This year, Las Vegas has been losing one community-of-customer center after another -- entertainment hubs where people of like minds find each other.
Gone: The Guggenheim Hermitage Museum was a gathering space for art lovers.
Kaput: "Second City" was a focal point for fans of sketch comedy and improvisation.
Expired: The profitable "Spamalot" was a core for Monty Python followers.
And now after 10 years, the money-making "Star Trek: The Experience" is on its way out in September because the Hilton and the Experience's owner, Cedar Fair Entertainment Company, couldn't come to terms on a new contract.
This situation is a horrific tragedy of ridiculous proportions. It is the biggest hit so far to a community of entertainment fans (or hard-core customers, if you prefer to think of them that way). No, I'm not a Trekker. I don't even watch "Star Trek" shows.
But you see, Trekkers don't just take the Experience rides in hydraulic spaceships, staffed with dramatic actors. They eat at the Trekker restaurant Quark's and mingle in the Experience lounge, all day and all night, in ways that are friendlier and more embracing (with a sense of humor about themselves) than maybe every other hotel lounge in or around the Strip.
"We are heartbroken," Experience fanatic Francine Lebrato said this weekend. "No matter who's sitting next to you, you can talk to them."
That's exactly right. The Experience experience inspires loyalty and camaraderie, as it speaks to people bound together by deep narratives and history weaved by TV series, books, films and Web sites.
Thousands of people have gotten married at the Experience. A few years ago, Francine (a property manager) and Gerry Lebrato (a mechanical engineer) wed in a "Star Trek" ceremony, then moved from Pittsburgh to Vegas so they could meet like-minded friends at the Experience restaurant and lounge three times a week.
"We're coming here every night until it closes," she said.
"About a month ago, we decided it was our duty," he said.
"We're gonna need a liver transplant on Sept. 2," she said.
"There's no reason to come here anymore," she said.
Francine and Gerry met more Trekkers this weekend at Las Vegas' annual "Star Trek" convention, which packed the Experience to capacity with conventioneers -- some wearing green otherworldly makeup or spaceship outfits -- who also asked questions of "Star Trek" actors and crew, and got their autographs.
The convention will be back for at least next year, though Francine and Gerry doubt they'll attend much. All the Experience workers -- all 160 of them -- will be gone, as well as lounge regulars, and the cast of characters -- Klingons, Vulcans, Borgs and so on -- who talk in character and pose for photos.
One of those lounge characters is the Borg Three of Six, played by a "Second City" improvisational actor who stayed in character the entire time I interviewed him. Three of Six is a human who became a Borg and yearns to be human again. He speaks logically but in a curious and kindly human voice.
When a fan's camera doesn't work at first, Three of Six doesn't miss a beat: "We're accustomed to human failure."
I asked him what will happen to Trekkers after the Experience closes.
"They will have to find another place to inebriate. These humans use alcohol to tolerate the presence of others" and to mate, he said.
Three of Six, standing tall in Borg garb, his left arm concealed in a robotic contraption, has bonded with many regulars.
Some time ago, a Trekker walked into the Experience lounge just after a doctor told her she was dying of inoperable breast cancer. She didn't feel right talking to friends or family. Instead, she headed to the place she felt at peace, surrounded by Trekkers, and found comfort in talking to Three of Six for hours.
"She just needed someone who would listen to her and not judge her," Three of Six says softly. "This is one of the few places humans are accepted for who they are."
Three of Six has witnessed hundreds of weddings at the Star Trek Experience. There have been thousands of ceremonies here. Brides and grooms wear traditional outfits of Klingons, Vulcans and other "Star Trek" lineages, although there are no big Betazed weddings here, since Betazed humanoids marry in the nude, and the Hilton's not down with that.
Trekkers who walked by Three of Six this weekend were alternately full of the usual Experience joy, or devastated and furious about its conclusion.
"The city's imploding upon itself!" a guy said at me in passing.
Another, Mike Ajlouny, who runs mac-pro.com, flew in from San Jose, Calif., once again, and spent nearly $1,000 at the Experience. "It's my world," Ajlouny said.
His world is not only going away, it might get destroyed. CBS-Paramount helped shape the Experience and owns the intellectual property rights. So it will take back and lock up museum pieces, like Capt. Kirk's costume and Spock's coffin. It will consider hauling away entire spaceship bridges. But everything the studio doesn't want will be destroyed, as contracts stipulate, to keep workers from putting any of it up for sale on eBay.
If that's not enough of a slap in the face to Trekkers, they also have to deal with rumors that Michael stupid Jackson is thinking of performing in the space. (This may be the worst possible insult, because, as you know, Michael Jackson is a horrid, despicable weirdo.)
Outcry is international. "Star Trek" fans around the universe, so to speak, have entered the grieving stages of anger, depression, denial and bargaining.
Some fans have called on "Star Trek" actors to fund the Experience. Some threatened to picket the Hilton, though that didn't happen during this weekend's convention. Some threaten to create a "human chain" to stop the dismantling.
Others want some company, any company, to move the Experience to Los Angeles or Orlando. For 10 years here, the Experience logged shows every 20 minutes or so, every working day, says Chad Boutte, director of operations and marketing.
"We've done the most shows in Las Vegas, in the history of Las Vegas," Boutte claims.
"Ninety percent (of fans) have said they're never going to return to the city," Boutte says. "They're angry. They're ANGRY."
The Hilton will lose the community of customers, obviously, as well as movie promotions for next year's highly anticipated "Star Trek" movie, directed by J.J. Abrams of "Lost" fame and co-starring Winona Ryder and Leonard Nimoy.
"The new film is going to give the whole 'Star Trek' thing a boost and stimulate people to get even more involved," Walter Koenig, who played Chekov in the original TV series, told me.
Paramount executives were hoping to promote the movie at the Hilton. That plan is now dead, as the Experience is closing on Sept. 1. That night, after the final show, the entire crew and former cast members will be decommissioned in the hotel, for all to see.
Some in attendance that night may or may not include frequent Experience-goers Matt and Lisa Tintle of Reno. This weekend, they took their two daughters, Hannah, 7, and Sarah, 10, to absorb the whole Experience before its end.
The couple attended the opening night 10 years ago when Lisa was pregnant with Sarah, or as Matt says, "She was still in gestation."
On Saturday, the family dressed the part, all four wearing "Star Trek: The Next Generation" uniforms. The kids were buoyant, being kids and perhaps not understanding the full ramifications of its closing.
Or maybe they were following the optimistic footsteps of their dad, who resists acceptance about the passing of the Experience. He cites the creator, Gene Roddenberry, who was the original Mr. Audacity of Hope.
"Roddenberry had hope for the future. So there's always hope this will reopen in another time in a different form," Matt Tintle says. "How can you take down something so beautiful as this?"
Doug Elfman's column appears on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Contact him at 383-0391 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He also blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.