Yes, it is spring break. I get that. Humans are everywhere, out in force, trailing their offspring, trying like hell to keep the little monsters entertained, praying there’s enough red wine on store shelves to make it through the week. And the Perot Museum of Nature and Science is a newfangled attraction perfect for passing such a time (except that, unless I missed it, the Perot stocks zero red wine). I understand all this. Patience is required. Deep breath.
But you inconsiderate sonsofbitches who stare at your phones while your ill-behaved children run amok, you oblivious bastards who zigzag through crowded spaces as if you were the last person on earth — I hope all you people develop a bad case of gout. I hope the uric acid crystals (that’s science) stab your every joint so sharply that you are forced to sit on your couches and watch reruns of Ow! My Balls!
Let’s focus on one small example. Take the tornado simulator in the roll-off-the-tongue Rees-Jones Foundation Dynamic Earth Hall. It’s an open-sided cylinder in which a fan blows a column of water vapor into a 10-foot-tall vortex that looks like a Lilliputian tornado. Cool, right? You can lean in and touch it. But if every unattended kid and curious teenager constantly sticks his hand into the machine, then the damn vortex will never form! NO TORNADO!
I stood there with my 7-year-old daughter yesterday, waiting for the mini tornado to form in the Rees-Jones Foundation Dynamic Earth Hall. She couldn’t keep her hands out of it, understandably. Every time, the vortex of water vapor would slowly descend from the ceiling of the cylinder, and she — and six other people — would interrupt it. So I did what a parent does. I gently grabbed her mitts and said, “Little girl, every time you touch it, you kill it. Just let it grow. Wait. Be patient. It will look so much cooler if you chill for 10 seconds.”
You see where I’m headed. There were six other people standing there, waiting to touch the tornado, and by God if someone else was going to touch it first. Mutually assured destruction. Ad infinitum. We never got to see the thing do what it was designed to do.
This, to me, sums up my visit to the Perot yesterday. I could write another 600 words about the mom and brat that we encountered in the Texas Instruments Engineering and Innovation Hall, she in her yoga pants and he with his coordinated outfit. My 14-year-old son and I had worked awhile on building a tower that we’d waited our turn to test on an earthquake simulator. As we were doing so, the brat said, “I want to try it!” and reached to remove our structure. Mom, rather than restrain her sour loinfruit, placed her foot on my son’s chair, as if to signal that it was time for him to move on. But I won’t. Write the 600 words, I mean. I’ll stop. Another deep breath.
My research suggests that 75 percent of people suck. If there’s enough red wine on hand, that figure drops by 33.3 percent. I bought a family membership to the Perot before the museum even opened to the public. Still, I have to fight the museum’s poorly designed website to “buy” tickets that stipulate the hour of my admission. That’s fine, though, I thought, even if it meant that there were times that the museum was “sold out,” and I couldn’t, even as a member, get in. The great wisdom of staggering admission times — again, I thought — was that the 25 percent of us who mind our children and ourselves could touch a tornado. The joint would be sparsely populated enough that the jerks wouldn’t be numerous enough to ruin a good time. Yesterday, it was overrun. The expression is “asses to elbows” — in my experience both literal and metaphorical (although I must confess that I’ve never met a metaphorical elbow).
I have other complaints. Too many exhibits and interactive stations have been shut down — and not just because they cost a man a finger. There’s an obvious explanation for this. Since the museum rushed to open in December 2012, more than 350,000 people have streamed through its doors. To put that in perspective, the DMA, in what was then a banner year, admitted 641,000 people through its doors in 2007. At the pace the Perot is on now, it will hit 1.4 million visitors in its first year, more than twice that DMA number. The Perot has 180,000 square feet, less than half the DMA’s 370,000.
But wait. That’s not fair, right? Kids don’t go running through the DMA, touching the art. I’m comparing an apple to a socket wrench. So let’s look at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. That sucker is huge, 400,000 square feet. You know how many people run through that place every year? About 1.5 million, roughly the same number that the Perot Museum is on pace to squeeze through less than half that space.
In short, the Perot has pumped a lot of humans and their offspring through its exhibits. And it feels that way. Folks create friction. In this scenario, people are agents of entropy. (Again, science.)
Walk with me for a minute into the courtyard, where yesterday a tow-headed little jackass tried to tear a branch from a tree until my mother, a schoolteacher unafraid to discipline those who need it, told him to stop. When I visited that sacred space as a journalist in November, there was a pond with lily pads floating in it. There were oversized, underlit frogs meant for hopping on. Now those lilies are dead, and many of the frogs are dead. The courtyard was covered with gravel; much of it has been thrown by children into the pond, killing the plants. What happened to the glowing frogs? I don’t know. But sad coils of electrical cord lie where they once crouched.
Too many kids. (They are all evil, no doubt.) Not enough oversight. (Too expensive, no question.)
Here’s the surprise ending: I wrote this post last night. I hope that doesn’t blow your mind. Literally, as I was writing about the worst part of my visit to the Perot, my daughter began regaling my wife with a story about how she touched a tornado. That’s the good news. My daughter can’t wait to visit the museum again.
The bad news is that my daughter didn’t pay for our membership. Congrats to CEO Nicole Small and everyone else at the Perot — especially the Perots — who has made it a success. It really is a wonderful place, a huge asset to North Texas. But how they handle that success will determine the museum’s future. With my own self interest in mind, I suggest granting founding members a second year free, to make up for the less-than-stellar early experiences. And they should immediately start construction on a screening device that rejects idiots. Has Andy Beal been tapped yet? Maybe with his largesse, the tornado can twist unmolested.