Touring "Texas on Tour," or: How Not to Get in a Lone Star State of Mind

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How I spent my virtual summer vacation: dancing, ahem, with Shamu

As we noted on Thursday, Governess Perry’s Texas on Tour trailer stopped in Dallas last week before heading to Arkansas, where it parks this week at the Riverfest smack in the middle of President Clinton Ave. As this “interactive traveling roadshow that makes the Lone Star State come alive” will be circumventing the nation -- from Summefest in Milwaukee to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Festival in Canton, Ohio, to the Arizona State Fair in Phoenix -- through the rest of '08, Unfair Park thought we’d head over and check out the picture the Perrys and the state's Economic Development and Tourism folks are painting.

First off, the exhibit, which parked last week right next to the House of Blues in Victory Park, is tiny: The touring trailer makes one boundary, and corral fencing makes up the other three. The whole ranch (?) isn’t much bigger than my backyard -- and I’m poor. Fortunately, only 15 people are there when I arrive on Friday. And about 13 of those are staffers. I guess Texans aren’t even interested in experiencing Texas, at least virtually.

I ask the guy taking my info, Greg “Luse Leef” Ghee (he gave me his card), how busy they’d been throughout the week. He says they got about 50 people a day. Not quite a Miley Cyrus concert.

There are three basic stations to the exhibit, much like kindergarten. I am issued an “All-Access Pass” (not that big a deal, everyone gets one) and a personal tour guide (OK, I’m pretty big-time). We start out at the “Ride the Texas Waterways” station, in the belly of the touring trailer. I’m pretty excited about this, being under the impression that it’s a full-on, virtual reality ride – like, actually paddling and dodging rapids. I hop into a kayak, even throw on a life jacket (we’re having fun, no?) and strap on a pair of sleek-looking virtual reality specs.

But where’s my paddle? Turns out, I’ve been duped. There’s very little that’s interactive about the kayak. They basically show you a boring documentary about Big Bend, Austin, Caddo Lake and the Gulf Coast. And now here I am, sitting in a freaking pretend kayak with these stupid goggles making my hair stick up, and I’m wearing a life jacket. Not one of those cool, body suit things either – just an orange, horseshoe-shaped, snaps-in-the-front life preserver.

Next.

We move on to the green-screen station, also in the trailer. Again, I’ve envisioned fighting at the Alamo, rustling up some doggies, maybe playing for the Cowboys. Nope. I’m allowed to choose from one of seven different Texas landscapes to take a picture in front of. What the hell?

I choose Sea World and Shamu leaping from the water. But again, there’s no interaction. They take the picture and tell me they’ll send it to my e-mail. Woo. And hoo.

Walking from the green screen to the final station, I tell my tour guide, Jason DeWall, that the exhibit seems to be hitting pretty hard on the cowboy theme. Not really, says he. They’re looking to “highlight Texas as an outdoor adventure -- different aspects of Texas that haven’t been highlighted yet.”

The last stop on the tour, “Night on the Texas Prairie,” looks like a bounce house with wooden doors hanging from it. Supposedly, a holographic Don Edwards it supposed to serenade you with some good ol’ campfire songs. The inside still looks like a moonbounce, but with cattle skulls, tumbleweeds and cacti littered across the floor. Two other tourists and I take a seat on some pine benches and begin waiting.

After a couple of minutes, Don Edwards pops onto a screen, and he’s far from holographic. You’re basically watching him on a big screen television -- but that doesn’t mean you can hear him. The acoustics in this inflatable prairie are so bad I can hardly make out what this man wearing a cowboy hat and red kerchief is saying.

I do catch this though: “The cowboy is a symbol of independence and freedom … Don’t matter who you are or where you’re from, there’s a little cowboy in each of us.” So much for highlighting different aspects of Texas.

But Edwards does sound really good when he sings, from what I can make out. It’s just that the whole atmosphere feels forced and silly -- and not just the “Night on the Texas Prairie.” The “interactive traveling roadshow” feels more like a museum documentary.

It’s not terrible, but it’s not great. The perfect sentiment was put forth by one of my campfire choirmates. Just as Edwards magically disappeared, this guy looked quizzically at his buddy and, in more of a question than a statement, uttered a befuddled, “OK?” --Spencer Campbell

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