Today marks the opening of the Exploratorium's new Tactile Dome, the pitch-black tactile experience where visitors feel their way through a maze-like path. Here to report on the new Dome, and to provide irrelevant commentary, are SFist's very own Andrew Dalton and Rose Garrett, who conversed via online chat while doing other, more important things.
Rose Garrett: So, what were you expecting versus what it actually was?
Andrew Dalton: I was actually expecting more textures. Like I thought I'd be touching and crawling through all sorts of strange things.
RG: Like goo? Did you think you'd get slimed?
AD: I guess? I don't think I really had many expectations other than "dark." More beans maybe.
RG: It was smaller than I remembered from when I was a kid. Which I guess makes sense.
AD: Was it as much fun as when you were a kid? Or has the wondrous haze of youth worn off in your cynical old age?
RG: I think it was almost as fun. I was almost embarrassingly excited. But it was over so fast that I felt kind of like, if I were a kid I might be crying right now.
AD: I bet the people in the control room were enjoying your grin though.
RG: I thought it was interesting how they had a whole control room with video and intercom and stuff ...
AD: Right? It seemed like it'd be pretty hard to get lost.
RG: ... and how we were strongly cautioned from looking at what they could see, because it would kill all the magic.
AD: That was my favorite part. When you asked to see what it looks like in the night vision or whatever, and they were all like, "We'll let you but it'll ruin the Tactile Dome forever." I sort of felt sorry for the staff at that point. Like, so you guys never go get stoned outside and then crawl around anymore, huh?
RG: I then started to wonder if monitoring the interior of the Tactile Dome is a relentlessly soul-crushing job. Like, something out of a George Saunders story.
AD: I think every job is soul-crushing, just by definition. So it's nice that regular people like us have a release like the Tactile Dome where we can go and be kids in the dark for 15 minutes at a time.
RG: I definitely regressed to a childlike state of wonder. And then I came out and was like, fuck.
AD: I was worried I'd accidentally touch somebody's butt.
RG: Me too! I consciously was like, 'Don't touch Andrew's butt!' Because you were in front of me.
AD: I was in there with four women. I just assumed if anyone's butt got touched they'd blame it on me. Thankfully I didn't hit any butts.
RG: I've always wanted to accuse someone of "getting handsy." Maybe next time. So what was your favorite moment in there?
AD: The second time through when I flopped around on the thing that felt like a moon bounce. That was probably the closest I came to being disoriented, which was a little thrilling.
RG: You went down hard. There was an audible thump.
AD: I rolled into a wall, I think.
RG: The thing that felt like the airplane emergency inflatable slide was one of my favorites. And then climbing on the netting. Although I have to say, being barefoot was a lot more fun knowing that the dome hadn't opened to the public yet.
AD: Oh yeah, there was something that I think you described as "muppet skin" that felt pretty cool. Then when I got out I was just imagining all the children blowing their noses on it. The staff were a little vague when I asked how often the fuzzy things are replaced.
RG: Very vague. I enjoyed finding recognizable shapes like that citrus juicer on the wall. Some of the stuff was reminiscent of a middle school girl's crafting collection, like velvet and beads and stuff.
AD: There were a lot of doorknobs. I was kind of disappointed they didn't open cabinets filled with gross stuff to touch.
RG: Yeah, I wanted more gross textures. I get why that could be a bad idea, but still.
AD: Yeah, I don't know why I was expecting so much gross stuff. A bucket of wet spaghetti would get pretty messy pretty quick.
RG: I dont know about you, but I found it unnerving when they got on the intercom while we were in there.
AD: Oh yeah, me too.
RG: Also, I admit that I got a bizarre sense of satisfaction that the other people in there, from another esteemed local publication, couldn't find the way out. I get very competitive.
AD: Oh totally. Tactile Dome schadenfreude.
RG: Would you say that I am "good at" the Tactile Dome?
AD: Definitely. You knew to go sockless and then you stayed in the bean pit forever, which is clearly the best part. I'm going to fill my closet with beans now.
RG: The key is to mime crushing grapes in the bean pit. Like, do a running-in-place thing. It feels insanely good on your feet, and they were tingly for a while after too.
AD: They were expensive beans too! Rancho Gordo is not cheap.
RG: And there were what, 10,000 beans? 100,000?
AD: "A ton." Like they actually bought 2,000 pounds of beans. But I think only half that are in the pit.
RG: So, we haven't yet covered the most amazing factoid about the Tactile Dome.
AD: Which is?
RG: Umm. August Coppola designed the first Tactile Dome. Remember who that is? NICOLAS CAGE'S FATHER.
AD: Oh duh. How could I forget
RG: I don't know. I've been thinking about it constantly.
AD: When you look at it that way, it's like being INSIDE THE BRAIN of the man who created Nicolas Cage. The dark, twisted, touchy and sometimes inflatable brain of August Coppola.
RG: The Tactile Dome and Nic Cage are his two greatest achievements. How much do they have in common?
AD: Both can be a little dim, but occasionally thrilling.
RG: I'm seeing some parallels. The inflatable raft portion was sort of like Cage's turn in Raising Arizona. Bouyant, random, entertaining ...
AD: With a fuzzy thing just above his upper lip?
RG: Yeah, there were lots of fuzzy things! You know what I wanted? More shag carpet type textures.
AD: I thought you were going to say 'An hour in the dark with Nic Cage.'
RG: Well, there is that sexy "red" room ... The old tactile dome had a similar room where your eyes got acclimated with red light. There were a lot of pillows and it was entirely too comfortable in there. Especially if you're doing it stoned, in high school.
AD: Now that doing Molly is a thing, I bet they're going to have to increase security even with the grownups. I predict legions of furry-booted Pretty Lights fans lining up for a crawl in the dark.
RG: People will just be stationary, stroking the walls for hours. There'll be a bottleneck and 7-year-olds who forgot to go pee first will have no choice but to wet their pants. It'll be a disaster!
AD: People who want to stroke the walls for hours should remember that it is available for private rentals. Not that we're endorsing drug use inside a science museum.
RG: No way! It's not needed. Especially doing that thing where we meshed our faces. That was trippy enough ... my dorky glass, your radiant skin ... it was all too much to handle.
AD: It just looked like me with glasses on and longer hair. And your winning smile, of course. I once made the mistake of calling the Exploratorium a museum for kids ...
RG: Uh oh.
AD: ... which their PR team were very quick to correct. "It's for all ages!" or something to that effect. Which is true. It's really great when there are no kids there.
RG: I would have liked cocktail service inside the Dome.
AD: Drinks served in the Red Room Lounge ...
RG: People in glow in the dark Tron outfits ... actually this is starting to sound too much like a lame rave.
AD: Yeah, I think you're just describing a Burning Man camp.
RG: Except instead of music, you have someone over the intercom going, "Now turn to your right. No, your other right. Crouch down, do you feel it? Crawl through there," etc.
AD: And that person is watching your every move.
RG: And that person is, possibly, Nicolas Cage.
AD: Vampire's Kiss-era Nic Cage, probably.
RG: "I'm a VAMPiiiiiiiire!"
AD: "YOU DON'T SAY"
RG: "Hah! And you call yourself a psychiatrist." Oh wait, is this not the place to quote Vampire's Kiss for the next hour? My bad.
AD: Needs more Wild at Heart quotes.
RG: Wild at Heart tends more toward long scenes with Chris Isaak playing over them.
The Tactile Dome at the Exploratorium
Tuesday-Sunday 10am to 5pm; Thursday evening adults only, 6pm to 10pm.
Admission: $15/general. $25 for adults only hours.
Pier 15, San Francisco