Here’s an IRL Experience Design thing I did for my friend Graham back in 2015.
One December a few years ago I was having drinks with some friends at LaLa’s when I brought up one of my favorite questions: what would you do if you could do anything?
I don’t remember everyone’s answers, but I’m sure they were all pretty ambitious. But I remember what Graham said:
“I want to go to Las Vegas.”
You want to go to Las Vegas? I asked back. That’s your dream?
“We could do that tomorrow Graham. We could make your ultimate dream happen tomorrow!” Jen replied.
It’s not every day you get to make someone’s ultimate dream come true. I resolved to take Graham to Vegas. Not the next day, though. This would take some planning.
We got Graham to detail a little more for us. He wanted “good jazz, campy shows, legs, pools, And drinking.”
To make it more fun (mainly for me), the agreement was that he would do whatever we planned for him. And he would pay for his share. We didn’t set a budget or any constraints. I guess Graham knew I was a budget traveler and my budget was going to be less than his. Either way, it’s rare to have someone agree to something like that – much less for city that offers all kinds of trouble like Vegas.
Planning The Trip
The first thing was to throw a bunch of ideas on the table that sounded good and also met his requirements. None of us going really like your typical Vegas stuff so I would have to dig deep to find things that were outside the mainstream.
This turned out to be a big challenge. I scoured all kinds of websites to find some novel and fun stuff and was reminded just how special Austin was to have so much home-grown things to do.
As usual for my trips, I made a Google map of all the places I found so that I could factor in logistics and minimize running back and forth around town. (The map is shared at the end of this post but is probably out of date in many ways).
Another initial task was determining the tone and theme of the trip. I didn’t just want to give him a list of stuff to do and then we do it. Boring! I needed something special for this. I decided we would make it a sort of 007-styled trip, filled with missions – each one revealed only after the last one completed.
How would we present these tasks? I found this company online that created animated avatars and you could tell them what to say. Mind you, this was 2015 and that sort of thing was still on the cutting edge. I got a free 30 day trial from the company and got to work creating a variety of characters and videos. I would send them over Google Hangouts and each character had their own account. (In retrospect this made the whole thing much more complicated. I could have just used one mystery number without suffering much loss.)
Going on the trip were me, Graham, Jen, Iain, and Jeremy. Here’s how it went down.
The Bebo Las Vegas Adventure
(Graham sometimes goes by the nickname “Bebo” for reasons I don’t remember).
We go to the Austin airport Friday afternoon and waited for our plane in the first bar we saw. Graham received this video via Google Hangouts on his phone:
Suddenly we hear our names being announced. It’s last call for boarding for us. Shit!
We almost wreck Graham’s dreams before they even start. Luckily we run fast enough make it to the very end of the terminal and onto the plane.
When we land Graham receives this message on his phone:
We take transport to Freemont Street, where we’ll be staying at the Golden Nugget. Jen and Jeremy meet us in the Lobby (they flew in from elsewhere). They are wearing my Elvis costumes to greet Graham to Vegas.
Mission #1: Zipline Across Downtown and Defeat Slotzilla
We drop our bags in the rooms, go out to the street and Graham receives this message:
Slotzilla is the zipline that goes down Freemont Street under all the gigantic lightshow. I wanted to start off strong and get some adrenaline going. This seemed like it would do the trick.
I had booked Graham (and Jeremy) a timeslot. Unfortunately even with the timeslot we had to wait about an hour for them to finally come shooting down the street.
I think Graham liked it. It’s hard to tell sometimes with Graham.
After the zipline, Graham got this message:
We stayed out another few hours and then went to bed.
Mission #2: Arepas
The next morning Graham received this message that I had pre-recorded back home with our friend Elizabeth:
Once he was up, he received a video message from our friend miguel in Colombia.
Something got lost in translation between me and Miguel and he thought it was Graham’s birthday, but other than that it was pretty impressive he did this for us.
Lunch was going to be at “Viva Las Arepas”. Unfortunately it was closed.
Mission #3: KISS Minigolf
We found another place to eat. Then Graham received this message:
From here we had a loooong walk down to KISS indoor minigolf. If ever there was a band that liked to cash in on themselves in any way possible, KISS was the band.
Mission #4: Visit Akhob
After minigolf we had a 1:30 appointment at what turned out to be the coolest thing we saw in all of Vegas.
Graham received another message:
His instructions were to go to the Louis Vuton store in the fancy Aria complex and tell them he was there to see “Akhob”.
I want to point out, that to his eternal credit, Graham was/is an amazing sport about things. No complaints. All in.
We walk over to big Louie’s and Graham goes up to the counter. The woman says “Can I help you?” And graham says steadily: “I’m here to meet Ahkob.” The woman says “I’ll get him”.
The thing about Akhob is that he isn’t a person, despite the impression I gave Graham. Akhob is an amazing art installation by James Turrell that is hidden away in the Louis Vutton store. It was the inspiration for this Drake video. The woman playing along with Graham’s idea that it was a person was a nice surprise.
Ok, now a few spoilers. Skip down to the next video if you don’t want to know what happened.
A woman comes to the desk and without much explanation begins giving us a tour of the art in the store. The art is not for sale, Big Lou is apparently an avid art collector and he puts lots of art in the store. Graham (and the rest of the crew, who I had told nothing about this) are puzzled as to why we are taking an art tour in a purse store.
About 30 minutes later, the woman takes us to an elevator. We go in and she swips her badge on the wall and presses an unmarked button at the top. We go up.
The doors open into a dark room where two futuristically dressed women greet us. It’s some kind of checkin area. We are seated and offered bottled water from a server. Someone else brings us forms to sign and coverings for our shoes. My friends are puzzled and dumbfounded. (I of course am loving this and taking notes in my head furiously).
We are led into another room, brightly lit and very sparse. Ok, I said there would be spoilers but I just can’t spoil it. You’ll have to go.
To go, google around and find the number to book. There is no website. At the time I found it there was no mention on Turrell’s site. Good luck
Mission #5: The Golden Tiki
From the high-brow Aria we headed off to an off-strip old time Tiki Bar. (Where, apparently, no one thought to take any pictures… Check out the Golden Tiki’s site for details).
At the tiki bar, Graham received this amazing bit of cinematography and third appearance from Elizabeth.
My memory is a little hazy after the Tiki bar and I don’t remember if we actually saw any music. I do recall searching for music and not finding anything of a laid-back variety. It was either big show or karaoke. Graham had the requirement of jazz on his dream list. I did find one option for him but it was going to take a huge chunk of time so we bagged it and went to see the sharks.
Mission #6: Swim in a Pool Filled With Sharks
To fulfill Grahan’s wish for “pools” I picked the Golden Nugget specifically because in their pool you can swim with sharks. I remember bumping my head on the pool’s tube slide as I launched myself. Maybe that is why the afternoon is hazy. Or maybe it was the Tiki Bar. At any rate, I know we spent the afternoon in the pool.
Mission #7: Buffet
At some point, the messags stopped coming from the one british lady and began coming from one of the higher ups. This woman:
Later that afternoon, Graham got a message from this guy (himself). I was impressed on how the service I used was able to make him look like he was talking. More or less.
I have no recollection where we ate. I will blame my faulty memory on the pool slide.
Things took a bit of a surrealist turn and this guy also chimed in.
Mission #8: Gambling and Sightseeing
After the buffet we went down the strip and saw the sights and did some gambling and more drinking.
Another message to Graham:
We ended up staying out pretty late.
Mission #9: Run a Half Marathon
The next morning, we gathered into one of the rooms. I had an envelope for graham and this video was sent to him by the queen or the pancakes. I don’t remember.
The papers I gave him were the Las Vegas Rock and Roll Half-Marathon registration forms and receipt that showed we had paid for him to run it Sunday evening.
I was sure when Graham said he’d do whatever we signed him up for that there would not be much athleticism needed. Guess he was wrong.
Here is Graham’s reaction to this news:
The only person besides myself that knew the registration form was faked was Jen. Everyone else was in shock.
Graham stared at it for a while and then, in the true spirit of his promise to do whatever we line up for him, says:
“Well. I guess I’ll need to find some shorts.”
At this point Jen was about to burst out laughing and everyone else was still in shock. After a few more moments I let him off the hook and told him the truth. I think he was relieved.
Mission #9: Campy Shows and Legs
We spent Sunday wandering around Vegas. It was frustrating because so many streets were closed off due to the marathon that night. It was also really cold and windy. Insanely cold and windy.
Luckily some of the trip was inside. Graham recieved this message:
Sunday night he received this message, not from pancakes or the queen, but the king:
One more hammed-up video from our great friend Miguel…
After the trip
I made a compilation of the photos and video we did take and sent it out to the group. Here it is:
Map of All the Things I Found to do in Vegas
Here’s a map of the most novel experiences and places I found in Vegas. I can’t vouch for the accuracy, since it’s old but I’m sure there’s still many things on there you can do.