By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
The "ocean" is right on the other side of the glass, looking like a Disney lagoon minus the drunken robot swashbucklers. Amelia says there are 1 million gallons of water in there--along with plenty of Instant Ocean--teeming with fish and coral and three lobsters. For fun, the Biosphereans used to fling themselves off the cliff into the water, kept at a comfortable 72 degrees. I ask if the employees go in there after hours with six-packs and party on the beach, and she says they don't.
The various other biomes--savannah, rain forest, marsh, desert, etc.--are interesting to check out, but visitors don't get to actually enter these areas. Plus, it's clear that our group is hankering to see the Human Habitat. This is where the Biosphereans indulged in the same pursuits as their brothers and sisters on the outside, and for some reason is a source of fascination.
They did things like cooking, cleaning, sleeping, reading, watching cable, gabbing on the phone, joshing with one another, just as humans may someday do on Mars.
Everything is state-of-the-art, circa early '90s; clean lines, marble table tops, tasteful decorations of modern art. They've got two Julia Child cookbooks in the kitchen, and a posted "typical menu" includes Lab Lab Bean Roast and Lab Lab Bean Soup.
Things are clean and neat and bright, what with the place being made of glass. All the windows and wall panels seem to be diamond shaped. It reminds me of what I imagine a Swedish dormitory would look like. It reminds me of the '70s. I feel as if I should be wearing a turtleneck, chatting with O.J. Simpson in an era when he was getting away with gridiron yardage instead of murder. Some babe in a micro-miniskirt should be tapping me on the shoulder, proffering a doobie of "terrific grass, man!"
Then I get it.
Biosphere 2 is just like the Playboy Mansion.
The similarities are abundant: It has a unique atmosphere unto itself, everybody's curious about it, yet few have actually been there. The grounds are well-manicured and the plant life exotic. Strange species are kept in cages. As the mansion has a manmade, stone-walled grotto, Bio 2 has a manmade, stone-walled lagoon. And, at least ideologically, Hef was an early form of Biospherean, sealing himself up in his self-sufficient habitat without leaving for years! But instead of a red jump suit, he wore silk pajamas, and subsisted on Coke and young blondes instead of organically raised wheat fronds fertilized with his own waste matter.
And he stayed inside much longer than both sets of Biosphereans combined.
The main difference I can see here is that my parents would have stopped at Biosphere 2 on a family vacation and made my sister and me go through it, but they never would have stopped at the Playboy Mansion. And even if they had, we couldn't have gone and toured it, anyway.
Of course, while Hef and his mansion and his ridiculously air-brushed magazine are stuck in time, Biosphere 2, thanks to the guiding academic hand of Columbia University, is working toward the future. Scientific minds that may help the planet combat atmospheric horrors that could someday threaten life as we know it are studiously grinding away.
And, just as I did, you can go witness this for only $12.95. For children 6 to 17, it's $6, and senior citizens, $10.95.
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