Omega Mart storefront, and all but one of them lead behind the store. There’s also an opening near the bathrooms where you can skip the secret passages to the back.

Before we get to what’s behind Omega Mart, let’s discuss your first mission.

Mission 1: Become an Omega Mart Employee

  • You simply need to “boop” your card with all the terminals in the store at the ends of the aisles and follow the directions on screen.
  • Two of the terminals on the back wall in the store show you your progress. The same information is displayed if you scan the QR code on your phone, or log into the Dramcorp website with the ID code on your card. Similar terminals exist throughout the installation.
  • Once you’ve learned about what the different colored cones are for, head upstairs to the employee breakroom to take a quiz on which colored cone goes with which spill.

And that’s it! You’re now an Omega Mart employee and more of the story unlocks.

Aside from the stairs, there are two other passages out of the employee breakroom. So let’s talk about what’s behind and above Omega Mart.

 

 

Secret passages: Dramcorp and The Forked Earth

On the first floor several portals to the left lead to a polluted desert town known as Seven Monolith Village, and the ones on the right lead to either Omega Mart’s factory or Dramcorp. Some also lead to the office of Seven Monolith’s gas station (“Alpha Service”) most notably the fridge door you probably saw people entering the second you walked into Omega Mart.

All of this back area is part of The Forked Earth. It’s sort of like a pocket dimension that you can enter or exit from via various secret passageways, or wormholes. Omega Mart built its factory there to take advantage of a well of an inter-dimensional life energy called the Source.

The Forked Earth was created when an alien race experimented with the Source in their dimension, and somehow accidentally fused them together.

Meanwhile former CEO Walter Dram has been adding the Source to all Omega Mart products because it increases customer satisfaction. It also has some unexpected side effects, especially on the Dram family themselves.

But before we get there, I should mention the next mission.

 

Omega Mart

 

Mission 2: Become a factory worker at Dramcorp

I forget if you have to do these in any specific order? Apologies in advance there.

  • There are two places you boop into outside the Dramcorp office on the second floor facing the factory. Both of these involve pushing a button or whatever, there’s not much to it.
  • The Source Door is downstairs behind a structure shaped like a beehive. You boop into this and then twist the on-screen knobs for a few seconds and you’re good to go.

In my opinion this mission is the least interesting one. It does two things though: it unlocks a mission and it gives you an excuse to explore the Factory.

While in the factory I encourage you to explore and experiment with the DJ pads upstairs. Who knows, maybe you’ll discover you have a new career in music? Probably not but it never hurts to try.

The Dram family

Still cool with the spoilers? Because I’m going to distill the crux of the story which takes an hour or two of reading letters, emails, etc.

So let’s get back to the Source and how it’s affected the Dram family.

Walter Dram founded Omega Mart and was CEO up until recently. He moved the Omega Mart factory into the Forked Earth to take advantage of the Source.

The new CEO is Walter’s daughter, Cecelia Dram who wants to push some kind of new age agenda based around leadership principles. She also wants you to believe that she’s supposed to be the new CEO and is pretty cagey about what happened to Walter.

Cecelia became pregnant with her now-teenage daughter Marin in a ceremony in The Forked Earth where she drank the Source with her uncle Charlie and his neighbor, an herbalist named Rose. Charlie’s an odd man who runs the local gas station, operates a paranormal tour, and makes a beverage called Mish Mash out of the mysterious glowing runoff from the Dramcorp factory.

Marin’s story is chronicled in her blog on her computer and is brought to life in this music video from the band Beach House:

 

 

Marin Dram (Marin is pronounced MAY-rin) has your typical teenage girl issues. On top of that she can’t leave The Forked Earth because she’s forever tied to the Source. Her mother rarely visits or communicates at all. She feels lucky to have a few friends her age in Seven Monolith Village.

The big Dramcorp spoiler

The big reveal is on several terminals in the Dramcorp office. This is easy to get to from upstairs but a plus one in my book if you figure out the secret passage from downstairs at Omega Mart.

So here it is: Cecelia introduces her father Walter to Marin for the first time. Marin is nearly an adult at this point. Walter reacts to the news that the Source is her father by suggesting that Marin could be the template for a new product. A furious Cecelia gets into an altercation with Walter where she accidentally pushes him into the Source Well. Marin jumps in to save him.

Since then Cecelia has been trying to rescue her daughter from the well through Dramcorp technology. However, she clearly isn’t making any sort of rescue efforts on her father.

Once you’ve learned all this you have a choice. 

Branching story paths

From here you have two options. You can help Cecelia locate Marin, or you can help Marin’s friends rebel against Omega Mart.

I should stop here and say I don’t think there’s anything stopping you from doing both on the same Omega Mart employee card. There’s no way I can say for certain because rebel activities don’t show up Dramcorp’s boop cards.

Let’s start with helping Cecelia. This is the less interesting of the two missions in my opinion, I’d skip it if you don’t have time.

Mission 3: Help Cecelia and Dramcorp

  • There’s a decryption program on Cecelia’s computer in the corporate office. Boop into the computer and save the program to your Dramdrive.
  • In Seven Monolith Village, boop into the computer at either Charlie or Rose’s hut. Run the decryption software and forward that mysterious email to Cecelia.
  • Return to the Dramcorp office and boop into any available computer. Run the leadership ascension program and wow, you’re on your way to becoming a VP or something!

Okay but really, did you want to help Cecelia? Why did you do that? At the end you get a notification that Cecelia will need your help again. Sigh… okay.

Let’s get to the mission you can and should do.

Mission 4: Side with the Rebels (Marin’s friends)

  • Visit either hut in the desert and when the hacker’s prompt appears, agree to join the rebels.
  • The three rebels have maps to where you need to boop your card in different parts of the building. Save these maps to your Dramdrive.
  • The most exciting part is the takeover of Omega Mart where the rebel’s message appears on the TV and speakers while employees “freeze” and the lighting changes. 

Once you’ve finished this storyline you will currently be asked for a name and email address for when the next part becomes available.

This is the most satisfying ending even though nothing is resolved. What I find interesting is that the same boop card allowed me to do both competing missions. Can I only finish one or the other in the future? 

Would I go back to complete the missions? I’m not sure I’d travel back to Las Vegas to finish it anytime soon… maybe if I got a really cheap flight.

 

 

In my previous post I recommended visiting Omega Mart. Since we’re going into details here I want to go into more depth.

Criticisms

Key parts of the narrative can only be accessed on one computer with your boop card. This often causes slow moving lines to form as people realize they need to access that computer. Like most people it makes me feel rushed in these situations when it’s my turn.

Although technically all of the story can be accessed from a wheelchair, some of the passageways are very narrow and short. The two huts in Seven Monolith Village have physical entryways that might be a challenge.

The slides… oh these are bad. They’re really fast and knock you around. Keep your chin tucked into your chest if you do ride them to avoid the worst of it.

The cost may turn some away, and I think that’s unfortunate. At the same time while I don’t have any insider info about the company, Meow Wolf is known for paying and crediting their artists, and providing a decent benefit package for their employees.

Praises

The physical space is really well thought out. For example, anytime there’s a piece of paper to read like someone’s mail or a pamphlet, there’s a reading light nearby. Might sound like a small thing but these design elements add up, letting you know when you’re on to something.

The employees were the right amount of helpful. As the story went on they became a little less helpful, unless they noticed a guest who was frustrated. I think this is a good balance. They’re not throwing you into the deep end nor are they coddling you all the way through.

None of this would work without the videos. The cast is good overall though I have to say Rachel de la Torre absolutely nails it as Cecelia Dram. Likewise the ads for Omega Mart have a dark sense of humor that set the tone perfectly. This extends to the entrance of Omega Mart where the somewhat disturbing Super Family Store video plays on a loop.

 

Omega Mart

 

My takeaways

Some critics call this sort of installation a “playground” which I think is fair in some ways… I mean there are slides after all. At the same time that can sound dismissive; since when did playgrounds have a lengthy story to follow and a sense of humor?

Meow Wolf went to great lengths to put this together: aside from the amazing physical space the story is told through videos, music, emails, physical mail, phone calls, lighting effects, etc. There’s so much to it I’m sure there’s a lot I missed over my three visits. I didn’t even get around to cracking the substitution cypher found in one room to be honest. Maybe I should have gone back one more time?

Despite the linear progression of the boop cards, the storytelling is entirely non-linear. The more time you spend exploring and reading the details you find, the more of the story you’ll uncover. 

Ultimately the question isn’t whether I like Omega Mart because I absolutely do. The true question is whether or not there’s a sustainable audience. I certainly hope so and I realize the current marketing push won’t last forever.

This is my first visit to a Meow Wolf installation. There are currently two others: The House of Eternal Return in Santa Fe and Convergence Station in Denver. I’m planning on visiting both at some point in the future.

I think if I had to recommend Omega Mart to a type of person, it’s the type who’s either creative or analytical enough to have immediately noticed that if you remove the first two letters of each word you’ve gone from Omega Mart to Mega Art. Because that’s what this is: one big art installation that’s up to you to figure out.

Downtown Las Vegas street art: Fremont Street and the Arts District

October 20, 2021

Street art may not come to mind when you think of Las Vegas. That’s fair, I thought the same thing. Are there even opportunities for street art in Las Vegas?

The brief answer is yes: Las Vegas has top notch street art. Better yet it’s all within walking distance if you’re staying downtown.

 

Street ArtStreet Art Street Art Street Art Street Art

 

Downtown Las Vegas is filled with street art on and around Fremont Street thanks in part to the annual Life Is Beautiful festival. The epicenter of the street art downtown is roughly around Container Park, roughly a ten minute walk from the downtown casinos. The area has a mix of world famous artists with a handful of local artists here and there.

The mural spaces for Life is Beautiful are often in alleys or on abandoned buildings, which there are unfortunately a lot of in this part of downtown. Outside of the street art there’s not a lot to see and do in this area.

That said you’ll find Atomic Liquors in this area, the bar where patrons famously used to go up on the roof and watch the nuclear bomb tests in the distance.

 

Arts District Arts District Arts District Arts District Arts District

 

The Arts District is also downtown but a little more of a walk, maybe 20-30 minutes from the downtown casinos. It’s also not far from The Strat (formerly The Stratosphere.) The free Downtown Loop Shuttle has two stops in the Arts District as well.

Despite the name, the Arts District feels like a nice small town within a city — plenty of great dining, cafe, and bar options — but you have to ignore The Strat’s giant tower looming over you.

My opinion might be different if I’d visited during one of the special events thrown in the Arts District, but on a weekday afternoon I found it a nice break from the all the “Las Vegasness” of Las Vegas, and a rare glimpse into the local art scene in a city not known for local art.

Review: Omega Mart (no spoilers)

October 18, 2021

 

By now you’ve probably seen ads for something called “Omega Mart,” beckoning you to a specific address in Las Vegas.

If you’ve read this far, I bet you’ve already visited the Omega Mart website and learned it’s part of something called Dramcorp.

After visiting Omega Mart three times last week I thought I’d provide a review that doesn’t really spoil anything. (But don’t worry, I’m saving those for a post in the future.)

 

Omega Mart

 

What is Omega Mart?

Omega Mart is a new immersive experience from Meow Wolf, best known for The House of Eternal Return in Santa Fe.

This new story is framed by an allegedly normal American supermarket, Omega Mart. Just like your local Safeway, Kroger, or whatever the interior of Omega Mart has the same harsh lighting, the same metal shelves and price tags, and various sections like produce and dairy.

But just as the cheery jingle in some of their ads proclaim, “You have no idea what’s in store for you!”

Which is to say there’s a lot more to this exhibit than a supermarket. For one thing it’s a deeply weird supermarket. The products seem almost alien in nature. Oh and for some reason you’re invited to the employee training program.

And then there’s some sort of family drama going on behind the scenes. You need to explore and pay attention. At some point you need to make decisions about who you trust.

 

Omega Mart

 

Practical stuff

How do you get there? Taxis and ridesharing services are the best way to get to Area 15 and there are designated drop off and pick up zones. Limited parking is available on a first come basis. Unfortunately it’s not realistic to get there on public transit. Don’t consider walking there unless you’re staying on the same side of the freeway — it’s probably an okay walk from The Rio or Palace Station.

It’s strongly encouraged to buy tickets in advance. The center it’s located in is called Area 15, which may not let you in if you don’t have a ticket to Omega Mart or any of the other attractions in the building.

The entry requirements for Omega Mart forbid guns, knives, etc. and you will have to go through a metal detector and bag check on the way in. Larger bags have to be checked in for an additional fee.

Bathrooms, stairs, and the elevator are located to the left of the entrance. The staff will help guide you there if (or more likely when) you find yourself lost and need to pee.

With COVID-19 you must wear a mask at all times. Staff go around and disinfect spaces on a regular schedule so you may be asked to leave an area temporarily. 

Although all the key areas of the exhibit are available to wheelchair users there are plenty of physically challenging passages that I feel fortunate enough to still be able to do at my age. The most uncomfortable ones were the slides. These are not well made slides, they’re fast and knock you around. 

Also be aware that some areas have strobe lights, fog machines, and projection effects. There’s a lot that might give you a headache here if you’re not in the right frame of mind.

If you go to Omega Mart as a couple or small group (maybe four people max) you should stick together and use the same card. The card saves your progress in the story and you can access it anywhere on your phone by scanning the QR code on the front.

In theory the exhibit is all ages though I doubt the story would be relatable to anyone who’d never been a teenager. That said, most younger kids would probably lose interest by the time the more mature themes of the story appear. When I say mature themes I mean specifically: the story features elements of parental alienation, body image issues, and an implied “off camera” death. If you’re particularly sensitive to any of these issues at this time you may want to opt out.

There’s a bar located inside of Omega Mart. Where? You’ll have to find it on your own. For those who enjoy cocktails and don’t mind spending a little extra, I recommend ordering The Source.

Professional recording equipment is not allowed in Omega Mart but you’re encouraged to take photos and videos with your phone and share your experiences online.

I recommend booking tickets early in the day to beat the crowds if possible.

 

Omega Mart

 

My experience

For me these strange new immersive worlds are nothing new — they are the very reason I started this blog to begin with.

What sets Omega Mart apart for me was how well put together and contained it all is. The more I looked around and explored the more the story slowly unfolded itself. There were plenty of hidden clues I walked right past the first time — or a dozen times — before I realized there was something I could interact with. 

I went on three separate days during my time in Las Vegas though I could have finished all the stories in two if I’d pushed myself more. Personally I enjoyed spending my time there. By the end of my visit I kept finding myself eager to help out others who were confused or frustrated.

However there’s one very big caveat: as of October 2021 part of the story is unfinished. There’s a way to get notified when it becomes available. As a completionist type this bothers me more than it should. 

 

My recommendation: Omega Mart is an exemplary work of immersive storytelling within a large physical space. Although it’s not yet complete there’s already many hours of entertainment. Still, I understand some might want to wait until the last mission is built out.