Center Of Science And Industry
Based upon the photos, one might suppose that we had a bang up time at COSI on this blustery winter day. And yeah, it was certainly fun, possibly even a little educational. However, though the “new” location has been open for about two decades and those responsible have surely heard it a million times by now…I still kind of prefer the old place.
This isn’t pure nostalgia. Sure, I only visited the former location, up the street and on the other side of Broad, once, many moons ago as an 8 year old. What struck me then and still sticks with me now, though, is how many neat little exhibits were crammed into a tiny space, most of it both thrilling and enlightening. It was kind of like some eccentric local scientist’s kooky attic laboratory, and we were fascinated by every inch of it, the kids in our party every bit as much as the adults.
Contrast that with where they are now, which is gargantuan, to be sure, yet also appears to have not nearly as much stuff. The layout of this place is actually a little baffling, for it’s difficult to conceive how any less could have possibly been done with this vast tract of real estate. You are reminded along certain lonely stretches of its massive, blinding white hallways of distant hotel corridors surrounding convention areas and banquet rooms in some lonely, half dead city. In fact this whole enterprise looks as though the designers were specifically tasked with doing their best to mask how little would transpire inside these doors. And so now we have the hallways that are half a football field wide, these giant open spaces of nothingness.
Okay, so on to the specific points of our visit. The old-timey town exhibit is kind of cool, actually this is almost certainly the highlight. Emma is of an age to be sufficiently fascinated by such antiquated sights as a pay phone booth, and really, to be honest, this does seems plenty bizarre even to those of us who remember the 80s and 90s well. But there are curiously few people strolling through these mock atomic age streets, which lends a spooky, Twilight Zone vibe to the proceedings, making your skin crawl with the distinct urge to get out of here before someone seriously does drift out from the kitchen to take your order at this fake 1950s diner.
I thought this one massive reptile exhibit was kind of cool, though the ladies, perhaps understandably, were a little less enthused. And what else is there? Some “interactive exhibits” – glorified toys – for the little ones, such as the road construction playset, or the giant Lite Brite knockoff. Emma is sufficiently entertained by these, as am I, joining her, but realistically we might have done just as well at home.
Maybe the situation has improved. Currently I see there’s a dinosaur exhibit, and a hands on human body examination experience – don’t worry, though that might sound like your last night out clubbing, it’s nothing that scandalous. It’s only a very G-rated chance to conduct an autopsy. If you’re looking for 21 and over fun, well, oddly enough, that would appear to be the Wizard School, whatever that means, the latest “COSI After Dark” event. You are even invited to bring your magic wands, according to the website. In other developments, the winter movie series does offer a nice schedule of family friendly classics, and there are more educational offerings in the planetarium as well. The Science Of Big Machines, meanwhile, appears to be spill out into the streets if I’m looking at this correctly, a chance for normal folk like you and me to climb aboard real life bulldozers and such.
Still, I’m not convinced. I think it’s telling that as we examine the pictures taken inside here, it turns out we snapped more of ourselves than we did the attractions on display. You know it’s bad when the exterior of the building is more fascinating to you than anything offered within. Unless you count these thought balloon exclamation points, dangling from the ceiling at one juncture, which Erin and I found pretty humorous – although then again, this does play more into the selfie trend than it does anything with science or industry.
The original COSI, opened for business in 1964, lasted 35 years. At that rate this means we are halfway to the next incarnation, and it can’t arrive soon enough. I’m well aware that this battle was fought and lost in the late 90s, yet to reiterate the question..how can such a tremendous undertaking amount to so little? I already remember less of this visit than the one made as an 8 year old, in the cramped confines of that kooky scientist’s attic.
When the next wrecking ball hits and palms are greased to make that enterprise happen, here’s to hoping the pendulum shifts back in the former direction. As it stands, I’ll tell you what the current incarnation reminds me of: it’s like when a local sports franchise owner swindles the taxpayers into building him a brand new stadium…and then he guts the team, spending even less on the product than he had before, pocketing all the profits and refusing to become relevant again. Fans are outraged, but at that point there’s nothing any of us can do.
Don’t allow yourself to be the next victim. Think twice before you walk alone down this wide but desolate street.