“Boldly going where no man has gone before”
Captain’s Log. Stardate 1976. I have arrived with three of my best friends at our first Star Trek convention. Planet Earth. Coordinates: Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.
It was the summer I had taken my first steps into manhood. At twelve years old, my father dropped our landing party off at the doors of the William Penn Hotel on Grant Street. It was a different time back then. Most parents wouldn’t dream of letting their twelve year olds wander around a big city hotel in 2016. Maybe that’s why, looking back, the experience was so magical. Independence was the furthest thing from our minds that day. It was the vendor rooms, comics, the short unseen blooper reel people were talking about and of course, Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and the crew of the Enterprise in person.
We had our appropriately colored shirts on, monogramed with the iron-on division insignias that came in the AMT model kits at the time. Mine was gold as I have always been a Captain Kirk man. We had no idea where we were going or what to do, it was our personal little five year mission, to seek out everything we could. There were Gorns and Mugato, Klingons and Federation. It was wondrous. At the time, Star Trek had long been cancelled by NBC but its popularity continued to grow in syndication, a word none of us even knew.
The main speaker’s room is where we eventually settled. There they were. All on the stage together, speaking one after the other. They weren’t wearing their familiar uniforms, rather swank mid-seventies clothes. Wow. They were like us. The names weren’t the same. They went by Shatner, Nimoy, Kelly, etc. It wasn’t so much a shattering of illusion as more of a perspective builder. Of course, we knew there wasn’t really a Starship Enterprise, but it gave us more of a sense of what really connected us to the show and characters seeing these men and women all together in street clothes. It was the core of the show. The friendships and sacrifice for one another. Hope. Love. Empathy. Compassion.
As we left that day and headed home, none of us could have imagined that for the next 38 years those values and that legacy would continue to touch the lives of so many different generations. Seven television series (including the upcoming ‘Discovery’ set to air on CBS for subscribers only), thirteen motion pictures spanning two generations and the current reboot, comics, fan fiction, video games, cruises and even a ‘Star Trek Experience’ attraction in Las Vegas. Trekkies and Trekkers alike have even created languages for various species encountered during the crews’ travels.
Each and every time it seems as if the phenomenon is dying down, a new creative direction propels the Enterprise and her crew into an entirely different fan base. As beloved actors who portrayed characters connected to any of the series pass, Trekkies are moved to tears as if a family member has died. Yet, the series evolves with new characters or reimaging the old.
September 8, 1966 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the first episode of Star Trek, ‘The Man Trap,’ airing on television. The five year mission continued on for fifty years and is still going strong. Perhaps in another fifty years it will be around with technology enhancements providing a yet to be invented experience. Whatever the reason, the crew of the Enterprise perseveres. I suppose for me, the positive view of a utopian future with the United Federation of Planets and Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations has always resonated.
In the words of Star Trek Creator and Great Bird of the Universe, Gene Roddenberry, “If a man is to survive, he will have learned to take delight in essential differences between men and between cultures. He will learn that differences in ideas and attitudes are a delight, part of life’s exciting variety, not something to fear.”
Peace, live long and prosper.
Story by Fred Terling, Intrepid Reporter & Star Trek fan, for Pennsylvania Bridges