Saturday, December 4, 2010

Star Trek memories

The eager crowd in the hotel conference room gathered around the raised podium waiting for James Doohan of original Star Trek fame to enter and begin his presentation. It was late August of 1995 and Columbia, South Carolina was hosting its second Star Trek convention and I was in the middle of the largest collection of riff raff the city had seen since the state legislature had adjourned for that summer.

There were the usual Starfleet uniformed subjects ranging from the uber-dorks in crude homemade attire to the seriously delusional wearing what looked to be tailor fitted costumes straight from Paramount Studio’s
prop department. Let’s just say they weren’t the only aliens in attendance that day.

Now don’t misunderstand me I’m not criticizing the “dorks”, my brother and I had spent the first couple of hours at the convention walking around and talking with people and they were exceptionally nice. More to the point, these dorks ranged in age from the late teens to the early twenties and I figure given the seriously high tech and intelligent subjects they were taking about at least a few are now uber-rich and have retired to living on some tropical island. However, it’s really hard to take an adult serious when he or she is wearing a collection of plastic toys at their hips with a willingness to “stun” someone at a moment’s notice.

I do have critical remarks for the delusional bunch who strolled around not speaking to anyone and who clustered among themselves like a group of secretive Catholic cardinals electing a pope and suppressing ancient secrets. The costume delusional ones were generally wearing the rank of commander or above which may have accounted for the rods stuck up their butts. They looked to be in their thirties and if I wanted to be mean, I could say they were the types that lived in their parent’s basements.

In a category all to themselves were the guys I caught gathered around one of the many cubicles setup to sell Star Trek related merchandise. As it might be expected at the convention anything and everything Star Trek was for sell from two-hundred dollar phasers that emitted a laser that could pop balloons to the aforementioned Starfleet costumes that cost twice as much. Because of that and other high-end items I was somewhat curious as to why one guy was selling primitively packaged VHS tapes at his cubicle and why a “scruffy” looking bunch had gathered around the small television mounted on his table.

I didn’t have to wait long to discover what had so caught the attention of those watching the television. The guy selling the VHS tapes had a continuous loop going showing a small segment of a movie starring Marina Sirtis, Commander Denna Troi of Star Trek: Next Generation, running out of a forest with very little clothes on. Just when the money shot was about to appear that was when the segment looped back to the beginning. Out of everyone at the convention selling something I think VHS guy sold out and Hell no, I did not even think about buying one.

The rest of the people were like my brother and me and at least on the surface looked normal. The one exception I have to comment on was that Elvis had joined us that day. It being the mid-90’s with a minor cultural phenomenon going on at that time of people convinced Elvis had faked his death so he could “live a normal life” everyone stopped dead in their tracks as the king of rock and roll entered the room. This was not the young, handsome, and vital Elvis of the 50’s or the jaded, overweight, jumpsuit-wearing Elvis of 70’s but the 350-pound model who was dressed all in black, wearing blue suede shoes and carrying a large man purse hanging off one arm. A smoking hot blonde hanging off his other arm and wearing a tight leopard-skin dress completed the bizarre package, not that anyone was complaining though.

After marveling at the hot blonde I noticed that Large Elvis’ hair was an even darker shade of midnight black than his shirt. This extended down to his outrageous mutton chop-style sideburns and combined with the patented sneer, which he flashed many times, I was almost ready to believe the King was alive.

After a few hours of Trek cultural exchanges and unbridled nerd capitalism it was time for the convention headliner, Captain Montgomery Scott, to appear. There were enough common seats for everyone but I couldn’t help but notice that the Delusionals had sequestered themselves in their own little section confirming just about everything I thought of them and wondering what in the world they actually did for a living.

This was where I admit I was getting excited, the previous convention the year before had George Takei as the guest speaker and before anyone starts thinking about smartass homophobic jokes I will say straight up I like the guy. But the character of Sulu is nothing compared to Scotty and his “can do” attitude that was always able to squeeze just a little more speed and power out of the warp engines saving Kirk and Spock’s butts. Quite the difference for the constantly depressed drivel issued forth these days from brooding reality shows and over educated sheeple. Top it all off James Doohan had his own real life adventures that had him part of the Normandy D-Day invasion where he received severe combat wounds.

As we all waited in our seats things seemed to be taking too long and we were all disappointed as some unknown person took the podium and grabbed the microphone. I guess it was universally assumed that the guy would tell us Scotty had canceled, forcing us to head home. Instead he offered some advice on how we could enjoy our time with Doohan even more.

Ladies and gentlemen,” he finished up, “there is one more piece of advice that will make your afternoon with Mr. Doohan an even more memorable occasion, do not bring up the name William Shatner even in passing. Mr. Doohan has strong feelings about him and they are not good.”

With that the man left the podium and five minutes later the legendary James Doohan walked into the room flanked by two bouncers wearing old Star Trek red shirts. Mr. Doohan accepted the applause with a wide smile and took his place in front of everyone. The first few minutes had him speaking about how glad he was to be in Columbia and how welcome everyone made him feel. Next he talked about the early years of Star Trek and how Roddenberry created the show along with little known facts about how it was developed.

The one that surprised me was that the Enterprise was originally designed to fly through space essentially upside down as to the orientation we know with the saucer section and warp engines being on top. The other being that Roddenberry had considered making Spock’s home planet Mars. We all had a great time but when the question and answer time arrived but there had to be a pretentious weasel in the audience asking the one question we were instructed not to ask, at least he asked about the character and not the actual man but it was close enough.

What do I think of Captain Kirk?” Mr. Doohan asked back, seemingly biting his tongue for a minute as if he was savoring the answer as it formed in his head. “I think Captain Kirk is a swell guy but William Shatner is a goddamn punk!”

Well that about brought the house down with Doohan going into a story about how Shatner once had a guest role in the old Chuck Connor’s show “The Rifleman.” Some sort of fight scene was called for in the script and in a moment of vain braggadocio during rehearsal, Shatner told Connors he was an expert in karate and would do his best not to hurt him. Connors, whose heart was warmed by this display of concern and friendship, cocked Shatner across the jaw with a haymaker that forced all shooting to be postponed until the next day giving Shatner time to recover.

The final question asked dealt with Mr. Doohan’s military service and action and specifically the Normandy Invasion on D-Day. He shared many things but it was extremely easy to understand those memories still greatly affected him and with that, he called an end to his speaking. The last thing left was the autograph section and Hell yes; I coughed up an additional twenty for the autograph to go along with the twenty-five dollar entrance fee. The only problem was that Large Elvis and I had issues.

At first, I thought I had been especially blessed to have Large Elvis’ girlfriend standing in front of me as we waited for the autograph segment to begin. Her tight leopard skin dress sparkled in all the right places and my brother, who fell in behind me offered me a twenty to change places. However, as soon as the line started to move Large Elvis jumped up allowing her to sit down and now I had what essentially amounted to a rude planetoid standing in front of me digging out stacks of items from his man purse for Doohan to sign.

When Large Elvis reached Mr. Doohan, he handed over at least eight items ranging from episode scripts to group photos of the original cast. Doohan took several deep tired breaths as Elvis instructed him where he wanted him to sign and was visibly frustrated when hot blonde jumped up to take a picture of Elvis and him together. I was getting pissed myself with how long this all was taking and when I finally got up to Scotty he shook my hand looking directly at me then he looked over in the direction of Elvis and Hot Blonde and rolled his eyes in an exacerbated manner.

"Thanks for putting up with all that.” He said as he handed back my signed photo of him.

“Aye sir,” I responded and went on my way listening to his laughter in the background.


PENolan said...

I've been to exactly ONE Star Trek convention, and you've perfectly captured the experience. Scotty wasn't at the one in St. Louis, though. I don't remember who was there at all - except for all the Trekkers in Character.

Teeluck said...

Well, I must thank you...because of your fantastic description of the crazies convention, I am pleased to say I will not be attending any in the near future :)
My personal fav of Star Trek femmes was "Seven of Nine" Jeri!!

Will "take no prisoners" Hart said...

Off topic and I will comment on topic shortly, this I need to revel in; Auburn 56 South Carolina 17. WOW! And to think that Clemson almost won AT Auburn earlier in the year (Parker missing a wide open guy in the end-zone and the kicker missing a chippy - both of these happening in OVERTIME!!)

Tim said...

I got a real kick out of this. I never understood Shatner and his bad acting. We used to mock him all the time even before star trek. He was in a movie where he played both main characters. One wore black and you guess the other. It was a cowboy film.
God awful. He also used to on the twilight zone once in a while. There also was that pesky story of him killing his wife. It just seemed to go away. Nice one Beach

Bill's Big Bamboo said...

I never watched more than a couple episodes of "Star Trek". Never could get into it.

Still, one of my ALL TIME FAVORITE movies is "Galaxy Quest". I love it & will watch it every time it is on the tube. I even have the DVD somewhere. I believe your convention is properly represented in that movie.

Now ... seventh paragraph: "...people were like my brother & me & on the surface looked normal".

DUDE !!! You are on your blog in shorts, sandals & a Hawaiian shirt!!

You are not "normal" You are one of us !!!

Liberality said...

I've never been to a Star Trek convention but I have friends who totally dorked out and went :)

I also know someone who "creates" weapons and outfits in order to sell them to these people on ebay.

lime said...

what a scene that was. sounds like james doohan really was a pretty cool guy and down to earth. glad he did not disappoint.

Beach Bum said...

Tricia: I didn't mention the ones dressed up as Klingons, now I want to party with them.

Teeluck: You know I never watched much of Voyager. That was during the time Paramount had their national network, UPN, and Columbia did not have an affilate. Now speaking just along the lines of hot Star Trek chicks the half-Klingon babe was the one I liked.

Will: As I wrote at your site, there is absolutely no joy in redneck land right now. I imagine calls for Spurrier to be fired will come soon even though he had soem great games this year.

Tim: This happens to be one of my posts that 99.5% true, the other .5% I blame on a faulty memory but Doohan truly hated Shatner at that time. I admit I'm not a big fame of either Shatner or old Kirk. Ben Sisko of DS9 is/was my favorite captain. As for Picard he is an utter pussy.

Bill: "Galaxy Quest" rocks! I love that movie. Now truthfully my current picture is a pretty acurate one.

Liberality: Got to admit the ballon popping phaser was pretty cool, but I need one of those liek I need a new hole in my head.

Michelle: He was a nice guy, hated to hear what happened to him, it was a nasty way to go.

Will "take no prisoners" Hart said...

My all-time favorite Star Trek memory would probably have to be a young Kirstie Alley in "Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan". Totally down was I with that.

Beach Bum said...

Will: For a long time that was the best Star Trek movie.

Akelamalu said...

I knew a woman who looked exactly like a Cardassian! I think it was something to do with her hairdo but boy did she look wierd!

Thanks for visiting me and taking the time to comment. Nice to meet you. :)

Gwendolyn H. Barry said...

Classy, Beach... I mean you and how you do the voodoo that is you. :-)

Rita said...

My Star Trek memories come from way back...we didn't have a TV,(hillbillies) but my dad loved that show, we watched it at his best friends house, every Friday night... had to walk three miles in the dark, but so what, it was worth it!

Beach Bum said...

Akelamalu: In truth this post could have been a lot longer, there was just so many different things to write I had to edit it down. I didn't see any Cardassians but one young lady had that funny piece on her nose that the Bajoran characters wear along with the elaborate ear ring. She turned out to be a lawyer and for fun she traveled around doing different Star trek conventions. She freaked out over Large Elvis as well. Welcome and come again!

Gwen: Appreciate your kind words. 29 days and counting as of right now to the cruise.

Rita: Excuse the pun, but that was a long Trek. Welcome and come again!

Ranch Chimp said...

Interesting read as an experience ... although I couldnt contribute anything to this since I probably only watched the tele show a couple time's of Star trek, never the movie's either, nor been to a convention of such ... it's really kind of an alien subject to me.

Will "take no prisoners" Hart said...


Beach Bum said...

Ranch: No worries, I have to admit even with my more "level headed" interest in the shows I have to keep quiet some time about it.

Will: Was that Shatner or his toupee saying that line? I can't tell.

Will "take no prisoners" Hart said...

I personally think that it was harmony. Again, though, just a theory.

Distributorcap said...

as a kid in the 60s - i would sit and watch Star Trek with my grandmother - who couldnt get enough of Star Trek

the episode i remember most with her - the salt monster. she said it looked like her first husband.

i cannot believe i remember that

aftger having seen every TOS, TNG, DS9, and the seven of 9 ones

i have never been to a star trek convention

Beach Bum said...

Will: Good point.

DCap: The best part of the shows for me was the vision of optimism and reason it offered about the future. Both rare things right now.

Spacerguy said...

Sounds like Jimmy Doohan made allot of people happy. He sure was an awesome talent. He started his career doing voices on the radio.

Beach Bum said...

Spaceguy: It was a blast! If you read the comments I hinted several times I left items out just to keep the piece somewhat short. One more thing I left out was how Mr. Doohan remarked how many people went into engineering fields over his portrayal of Scotty. It was something he was very proud about.