The thing you notice is the enormous bus, wrapped in a custom Westworld theme—the show’s techno-futurist “W” logo flanked by two identical horses, costumed in ceremonial garb. The bus is running, emitting a rumbling audible hummmm, hungry for new passengers. The next thing you notice is the white: staff, handlers, bouncers, ID checkers, check-in professionals, they’re all dressed head to toe in the spotless DELOS uniform of white-on-white. The head bouncer is perhaps six and a half feet tall, in a white tuxedo with white patent leather shoes. The tagline “LIVE WITHOUT LIMITS” is etched onto the side of the building.
I’m here in Austin, Texas to document the first-ever coffee exhibition at SXSW 2018, and to host a conversation live on stage with the Yemeni coffee importer Mokhtar Alkhanshali, who recently had his life story turned into a book by the author Dave Eggers. But that will all come later. Tonight I’m attending a press preview for what is perhaps this year’s hottest activation at the festival: a fully immersive and astonishingly ambitious recreation of Westworld, set 20 miles outside of town. They perhaps did not Google me before granting me a media pass to this event, because nothing—and I mean nothing—about Westworld: Live Without Limits has even the tiniest iota of relevance to coffee. Or maybe they don’t care what I write about, so long as I’m there writing. There are actors playing roles tonight at Westworld. They’re not the only ones.
I’m checked, searched, photographed, and asked to sign a waiver promising I won’t curse, steal, touch, or in any way disrupt the proceeds at Westworld. There, past the check-in station and photo backdrop, is the first of what I’m sure will be several player pianos at today’s Westworld experience. A crowd ebbs and flows around it, phones out, some with full camera and video rigs, documenting the self-playing piano as it wends its way through the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black.” A man in a full-body floral print suit, like some erstwhile flower-themed Batman villain (“The Florist,” perhaps, or “Horty Kultrist”) stops to film himself alongside the piano to what I can only guess is an audience of thousands on YouTube, or more likely, Twitch.