For my summer vacation this year, I boldly went on a voyage to a strange new world: A Star Trek convention.
Over three days I saw a universe’s worth of Trek-related and sci-fi costumes, witnessed some of the most famous actors to ever helm a starship, met a large constellation of new friends, and inadvertently insulted a Hollywood showrunner.
It was my first time at a Star Trek convention, and I’m glad I went despite the fact it was held in Las Vegas in August, when it is hot enough to burn out a dilithium crystal.
Attending a Trek convention, particularly this one in Vegas, is a morning-to-nighttime event packed with things to do.
The days were filled with guest panels, photo-ops, vendors and autograph signings.
The evenings featured karaoke with drunk Klingons, a live symphony playing Star Trek musical scores, and a 1960s-style Rat Pack performance by actors best known for playing a Cardassian, a Ferengi, and a Talaxian.
Additionally, I got to hang out with my girlfriend Shelly, who was the reason for my going in the first place. Shelly attends the convention every year, in part because she loves Star Trek, and because it gives her the opportunity to see a group of friends she’s made from being there so many times.
Her posse of fellow Trek lovers comes from all over and all walks of life: From Alaska to Oklahoma, from England to Canada. There are IT professionals, a baker, an accountant, a journalist, a British bobby (police officer), a reality television editor, and a microbiologist.
They made me feel welcome and a part of their group. And by welcome I don’t just mean handshakes and nice-to-meet-you’s. There was also good-natured ribbing after I stuck my size 13 sneaker in my mouth on my first day in the convention hall.
Shelly and I were heading to a panel discussion when a distinctly looking gentleman sporting a short-brimmed fedora, sunglasses and a purple goatee approached us.
He looked familiar, but I had no idea he was Ira Steven Behr, the producer and showrunner of “Deep Space Nine,” a Star Trek series from the 1990s that was celebrating its 25th anniversary at the convention.
I had spent the past year watching “Deep Space Nine” on Netflix because I missed it during its original run on television. It took me almost a year to watch it largely because I found the first season to be as riveting as watching the earth rotate on its axis.
But I kept with it and as I watched “Deep Space Nine” beyond season one, I gradually started to enjoy it more and more. By the end I was thoroughly impressed with the show, particularly because it was more character-driven and darker than other Star Trek series.
Alas, the part about me loving the show didn’t come out of my mouth after Shelly directed Ira towards me and told him I had just watched his show for the first time. Instead, I mentioned how boring the first season was.
Ira was very polite in his response before he headed off. Shelly then informed me who Ira was. Doh!
After that, whenever we would see Ira somewhere at the convention, Shelly’s friends would point him out for me, along with suggestions that I go chat him up.
It was only fitting that I enjoy my first convention among new friends, considering that friendship has long been an important attraction in the Star Trek world.
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One of the things that made the original Star Trek series a hit was the on-screen friendship between Capt. Kirk, Spock and Dr. McCoy.
“Star Trek: The Next Generation” (or TNG) has had its own friendship quality, particularly among the actors who worked on the show.
Shelly told me that most of the cast from TNG are still friends and enjoy seeing each other at conventions.
I witnessed this firsthand while attending a celebrity panel with actors Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis, who played Commander Riker and Deanna Troi, respectively.
Just before the panel was introduced, Frakes walked through the audience, right past our row of seats and sat down near us, microphone in hand.
Once the moderator introduced Sirtis, Frakes began yelling into his mic like a rabid fan: “You’re so beautiful! I love you, Imzadi!”
Imzadi means “beloved” in Betazed. Google it.
His former co-star peered into the audience and yelled back: “What are you doing? You didn’t pay for that seat! Get up here!”
The impromptu comedy routine set the stage for a rollicking 45-minute discussion that demonstrated the friendship between the two actors 30 years after TNG was on the air.
The day only got better with appearances by William Shatner, who was also very funny and entertaining, and a special surprise visit by Patrick Stewart, who was not scheduled to appear at the convention.
Stewart’s presence on stage was enough to bring the house down, especially after he told the stoked crowd that he plans to reprise his role as Capt. Picard in a second new Star Trek series being developed by CBS All Access, the network behind “Star Trek: Discovery.”
His fans responded to the news by shouting “make it so!” just as Capt. Picard would bellow from the U.S.S. Enterprise bridge.
It would be understatement to say people in the audience were jazzed. Many were even crying at the thought of their beloved Capt. Picard returning to television.
Some fans can get a little too serious with their love of Trek, like this one guy who apparently shows up every year dressed as Spock who can’t be bothered taking selfies with other fans unless they’re dressed in costume as well.
But for the most part Trek fans are a good-natured, if not idealistic bunch. How can you fault people for embracing a series and a universe it created that envisions a better tomorrow?
I don’t, and I don’t regret spending my summer vacation in their company. They made the experience a real voyage of discovery.