The End of an Era

Anyone who checks out my posts regularly may have noticed a drop in the frequency with which I have been writing new ones.  This is due in part to the typical things life throws at us but, in larger part, is a result of my feeling that there is less and less to write about regarding my beloved Star Trek.

Perhaps it’s just a phase I’m going through.  However, with the exception of the forthcoming followup to J.J. Abrams’ 2009 re-imagining (which I despised), there isn’t very much new going on for an aging Trek fan like myself to get excited about.  In fact, in a perfectly appropriate imitation of life itself, Star Trek, at 45 years old, is at the point where it is experiencing more endings than beginnings.  To quote Jean Luc Picard, “Lately, I’ve become very much aware that there are fewer days ahead than there are behind”.

Nowhere in the world of Star Trek was this more evident than in Leonard Nimoy’s final appearance at a trek convention, which took place in Chicago this past weekend.  Mr Nimoy, who is 80 years old now, has stated publicly that he wants to focus his energies on other things – including his family, his work in photography, and just generally slowing things down a bit so he can enjoy himself.  He’s certainly earned the opportunity.  Nevertheless, among the fans, he will be sorely missed.

I first saw Leonard Nimoy at a Trek convention at the Hotel Commodore in New York CityLeonard Nimoy at Star Trek Las Vegas - 2011 in 1973 when he was a surprise guest alongside George Takei and James Doohan.  I have seen him 4 times since and was more and more impressed each time with his warmth, joviality, genuineness, and appreciation for his fans. The simple fact that he is now an octogenarian is startling enough in and of itself – to say nothing about the realization that comes with that fact, namely that Star Trek is a thing of the past.

The biggest impact of all this, I suppose, is the addition of Star Trek to a growing list of things that constantly remind me how old I am.  It’s an unsettling feeling as I used to think of Trek as something that made me feel young.  This is why I wish I had some new beginnings to write about!  However, it’s an unrealistic hope.  It seems to make more sense for me to accept the aging of Star Trek and its subsequent exit from the limelight much as I try to accept my own aging.  So, I will count myself lucky if I can get through all the changes later-life hands me by exhibiting the same dignity and class with which Leonard Nimoy said goodbye to the convention circuit.

Thanks for the memories, Mr. Nimoy!

Do Unto Others…

For over four decades I have been a rabid Star Trek fan.  Some fans of my ilk are referred to as “Trekkies”.  Others prefer the moniker “Trekkers”.  I like to think of myself as a “Trekologist”; a person who has devoted considerable energy to the study of all things Trek.

When I have asked myself the question, “What is it about Star Trek that appeals to me so much?” I have come up with numerous answers.  Moreover, the answers change from time to time, depending upon my state of mind, which Trek incarnation I happen to be watching, and any number of other factors.  There is, however, one reason for my unbridled affection for Star Trek which never changes.  I am continually impressed by the positive outlook for humankind’s future which is depicted in all the Star Trek television shows and movies.

Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek’s creator, was convinced that we have the potential to overcome our petty differences and, one day, become united in a way never before witnessed on Earth.  He believed, as do I, that we are capable of sufficient intelligence, kindness, understanding, patience, and tolerance to survive our relative infancy as a race, to figure out how not to destroy ourselves, and to learn to live in harmony with each other and with our planet.  It stands to reason that, when that happens, atrocities like poverty, disease, war, hatred, and prejudice will become things of the past.  The day that comes to pass is a day I look forward to with great anticipation.

In order to reach such a lofty goal, however, we will each be required to make a contribution.  To that end, I have often tried to determine how best to do my part.  There is no single correct answer.  The one that carries the most weight with me though is this:

Do unto others as you’d have done to you.

The Golden Rule.  That little tidbit of wisdom that we all have heard since childhood and, yet, often forget to enact.  The implementation of this simple tenet is really rather easy most of time if one makes a conscious effort.  That is not to say it’s always easy, or even possible.  We are human and we have so many negative aspects to our nature that it is sometimes difficult to master and put into practice such a basic philosophy.  But we must try.  Always.  Sometimes, the biggest benefit is in the attempt rather than in the result.  The more attempts we make, the more likely we are to eventually get it right.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers.  I only know how I feel when someone else is quick to judge, quick to criticize, or quick to deride me.  I try to remember that feeling whenever I’m presented with the opportunity to interact with another person.  Doing so helps me in so many ways.  It helps me to be polite.  It helps me to be considerate.  It helps to me to praise, to admire, to assist, and commit random acts of kindness.  So what does all of this have to do with Star Trek?

One way in which I stay immersed in my Star Trek fandom is by participating in an online bulletin board devoted to Trek.  It doesn’t matter which one – what matters is that it’s the virtual version of social interaction with like-minded folks.  Yet, my mind is constantly boggled by the intolerance and derision heaped upon others by folks on this BBS; folks who supposedly consider themselves fans of Roddenberry’s universe.  Just today, I found myself posting an explanation of why I was willing to help a newcomer who was apparently there only to glean information about selling a collectible.   Several other users got on this newcomer’s case and then decided to ridicule me for my willingness to assist him.  It was at that point I felt the need to write today’s blog entry.

It has taken me many years to figure this out but I am proud to be the person who offers assistance with no thought of reward.  I like the fact that I can trust one person regardless of negative experiences I may have had with another.  If someone has given me no reason to distrust him, I won’t do so unless or until I am given reason.  Furthermore, I’ll go out of my way to be kind, generous, and helpful rather than standoffish, difficult, and selfish.

If everyone could take it upon himself to approach others with this same attitude, the world would not only be a better place but the dream that it might evolve into the one Gene Roddenberry envisioned would be realized within our lifetime.

I’ve Just Won My Fourth Game

There is something extraordinarily satisfying about playing a good game of chess.  I think this is due, at least in part, to the necessity of using so many different areas of the brain in so many different ways simultaneously.  A competent player needs not only a thorough understanding of the rules and strategies, but the ability to visualize geometrically in multiple dimensions, to recognize patterns, to think ahead several moves, to consider numerous possible outcomes, and to intuit from his opponent the likelihood of playing a given piece.  It is an intellectually demanding, yet stimulating, experience to be sure and the game is one that we might expect master strategists to play in their spare time.

Kirk and Spock playing chessI think the producers and writers of Star Trek realized this as well.  There are at least thirty separate references to, or depictions of, the game of chess throughout the various Star Trek TV series.  In fact, in several episodes of the original series (TOS as we Trekkies refer to it), chess is pivotal to the plot.  Not surprisingly,  Kirk and Spock are seen playing chess in the opening sequence of the pilot episode “Where No Man Has Gone Before”.  This makes perfect sense in terms of the development of the two characters, both of whom are exceptionally intelligent but who are so very different in their approach to the galactic difficulties they encountered each week, as well as their approaches to the game.

Of course, like so many other things depicted in Trek, the game of chess is given a futuristic update in the form of a three-dimensional board on which pieces can be moved up or down as well as laterally.  As it turns out, this isn’t really futuristic at all as many three-dimensional variants on the game of chess have existed since the 19th century. Nevertheless, the version in Star Trek is the one with which most people now seem to be familiar.  One more instance of the enormous pop-culture impact of the iconic TV series.

Although many people are aware of the existence of three-dimensional chess thanks to Star Trek, they may not be aware just how “real” the game has become because of the influence exerted by Trek fans.  Several sets of rules have been developed to allow for fully realized games using the board designed for TOS.  The Franklin Mint manufactured and sold two different Star Trek 3D chess sets for avid collectors.  Star Trek: The Next Generation and its sister series depicted 3D chess in a goodly number of episodes.

As a fanatical lover of Star Trek, I was always a bit disappointed that our heroes weren’t depicted playing the game in any of the theatrical motion pictures.  It always seemed to me that Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock were better prepared to deal with whatever the galaxy might throw at them after a good chess match.  Of course, they are only fictional characters.  I suspect, however, the decision makers who control many aspects of our lives in the real world could benefit greatly from the occasional game of chess, too.

Interestingly, I find that I have greater clarity of mind after playing chess for a while than at almost any other time.  By the same token, however, the focus required to succeed at chess, forces one to suspend (temporarily, at least) concentration on any other topic not related to the game at hand. Perhaps this is why such mental cobweb clearing is often the result.  I have to wonder what the world would be like if more people approached the serious business of life as Kirk and Spock do, with the much-needed distraction of a challenging game of three-dimensional chess.

Surely the best of times…

Although it is relatively rare, we do occasionally see birthday celebrations in Star Trek. Kirk’s birthday is a plot device in STII: The Wrath of Khan and Lieutenant Worf’s birthday celebration is shown in ST: The Next Generation episode “Parallels”.

I happen to like the depiction of characters’ birthdays in Trek.  Somehow it makes those characters feel more real and reveals more about them.  One Star Trek regular whose birthday I do not recall seeing played out on screen is Commander Riker, although I would like to have seen how that would have been handled.  I imagine Riker might be a bit of a party animal and could end up in Sickbay the morning after his birthday.  Oh well.  We’ll never know.

Until recently, I wouldn’t have had the vaguest idea how Jonathan Frakes (the actor whoJonathan Frakes brought Riker to life) might celebrate his birthday.  After having met him last week, however, and seeing how outgoing and funny he is, I imagine he might be a blast at parties – especially one in his honor!   I further imagine that there may be just such a party tonight as today is Frakes’ 59th birthday.  I will have to settle for wishing him a happy birthday from the paragraphs of this blog as I’ve yet to receive my invitation to the shindig. So, a very happy birthday Mr. Frakes and many more to you!  If you get that invite to me by way of email or a telephone call, I might just have time to book a flight.  Nudge nudge, wink wink, ring ring!!

By the way, today would also have been the 90th birthday of the Great Bird of the Galaxy himself, Mr. Eugene Wesley Roddenberry.  I also had the pleasure of meeting Gene a couple of times and found him to be among the warmest, most sincere individuals I have ever encountered.  I hope, wherever he is, he realizes the great impact he and his television shows have had on me and so many millions of others like me.  Wishing you a happy birthday Gene!

The Voyage Home

We couldn’t wait to get to Las Vegas to experience the Creation Star Trek convention and then, suddenly, it was over.  Like so many other significant events in life, our whirlwind tour of all things Trek passed far too quickly; as did our visit to Santa Barbara afterward.  Yet we managed to squeeze in a great many things in five days and we’ve come away with so much that mere words cannot adequately describe.

Perhaps the greatest thing we got from the trip was a lasting memory to be shared by a father and son.  At 13 years old, my boy is rapidly approaching the period in his life when hanging out with Dad will undoubtedly be pretty low on his priority list.  So it was with great satisfaction that I brought him on this journey with me – not just because I love his company but to allow him a unique opportunity to experience so many things on such a grand scale: the plane rides, the hotel stay, the convention with its myriad activities and galaxy of stars, the drive to California afterward, staying with cool relatives he had never met, and so much more.  I like to think the convention was a high point of our trip but really the whole trip was one big high point!  I hope my son feels the same way.  I’m pretty sure he does.

In any case, since this is a Star Trek blog, it would seem that a summary of the final day in Vegas is in order.  If I haven’t completely crapped out when I finish typing, I may recap the con as a whole also.

Our Sunday began even earlier than our Saturday did.  The biggest difference, however, is that we were well rested.  So we managed to get out of bed and dressed in ample time to make our 7:00 am “Classic Trek Breakfast”.  This is a continental breakfast attended by a half dozen actors who appeared in the original ’60’s Star Trek TV series – some regulars, some guest stars.  It’s a great concept.  50 or 60 fans have breakfast, seated at round tables in groups of 7 or 8 each.  The stars in attendance come and sit down, sip coffee and eat croissants, and talk to the fans.  After a while they rotate to different tables.  When an hour or two have elapsed, all the stars have ended up sitting with all the fans.  We had the great pleasure of dining with George Takei, Nichele Nichols, Grace Lee Whitney, Charlie Brill, and two actors who appeared as gangsters in the episode “A Piece of the Action”.  It was a terrific way to start our final day and it immediately put us in a good mood.

After a brief return to our hotel for check-out, we proceeded back to the Rio and hit the dealers’ room one last time.  So many family members deserved souvenirs that we felt like we were on a mission to find something special for each of them.  Of course, we were so successful that I had to make a trip to the car with all of the items we had bought. Meanwhile, my son decided to wait for me in the unmanned “Star Trek – Infinite Space” booth and he saw Patrick Stewart while I was gone.  As luck would have it, Sir Patrick left the room almost right behind me – had I stopped and turned around I’d have likely bumped right into him! Oh well.  It didn’t bother us that much because after I returned, we found the incredibly talented David Gerrold sitting alone at the tribbletoys.com booth and we were able to spend a good 15 minutes talking to him about the excellent seminar he had conducted the previous day and about my son’s interest in writing.  Mr. Gerrold, of course, remembered my son and called him by name.  He also autographed a copy of his book and two Star Trek scripts for us which had us walking on air for the remainder of the morning.

We wandered around a bit more and ran into some very nice fans dressed asPosing with "Yeoman Rand" Yeoman Rand and Captain KIrk.  We took some pictures with them and then finished our last little bit of shopping, stopping to say hi to Lawrence Montaigne (“Stonn”) along the way. After a break for lunch, we went to the main theater to find our seats for the upcoming appearance of Patrick Stewart.  Once we got situated, I stepped out of the theater for a moment and ended up bumping into Don Marshall (“Lt. Boma”)… he really is a nice guy whose acting career apparently fizzled after the ’70’s and he does the cons as a way to make a little extra cash.  It was the second time I had a chance to talk to him at length and I thoroughly enjoyed his company.

When I returned to my seat, the house lights were just coming down and an instant later Sir Patrick Stewart was stepping onstage to a rousing ovation.  He did a very abbreviated presentation before going directly to Q&A with fans who had lined up at microphones on either side of the stage.  This is standard fare at the cons and most actors who take the stage will answer questions from some fans.  I had experienced this in New York City when I saw Patrick Stewart in the early ’90’s.  His answers were entertaining and, in some cases, led to the telling of wonderful stories.  Then, out of the blue, he called out to Adam (the Creation Entertainment rep who oversees the stars’ stage appearances) and said, “Adam, I thought you told me this guy wasn’t going to be allowed at any more of your conventions!”.  We were a bit taken aback at first until we realized it was Brent Spiner standing at the mic waiting to ask a question!  Mr. Spiner hilariously poked fun at Mr. Stewart – the whole time in character as nerd who pesters the star to the point of aggravation.  It was obviously improvised and side-splittingly funny!

About 30 minutes into his appearance, Sir Patrick was joined onstage by Kate Mulgrew Three Captains onstageand William Shatner.  The three Star Trek captains did a great shtick and kept us entertained for the better part of the next half hour.  It was really the most exciting stage appearance of the whole con in terms of sheer “wow factor” and both my son and I were fairly well blown away by it – so much so that we didn’t feel it necessary to stay and hear Ms. Mulgrew and Mr. Shatner speak individually.  We really felt that nothing they could say or do alone would top the camaraderie they exhibited when together and we had a 350 mile drive ahead of us!  So we left the Rio Suites and headed for Santa Barbara, CA to visit relatives but we felt completely satisfied doing so as we had gotten more than our money’s worth out of the whole experience.

A Star Trek convention is, after all, so many wonderful things all under one roof.  There are countless activities other than the ones I’ve touched on here: trivia contests, cabaret performances, music videos, costume balls, and more.  There are so many unique opportunities for fans to feel connected to their beloved Star Trek and its actors & creators,  Mostly though, there is the pervasive attitude among all the fans who get together there that our future, as depicted in Star Trek, is one that is worth looking forward to, aspiring to, and making happen.  I have had two lovely days on the shores of sunny California to mull over what a wonderful experience it was to be with so many other people whose outlook (and love of Star Trek) is so much like mine and my son’s.  Now that it’s time to begin the voyage home, I know those great feelings will stay with me and make this part of the journey a memorable one.

NOTE:  For a visual recap of the events at the con, follow the link below to the Las Vegas Sun website for photo coverage of many of the events (including a shot of the humble author and son taking a much needed lunch break!)

http://www.lasvegassun.com/photos/galleries/2011/aug/14/las-vegas-star-trek-convention/#127181

The Measure of a Fan

Our second day at Creation Star Trek Las Vegas was a little less hectic than our first but filled with fun stuff just the same.  In a way, it was nice to slow down the pace a bit and focus our energy on some special things we wanted to do.

The day began sluggishly, however, as we had to be up quite early and we were still exhausted from yesterday.  Our slow start was most evident in the ineptitude of two over-tired Trek fans trying to get into complex costumes and having a great deal less enthusiasm than one might expect – it was, after all, only 7:00 AM.  This was necessary though because we had to be at the Rio Suites by 8:00 AM for our beginners writing workshop which was directed by none other than David Gerrold, the author of the TOS episode “The Trouble With Tribbles”.   Having seen him way back in the ’70’s I knew we were in for a treat!  I didn’t realize just what a treat it would be, though.  I expected to be seated in a ballroom with about two hundred other people, straining to see and hear. Instead, we were nestled in a little space with only about 15 other fans and had Mr. Gerrold practically all to ourselves for two hours.  What made it even more special was the fact that my 13 year old son was the only youngster in the group and he received a great deal of personal attention from Mr. Gerrold throughout.  So excited was my son that, shortly after the heavy duty lesson began, he requested a pad and pen so he could take notes.  I wonder if he ever gets that enthusiastic at school.

We wandered the dealers’ room for a while after the writing seminar and then took a muchLeonard Nimoy needed rest back in our hotel room. We wanted to be as fresh as possible for the big events of the afternoon, both of which were high points of our day. After catching a presentation by the CBS merchandising rep, who showed off all kinds of nifty items that will soon be hitting store shelves, we had the great joy of seeing the incomparable Leonard Nimoy on stage in the main theater.  This was to be his last appearance at the Vegas con and he really gave it his all, telling stories, showing photos, reading poetry, and ultimately moving all of us in the crowd to tears and then to a 5 minute standing ovation as he said his farewell.  I had seen him 4 times in the past and this was, far and away, the best!

We had a short time to eat our lunch and did so standing in the large corridor thatFather and son in Star Trek costumes interconnects all the ballrooms. Since this is the main route between the theaters and the dealers’ room, and is often crowded with fans playing dress up, we were not particularly surprised when a young man stopped nearby to take our picture (we were still in costume, of course).  This type of impromptu photography has been going on between fans since the convention got underway.  We were, however, elated when he introduced himself as a member of the press from the Las Vegas Sun and asked us our names and where we are from.  It does seem as though we could end up in the local paper tomorrow and the potential for a little personal publicity made us all the happier that we had our Star Trek uniforms on.

Fans gather to attempt a world recordThe big event, and the one that put a beautiful finishing touch on our day, was the gathering of fans  in an attempt to set a new Guinness World Record for the most people in one place in Star Trek costumes.  The 45 minutes or so that we spent huddled together with over 1000 others was the culmination of weeks of anticipation (and hard work on the part of my lovely wife who handmade our costumes).  Moreover, it was a continual demonstration of the good will and friendly outgoing nature that permeates these conventions.  We met and talked to dozens of great folks.  We took pictures and posed for pictures.  We cheered at the tops of our lungs whenever an update on our approach to the record was announced.  The stage was lined with members of the media snapping pictures and taking video as 1040 of us surpassed, and ultimately obliterated, the previous record of 691.  When it was all over we wished a happy 45th birthday to our beloved Star Trek and it took quite a while to come down from the high of the afternoon.

Iamtosk and friend in dessert robesOne specific meeting of a fellow fan stands out from the many that took place today.  For some time leading up to this convention, I have been an active participant in the trekkbbs.com web bulletin board.  There is an ongoing thread there that focuses entirely on this Las Vegas convention and in it one of the members posted pictures of the costume he had wanted to make for the con. All of the other members who planned to be in Vegas posted promises in the thread to look for him.  Although I don’t know if any others were successful, I had the good fortune to meet this nice young man face to face and see the fruits of his labors – the desert robes worn by the character of Ezri Dax in DS9.  The encounter was a refreshing reminder to me that behind the words appearing daily on my computer screen was a real live human being who is genuinely nice, friendly, and obviously as big a Star Trek fan as I.  It was also an impressive statement as to the lengths to which we fans will go to demonstrate and share our love for everything Star Trek.  I can think of no better yard stick by which to gauge the measure of a fan.