PICARD: A lot has changed in three hundred years. People are no longer obsessed with the accumulation of “things”. We have eliminated hunger, want, the need for possessions. We have grown out of our infancy.
RALPH: You’ve got it wrong. It’s never been about “possessions” – it’s about power.
PICARD: Power to do what?
The fact that Star Trek: The Experience, a testament to Gene Roddenberry’s most idealistic vision of humanity’s potential, stands in the epicenter of humanity’s most quintessentially defacing behavior makes it one of the more compelling curiosities of the Las Vegas Strip. Outside, Starfleet’s insignia, an elegant symbol of the human race’s ongoing quest for truth, knowledge and self-improvement, towers below the Hilton marquee. Inside, our technological and cultural development is elaborately recounted in a museum of future history, where television panels intermittently replay anthologies of Star Trek’s most ambitious imaginations of an evolved species. Guests are beamed into the 24th century, brought face to face with the Borg Queen, and reminded by Starfleet’s finest that each of us holds an opportunity to build a better future.
Shortly thereafter, a costumed employee delivers a pointed reminder to visit the Promenade for the best Star Trek merchandise this side of the Alpha Quadrant. There, two and a half gift shops are filled to the brink with the greatest collection of franchise merchandise I have ever convinced myself to buy. The irony of paying hard-earned money for exaggerated recreations of an unattained evolution is outclassed only by my warp speed consumption and the happiness that ensues. At the end of it all, we fork over a sum of $50 for each of us to take home a photograph of the bookhouse boys on the bridge of the USS Enterprise D, a decidedly material keepsake of the future we can only dream of realizing.
Despite our acute awareness of the fourth wall, the wondrous illusion of The Experience manages to maintain its structural integrity. That is, until we make our way to the recreation of Quark’s bar and Restaurant, Deep Space Nine‘s marker for the idea that the economy of waste is indeed a constant of any universe. We are greeted by Rog’l, the spitting image of a Ferengi restaurateur, and left to muse over the hilariously, almost self-deprecatingly thematic menu choices. Three of Six, an uncharacteristically engaging and tourist friendly Borg drone, chats up a group of visitors at the bar, offering to pose for a photograph with his newfound friends.
We decide to break our fast with pints of intergalactic beer, all of which are quite refreshing, if a bit inoffensive. The Klingon Blood Draft, a washed out imitation of a German Märzen, goes down nicely but lacks the round, mellow body of the real thing. The amber hued Dominion Lager is clean and crisp, but similarly devoid of any memorable flavor or texture. The Romulan Ale, a beautiful glass of fanboy nectar, easily outshines both of its flanks, offering a perfectly accessible balance of floral hops, malty sweetness and green food coloring. By the time we finish our first glasses, lunch has arrived.
Sadly, it seems Rog’l has gotten the best of us (as any Ferengi should), passing off some of the most poorly replicated dishes in this sector as the homemade Federation favorites. Picard’s Pockets, a glorified cross of a Jack-in-the-Box pita and a New York gyro, manages to ramp up the arrangement of both while retaining the quality of neither. The French Dip sandwich, a curt nod to a 20th century Earth staple, sheds some light on the 20th century phrase, “I’m so hungry, I could eat at Arby’s!” The Petrokian Sausage Jambalaya, constituting its own personal insult to the honor of the Sisko family, successfully assembles all of the human race’s most historically popular meats in a joyless mess of synthesized satiation. The Class-H taco pizza, adorned with ground beef, lettuce, tomato and quacamole, actually isn’t half bad, but maybe that’s the Romulan at the table speaking up.
The biggest reality check at Quark’s Bar, however, is the Borg Sphere, a ten shot monstrosity of a novelty drink served in a steaming glass orb. Disillusioned by our lackluster meal, we place our order for assimilation, hoping that an absurdly gaudy daycap will rejuvenate our spirits. True to its namesake, the mechanically conceived, over-sweetened blend of cheap alcohol and synthetic mixers does nothing of the sort. It tastes like a combination of Sprite, your college roommate’s plastic jug of vodka, and a 25th century in which all the cultural nuances of Earth’s libations have been successfully downloaded and destroyed by the cybernetic mind of the Collective. As we drain the last drops of lifeless liquor from our orb, a Klingon warrior laughs and orders another round of blood wine for the wedding reception next door.
Hours later, we find ourselves once again sprawled across the hotel room, sipping on the finest bourbon I have ever tasted and throwing away another $11.99 so we can drunkenly criticize bad pornography with a real time example on the television. I look out the window and over the construction site of Las Vegas’ next citadel, a vice of ambition seeking its place among the desert stars. Tracing the outlines of scaffolding and spires, illuminated by the peripheral glow of the Strip and offset by the soundtrack of Super Naturals Vol. 5, I know that the evolution of humanity into a more noble species will not take place in my lifetime. While the mass production of tasteless, overpriced replicator-grade meals has already been perfected and grandiose feats of architectural oneupmanship can be brought to fruition with the wave of a contract, the experience of a civilization freed of primal needs and resolutely united under the banner of exploration is one that, for now, can only be realized in the throes of a weekend getaway.
RALPH: And then what will happen to us? There’s no trace of my money. My office is gone. What will I do? How will I live?
PICARD (amused): This is the twenty-fourth century. Those material needs no longer exist.
RALPH: Then what’s the challenge?
PICARD: To improve yourself… enrich yourself. Enjoy it, Mister Offenhouse.