I am a geek. This is no secret to anyone who reads what I write or who knows me in private life. I’m a big fan of science fiction and comic books, and especially fond a particular “Star” franchise that has clearly drawn lines between good and evil and features guys whacking each other with laser swords. There’s a second “Star” franchise out there, though, and traditionally fans of one are known to not necessarily get along well with fans of the other.
I’m a fan of both. Unlike, say, science and religion, I don’t think that Star Wars and Star Trek need to be mutually exclusive to one another. There’s no reason that a person can’t appreciate both universes in my opinion. And, as much as I love George Lucas’s galaxy far, far, away, I have to admit that not only was the crew of the Enterprise exploring strange new worlds long before Star Wars was even a glimmer in Lucas’s imagination, it was the first science fiction franchise to capture my mind as a child. I can remember watching reruns of Star Trek as early as about age five or so. Star Wars wouldn’t enter my consciousness (or the world, for that matter) for about another four or five years. It was with this fact in mind that I gratefully accepted my roommate Leif’s invitation to attend the 2013 Las Vegas Star Trek Convention.
I’ve not written much about Leif here before. I’ve been renting a room from him for just over a year. When my ex Shannon and I split up, it was into Leif’s house that I moved. Over the time that I’ve been here, I like to think we’ve become pretty good friends. Anyway, Leif is a fairly hardcore Star Trek fan. Think what you know about my Star Wars love, multiply that by perhaps fifty, and you have Leif’s Star Trek hardon firmly in mind. Sorry for that image. Anyway, Leif goes to the Vegas convention every year, as do his closest friends. He invited me to attend last year as well, but I declined, not wishing to take the time off work at the time. My mistake. It’s kind of surprising even to me that I’d never attended one of these things before. Now I find myself wishing that I’d been going for years. I had an absolute blast. I’m definitely returning next year. I may even wear a Star Fleet uniform. Why not?
So, what is the experience at a Star Trek convention actually like?
The first thing I notice is the surprisingly large number of female attendees. Science fiction fans are generally reputed to be fat middle aged dudes with thick glasses and goatees or skinny and pimply teenage boys. This, like many stereotypes, has some of its basis in fact but is still pretty far from the mark. There are a lot of women here, many of them (thankfully) wearing the very short skirts associated with the Star Trek original series. There are a lot of people in costume as well. Not all of the costumes are even related to Star Trek, as the popularity of gatherings like San Diego Comic Con has encouraged Trek fans to embrace the idea of cosplaying characters from other franchises. I noticed more than a few Stormtroopers wandering around, a particularly well done Chewbacca costume (he had to be seven feet tall and the mouth even moved, allowing him to growl in an authentic Chewie voice), and a very well put together Doctor Who as well, The dude looked just like the 1980’s doctor (MY Doctor Who), Tom Baker.
We make our way into the main theater, a huge room with a central stage and probably a couple thousand seats, and the event coordinator is on stage making introductions and pleasantries. Leif tells me that this is a guy named Adam (or something like that) who works for the company that puts this thing together every year. Adam talks a bit about Star Trek and why he thinks its so important to the fans and he starts talking about science fiction in general. The Outer Limits is mentioned, as are Lost in Space and Forbidden Planet (shows and films that I also loved while growing up. Sure, they pre-date me by at least a decade, but that’s what TV reruns and Sci-Fi Theater were for) and then he drops the name of the Holy Trilogy. His mention of Star Wars is met with a small amount of applause and some grumbling from the audience. Maybe Fanboys was right and Trek/Wars fans really don’t mix. Adam corrects the crowd, however, saying, “Come on! Star Wars is great!” and the discontent generally turns to appreciation.
After a little bit of this kind of banter, the day’s first main guest takes the stage. This is Walter Koenig, “Chekov” from the Original Series. He’s an old man these days and doesn’t look so much like Davy Jones anymore. Or was it John DeLancy? (“Q” from The Next Generation)? I don’t really remember clearly who was up first that day.
I do know that while Koenig was onstage I excused myself to take a stroll around the “vendor’s room.” This is where the travelling dealers set up shop to sell plastic phasers, tee shirts, models of the Enterprise, and various toys and comics, most Trek related and some not. It is also where the various celebrities are signing autographs and selling memorabilia. It was as I walked around this room that I suddenly found myself face to face with the man who tried so many times to kill James Bond, Richard Kiel. Kiel played the character “Jaws” in films like Live and Let Die and Moonraker. And here he was, not five feet from where I stood, sitting at a table covered with 8×10 glossies of himself in his various film appearances. A small sign to his left announced that for thirty bucks he would sign one of these for me and would be happy to take a picture with me, free with a purchase. I passed. That’s why you don’t see any pictures of Jaws here. I could have stepped back and just snapped one of him, I suppose (that’s what I did in early June when I went to the Amazing Las Vegas Comic Con and thought that Neal adams wanted too much for a picture and/or autograph), but even though he’s getting pretty old and really didn’t look well at all (I felt kind of bad for him), I still thought it best not to get Jaws pissed at me. So I kept moving around the room.
I eventually came to a table where a middle-aged woman was talking to a couple of younger guys. Something about her seemed familiar to me, so I lingered, eavesdropping on the conversation for a bit. “What was your favorite scene to shoot,?” one of them asked her. “The bathtub,” she responded, “I really felt like this would be one of those classic horror things like the shower in Psycho.” That was when I noticed all the photos on her table had Freddy Kreuger in them. “Holy shit,” I said to myself, “I’m standing in front of Heather Lagenkamp!”
If you don’t know who I’m talking about, shame on you. Heather played “Nancy” in the 1985 Wes Craven classic A Nightmare on Elm Street. If you’ve read my blog at all you know that horror films are more important to me than Star Trek and Star Wars combined. I had wondered just what the hell Richard Kiel was doing at a Trek convention, but Ms. Lagenkamp’s presence really blew my mind. So I asked her why she’d chosen to set up shop here at the Rio during a Trek convention. “I’m in Into Darkness,” she said with a smile. She motioned to a big green alien mask that was also displayed on her table, “But I was under this.” Sure enough, check out her IMDB page and you’ll see she played a character called Moto in Star Trek Into Darkness. Whoda thunk it? It seemed that this chance meeting was going to become the high point of my experience at my first Star Trek convention. I gushed a little at her about how important A Nightmare on Elm Street was to me, and how I’d seen it as a teenager back when it came out in 1985, and how I felt that Wes Craven was really responsible for revitalizing the horror genre not just once with the release of Nightmare (it came out at a time when America was starting to tire of the Friday the Thirteenths and the Halloweens and such), but again in the mid 90s with Scream. I gladly payed her the $20.00 she wanted for her autograph. I don’t remember much else about that first day (It was the second day of the four day convention; I was unable to get off work to come on Thursday). Having arrived around ten am, we left at perhaps six pm. I spent the evening hanging with Leif and his buddy Aaron who comes into town from his home in Vancouver, BC Canada every year for the con. I tried to crash early as we were returning for a second day of festivities on Saturday morning.
The second day was more or less a rehash of the first. Lots of short skirts and other costumes, various Trek celebs on stage (many of whom I really didn’t give a hoot about), and plenty of more interesting semi-famous people in the Vendor Room. I actually got to meet and speak to Matt Frewer. I didn’t ask him to sign anything as I was already low on funds and probably couldn’t afford it, but i did get to tell him how much I appreciated his work in things like The Stand (let’s face it, the TV miniseries based on Stephen King’s The Stand pretty much sucked, but Frewer’s portrayal of Trash Can Man is the best thing in it) and the Zack Snyder remake of Dawn of the Dead, which I also loved. And, come on, what eighties kid didn’t love Max Headroom?
On this day I did get to see some of my Next Generation and Deep Space Nine favorites. Brent Spiner (Mr. Data), Marina Sirtis (Deanna Trois), and Johnathan Frakes (William Riker) took the stage together for a very enjoyable Next-Gen panel (they’re just funny together), Terry Ferrell (Deep Space Nine‘s Jadzia Dax) is still smoking hot at almost fifty years old, and Grace Lee Whitney (Yeoman Janice Rand on the Original Series) is now a crazy old lady (and a recovered alcoholic… she talks a lot about that, but listening to her being interviewed by Adam the seemingly ADHD convention organizer was like watching two people engaged in completely different conversations). all in all it was a lot of fun and it all led up to the moment when Captain James Tiberius Kirk himself took the stage.
William Shatner is essentially a parody of himself and has been for years, unfortunately. While he may have been undoubtedly brilliant as Denny Crane on Boston Legal, its kind of depressing to me to watch my Captain Kirk hawking Priceline dot com on television commercials and pretending to be the father of Penny from The Big Bang Theory (Kaley Cuoco). Of course it was Shatner’s bravado and shameless over acting that made us love Captain Kirk in the first place, so who am I to judge him now? When he came out on stage he immediately started talking about an album that he was releasing (they played a sample of it and it seems to be mostly him talking over music, nothing nearly as embarrassing as his TV performance of Elton John’s Rocketman from the seventies, but nobody is going to buy this shit). Fortunately it wasn’t long before Kate Mulgrew was sent out to rescue poor Bill and the rest of their time on stage was spent together in a conversational interview format. Leif tells me that has been the norm at conventions of late.
I spent some more time wandering around the Vendor’s Room while this was going on. I even got a tee shirt while there.
Interestingly, i had purchased this exact same shirt a month or so ago from Think Geek. I washed it once and the black outline around the Star Fleet insignia started to peel off. I liked the shirt though and decided to try another and just be careful how I treated it on laundry day. The vendor did not have one my size in red or gold, so I stuck with the science department blue. It only seemed logical.