Thursday, September 16, 2004


Trekking Along

As promised, here it comes . . . the tale of the Trek convention.

Just a couple of weeks ago, my boss appeared at the door to my office. He wanted to know what I had planned for the weekend. Given that I've only been here a little while, what I had planned was unpacking, maybe seeing a movie or going to the beach.

Uh-uh, he said. I was headed to a Star Trek convention.

How is this part of work? Well, here's the skinny. By day, I'm a mild-mannered Director of Corporate Relations at the LA Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association. And one of the most beloved Star Trek actors of all time - James Doohan, aka Scotty of the first series - has recently been diagnosed with the disease. More than that, he's one of the few Trek veterans to head out to these conventions on a regular basis, so fans love him all the more. But he's got AD, and he's retiring from public life . . . so this was a celebration in his honor, hosted in part by a Foundation that we'd been looking to partner with for some time.

Hence, I went Trekking.

Now, I'm not a huge Trek fan. I saw a lot of the original series on reruns when I was 8. I've seen a couple of the movies, and I think the Wrath of Khan is pretty cool. That's about it. I was totally out of my element.

I knew these Trek conventions were a huge industry. But this sheer mass of this thing was silly. Do you know that every weekend - every weekend! - there are at least three Trek conventions in the US? Well, you know now. Sometimes there are two or more in Los Angeles proper alone!

Dress for the Saturday night dinner and roast of Mr. Doohan was described on the invitation as "dress-casual or festive." Festive, by the way, in the land of Trek means "dress up like a Klingon or some other creature". I came in a suit, no tie. Plenty of the other people there came as Klingon warriors - complete with orange make-up, head ridges and armor. There were Scotty impersonators, and Vulcans in flowing robes.

At the event I sat next to a hardcore Trekkie who had gotten his seat by working for a member of our Board. When I say hardcore, I mean it. Sitting next to him was a blessing and a curse. "I am a Trekkie," he said, as I introduced myself. "There have been over 750 novels written about Star Trek, and I own all of them." It sort of went downhill from there.

On the plus side, the guy kept me in the game. When a woman got on stage to sing and dance to the tune of "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend," only with key words and phrases changed to make it Trekkier, I wasn't completely in the dark. "I'm assuming that she's one of the blah blah blah dancers from the episode blah blah blah of Deep Space Nine." Uh, OK.

He could also tell me what the two Klingons on stage were singing about. In their native tongue.

On the downside, there was the evening itself. I learned a lot about Trek and its cast that I didn't need to know. Did you know that Scotty lost his finger in the D-Day invasion? No, not the character Scotty, the actor guy - and not in some sort of time travel thing. NO! The real guy. I learned about that.

I saw Scotty's wife. He's 84, she's maybe two or three years older than I am.

I learned about how Scotty used to take advantage of the nurses in the army hospital after the injury to his hand in WWII. I learned that they used a hand double for him in close-ups when he'd take control of the Enterprise.

Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) spoke - a long, rambling sort of tribute to Scotty with a song she'd written. That's right, a song she'd written. The guy next to me sighed, chuckled and said, "Ah, Nichelle . . ."

Checkov spoke, too. He didn't say much. Sulu would have come, but he was in Toronto at another con. Shatner would have come, but he demanded $30 thousand to show up. The promoters said no. I think that's OK, though, because the rest of the original cast made a point of dissing Mr. Shatner and his hair piece.

Toward the end of the night, the hosts thanked all the guests. Turns out that fans paid $9900 to attend the event, go to the dinner, and get an autographed photo of Shatner. That's without travel expenses, without hotel. So the lesson, I guess, is that Trekkies live large. When it was all said and done, we learned that people had come to the con from places as far flung as Virginia and Italy.

"Italy?" I said, almost choking on my iced tea.

"Well, it's not that surprising," my Trekkie friend said. "Trek's pretty big in Italy."

"Italy?" I said again. "The Italy?"

"Oh, sure, you can always find an Italian trekkie," he said. "That's why I have my Klingon-Italian dictionary."

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