Sunday, May 30, 1999 | 9:22 a.m.
It is a universally acknowledged truth that nothing in Las Vegas lasts much beyond 35 years.
The sparkly new Venetian, the Bellagio and Mandalay Bay -- all are expected in the not-so-distant future to go the way of the Sands, the Dunes and the Hacienda.
Ashes to ashes and all that.
On the flip side, we Las Vegans -- we humans -- love to grasp for a sliver of immortality, whether that means bidding at a recent Las Vegas charity event for a mention in Jackie Collins' next romance novel or signing our names on a CD-ROM being sent on the next space mission to Mars.
The latest in the push for posterity department comes courtesy of Texas Station, with its "Millennial Time Capsule," what the casino's marketers are calling the city's first -- and still only -- time capsule to mark 2000.
Still, it is hard to reconcile the idea of a thousand-year time capsule in a Las Vegas casino without a little mirth.
Assuming nuclear waste, Chinese missiles or the "Big One" doesn't hit by then, what, pray tell, makes Texas Station, a casino erected only four years ago, sure that it, too, won't be buried in a pile of rubble by Y3K?
Not a thing, concedes Texas' facilities director John Valero, who is spearheading the Texas Time Capsule project. "Buildings come and go," he freely admits. "Concrete takes a hundred years to dry, and when it dries it starts to crumble. That's why buildings are replaced."
Then again, Valero adds brightly, the ancient Egyptian pyramids were also built in a remote desert locale -- "and they have lasted quite a while."
Even if Texas Station barely outlasts the Luxor, Valero is sure that the city -- and his time capsule -- will make it to 3000. "I think Las Vegas will still be here," he says. "We want to preserve for the future what Las Vegas is about today."
Valero, a self-described "techie," has been "fascinated" by time capsules ever since he attended the 1964 World's Fair in Queens, New York, as a lad of 9, signing his name in the Westinghouse Time Capsule buried in Flushing Meadow (the contents included: a bikini, the Bible, a Beatles record and birth control pills). "Everybody wants to make a mark in history and be remembered," he observes.
With this project, Valero may very well have sealed his own place in history.
Several months ago, he approached his bosses with the notion, and they have been milking it for all it's worth ever since. "It isn't a (publicity) stunt," Valero contends.
Indeed, the casino is taking this task very, very seriously, going so far as to create what they somberly refer to as the "Executive Time Capsule Team" (consisting of Valero, President Kevin Kelley, spokesman Jack Taylor, and marketing chief Dean DiLullo). They plan to post a website on the project (texastimecapsule.com). And so far, they have spent some $10,000 on construction costs alone.
In January, they commissioned Master Air Conditioning and Sheet Metal, a local fabricator that usually creates kitchen equipment, not capsules, to supply a tube from specs provided by Valero. The capsule, it is noted in a press release, is of a metal "similar to the type of stainless steel used to create a time capsule for EXPO '70 in Japan."
"I did a lot of research on this," notes Valero, whose office bookshelf still holds a book from the '64 World's Fair.
The subsequent roll-out, a 10-foot long, 500-pound missile-like tube most resembles a gigantic silver cigar case with a metal tub in the center. It takes five of Valero's muscular engineering crew members to mightily hoist the silo on and off a pushcart.
Unscrewing the top to allow a peek inside, Valero points out that Master Air's metal workers couldn't resist a taste of immortality themselves: The foreman has welded all their names in looping scrawls onto the base of the interior.
The capsule will be sealed on the stroke of midnight on Dec. 31, 1999, after it has been flooded with argon, an inert gas, to replace the oxygen that would otherwise cause the items within to deteriorate. On Jan. 5, at noon, it will lowered into the ground -- somewhere still to be determined -- on the property, slathered with concrete, and marked for posterity by a monument and a brass plaque.
Assuming anyone ever cares to excavate it, Valero is convinced his water-proof, crush-proof container will pass the test of time: "It's been pressured-tested," he says proudly. "We don't anticipate it being crushed."
Fill 'er up
The final question: What should go inside its precious 10.7 cubic feet of cargo space?
Starting Wednesday and running through Aug. 31, the casino is inviting people to help it decide, displaying the capsule near the casino's Winner's Center, alongside a comment/suggestion box.
The company hopes for suggestions of "photos, videos, artifacts and other information about Las Vegas, its people and their accomplishments."
Some objects will be corporate donations, such as a Fisher Space Pen Co. "Millennium" pen or a time-dated can of Anheiser-Busch beer. A copy of every news article written on the capsule -- including this one -- will be included. ((Greetings and salutations, Schorrs of the 31st Century!)
Then, the Executive Time Capsule Team will pore over the suggestions and make the final say so.
"We will decide what's appropriate and what's not," Valero notes. "If someone suggests we put a couch in, it won't fit. We can't fit a slot machine. We have a limited amount of space. You can imagine how fast this thing could fill up."
Self-promotion may also limit the selection -- when asked whether, say, a Mirage T-shirt would be welcome, Valero responds, after a brief pause: "The Committee would have to talk about that."
One can only imagine the outlandish ideas that might come from relying on the suggestions of strangers.
But the company's preliminary plans are frightening enough: Like mad scientists, they talk calmly of including DNA samples of celebrities for future cloning, hoping to solicit donated strands of hair from the likes of Wayne Newton & Co.
Those who don't make the cut -- but desperately want to be included -- can attend the casino's "Club Millennium 2000" New Year's Eve Party, where digital photos of all attendees will be shipped into the future.
There will also be a guest book on display through mid-December for the public to sign and leave personal messages for those living 1,000 years from now.
These will be transfered to a "virtually" immortal glass laser disc -- assuming our descendents in 3000 A.D. will have an IBM CD-ROM drive kicking around to download it.
"I imagine just like we have archeologists today (who) can go back and read hieroglyphics, there will be similar archeologists (who) will be able to understand what we did here in this day," Valero replies.
The harder question to answer is: What, really, can one say to one's descendants? "Bob Jr. Jr. Jr. Jr. -- don't forget to floss!" Knowing the Las Vegas tourist base, the missives will likely be of the "Kilroy was here" genre.
When asked what his own words of wisdom would be, Valero, too, is momentarily stumped.
"I just can't say right now what I want to tell future generations," he replies, visibly upset by the notion of blurting out a premature, unformed dispatch. "I'm going to have to give it a lot of very careful thought."