The Final Frontier

May 8, 2009

In a few weeks, America will pause to remember an awesome moment in human history that happened 40 years ago.  On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong emerged from the Lunar Module that had landed on the surface of the Moon.  And with the whole world watching the fuzzy black-and-white images from live TV transmissions, a spaceman from Ohio set foot on another world — one “giant leap” for all of mankind. 

I remember that evening, as we listened to live coverage on the car radio.  Dad was racing home to make sure we could witness history on our black-and-white RCA television.  We got home just before 10:00PM, and just in time to see the astronaut descend the stairs and leave his footprints on the lunar surface. 

In early June 1969, the month before that historic event, another milestone in space history had taken place.  Turnabout Intruder, the 79th and final episode of NBC’s all-color show STAR TREK was broadcast.  So ended three years of the fabled “five-year mission” with the spaceman from Iowa (Captain Kirk.)   STAR TREK had been cancelled.  It was seven years before the introduction of the VCR, but STAR TREK didn’t disappear into the ether — it was soon resurrected by a magical force called syndication. 

Flash forward three years.  It is 1972.  Our family had moved to an Indianapolis suburb and we were about to buy our first color TV.  Friday nights at the Arland home typically meant popcorn and Canasta card games.  I’ve never learned to play poker, bridge, or gin rummy.  But my parents did teach me and my brother to play the card game created by an attorney and architect from Uruguay who thought that bridge took too long to play.

As a fourth-grader, I was up late one Friday night when the Eyewitness News team finished their late night news report.  As the camera pulled back to reveal sports guy Don Hine and weatherman Bob Gregory, Channel 13 anchorman John Lindsey called out to Scotty on the Starship Enterprise and asked him to “beam us aboard.” 

ch 13

Suddenly, the news crew and their set dissolved into sparkles and another episode of STAR TREK (now on nightly syndication) was underway.  I was mesmerized.

The people on the bridge of that ship all worked together.  Each had a role to play.  The cool, smart guy with the pointed ears had all the facts.  A Russian navigator kept the ship on course while a Japanese helmsman kept bad guys at bay.  A brilliant Scottish engineer did the impossible and a beautiful, talented black woman ran communications to keep everyone informed.  The irascible ship’s doctor delivered doses of levity and reality as his daily prescription.  And leading the crew of 430 aboard the Enterprise was the gallant Captain Kirk. 

No situation fazed him.  He was good at talking and negotiating, ready to throw up his hands (or the famous Shatner side kick) in a fight, and everyone respected him.  The women loved him.  I wanted to be him.

The 1970’s brought us many things.  Bellbottom jeans.  Long hair.  Leisure suits.  The VCR.  And also the pre-Internet collective known as STAR TREK fandom.

In 1974, my Dad the pharmacist bolted in the door one evening and excitedly told me to get in the car.  We were going to drive back to the eastside of Indianapolis because he’d heard that a STAR TREK club was meeting at a local library near his drug store.  So I went, and things have never been the same.

While that local club only met for a few years (and it was before I was old enough to drive), I struck up lifelong friendships that have enriched my world.  As a 13-year old, I got to go to Chicago (with my parents) to attend the first STAR TREK convention to reunite the entire original cast along with series creator Gene Roddenberry.  They actually spoke from a partial replica of the Enterprise bridge.  It was amazing!

I learned how to organize my peers when Channel 13 took the reruns of my favorite program off the air.  A petition drive in my fifth grade classroom helped to bring the show back (for reruns, anyway.)

I met a local radio broadcaster at the 1976 STAR TREK convention in Indianapolis, which fueled my fascination with and later career in broadcasting.  Trekkie radio DJ Tim Renshaw (better known on the air as “Jay Riley”) later got me and a friend backstage to meet TREK creator Gene Roddenberry during his Indianapolis lecture tour at the downtown basketball arena.  And we even interviewed our idol in his dressing room, just like real reporters.

We wrote letters along with thousands of others and convinced the President of the United States to name NASA’s first space shuttle after the U.S.S. Enterprise.  With the success of STAR WARS in 1977, we celebrated the decision by Paramount Pictures to bring back STAR TREK in a big-screen fantasy that arrived on December 7, 1979.  That it was Pearl Harbor Day was likely an omen, since the film — while sweeping — limped along on a hair-thin plot. 

But the franchise did not die.  New producers injected new blood and a classic story with STAR TREK II: The Wrath of Khan, featuring a duel of the great scenery chewers of William Shatner and Ricardo Montalban and the death of Spock, which landed the character on the cover of Newsweek magazine.  The third TREK film brought Spock back to life.  By the time production started for the fourth movie I was out of college.

Ann, a friend I’d met at the library TREK club, went with me to stake out the hotel of George “Sulu” Takei when we learned that a local shopping mall was bringing him to town for an appearance.  Ever gracious, George agreed to let us buy him breakfast the next morning.  Another hotel lobby enounter led us to buy lunch for James “Scotty” Doohan in downtown Indianapolis.

We also traveled to California to witness the unveiling of a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Gene Roddenberry and later made a trip to Paramount Pictures to witness a day of filming on the fourth STAR TREK movie which would simultaneously save the whales and yet again revive the flagging franchise.

star ceremony

Later, I met Enterprise captain and horse wrangler William Shatner in the stables of the Indiana State Fairgrounds and showed Shatner and Leonard Nimoy a new technology called “high-definition TV” at events run by my employer several years before the technology reached stores.  Shatner even borrowed my RCA camcorder for an African safari.  Really!

dave and bill

A contact from Paramount’s parent company helped me land a soundstage tour of the starship bridge used in the 2003 spinoff series STAR TREK Enterprise.  I got to sit in the captain’s chair and imagine what it would be like to seek out strange new worlds – even though I was only peering at a soundstage wall and not the Enterprise viewscreen.

It’s been fun to follow this passion around the country, as I’ve attended STAR TREK conventions in New York, Chicago, Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Pasadena. 

leonard

I’ve met some incredible people at these conventions through the years.   My friend Adam was so focused on creating precise replicas of the red, blue, and green (that photograph gold) uniforms worn by the original crew that he found the same fabric suppliers who sold Paramount costumers the stretchy baseball uniform fabric that outfitted the Enterprise crew.  And he had it dyed in precisely the same colors as the original Starfleet uniforms.  I had to have one, hand sewn pear-green tunic with gold insignia and braids, sparkly black knickers and custom-made leather boots from California.  (I am blessed with a patient wife who realizes that this is not much different than another man’s football regalia that he might wear to the game on Sundays.) 

Kirk, Kirk, Spock

So when I show up in my STAR TREK uniform at the IMAX theatre to see the latest incarnation featuring a younger Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, I will be thinking of all of those friends I have met over the past 37 years as a Trekkie.  I’ll remember the late night Canasta games with my parents and the evening we first “beamed aboard” the Starship Enterprise with the Channel 13 news crew.

STAR TREK has always been about the optimistic belief that the human race will solve its problems and petty differences and learn to work together as one team.  And I, for one, am honored to celebrate that dream with my unabashed affection for STAR TREK and everything it’s brought to this world — as a 23rd century mirror on our own century.

dave today

So laugh at me and my uniform if you’d like.  But to me it’s a symbol of mankind’s reach for the stars and the hope that someday we’ll celebrate our differences as much as we do the things we have in common.

Live Long and Prosper!  STAR TREK lives!

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One Response to “The Final Frontier”

  1. Davy T Says:

    Great to see such a great fan rewarded with meetings with his heroes…I was fortunate to have met with Mr Nimoy on his UK promotion tour of ST2 as a guest of a friend. When asked If I’d like to have a photo taken with Mr N..I declined as there were a dozen or more true fans that had been watiting for hours for the chance to meet him and time was short, so my friend was snapped but I was happy to see the faces on the trekkies as they met with their true vulcan hero and they beamed up together..Great to see the guys have kept in touch with the fans over all these years.


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