Wednesday, October 18, 2006


The central moment of the Celebration was to honor almost the very moment of the anniversary. Within some negligible number of minutes, glasses of champagne were to be raised high atop the Space Needle in honor of the hour that the first Star Trek story entered American homes, and the forty years of the continuing saga since.

Well, it was a fine idea. It turned out to be a complex operation that became a genial bit of chaos—definitely less than it could have been, yet fitting in its own way. For me, it began in the Blue Room. It was decided that all the participants should gather there and go over to the Space Needle together. But since we had to go down to the second floor on the elevator in small groups, we got separated anyway.

So I found myself in the empty and darkened Science Fiction Museum with a group that included Garrett Wang, Gary Graham, Alan Ruck (who played Captain Harriman of the Enterprise in Star Trek: Generations) and Garfield and Judith Reeves-Stevens, the celebrated writing team of Star Trek novels, Enterprise scripts and more. The Reeves-Stevens were on the same panel I was, and in the official program (with its cartoon cover of the Enterprise-D rescuing the Space Needle from a giant octopus) the final “i” in my name got transferred to the end of their name. That odd connection turned out to be a bit prophetic, for I wound up spending more time with Gar and Judith than anyone else.

Designated staff members, called “handlers” (an irony not lost on Walter Koenig, for one) were usually around to escort the actors to their next venue, but not this time. “So what do we do?” someone asked. We had just seen Alan Ruck play a more commanding leader in “Of Gods and Men” than his mostly hapless officer in “Generations,” so when he took a few steps in one direction, I suggested,” We follow the Captain.”

But Ruck turned back. “Yeah, except the Captain doesn’t know where he’s going.”

Even with no Kirk to the rescue, we eventually found a door to the outside that opened, and once outside the building, the location of the Space Needle was pretty obvious. Inside that structure, we were funneled into another elevator which shot with ear-splitting speed towards the top. But it stopped instead a floor short, where the doors opened on a crush of fans, many of them costumed. Some of the actors on the elevator looked like they’d been caught without their phasers. One hit the button, the doors closed and we continued upward. “When you see Vulcans and Klingons, that’s a sure sign” he said, “you don’t want to go out there.” It was funny, and it wasn’t. As much as Trek actors relate to their fans, a lot of enthusiasts in close quarters like that could be more than uncomfortable. Judith told me that William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy don’t dare even slow down for a fan when they make their way through airports, because if they do, a crowd quickly gathers and they may not get to their destination on time.

There was less of a crush on the top floor, though fans were coming up behind us and the place would soon be very crowded. But this was the circular lounge at the top of the Needle, with a spectacular view of Seattle, the clear night sky and a moon just past full. There were lots of desserts and cash bars scattered about, but not a lot of tables and even fewer chairs.

Eventually those ubiquitous plastic glasses of champagne were passed around, and in a chaotic crush and the glare of video lights, Eugene “Rod” Roddenberry proposed the fortieth anniversary toast, as did George Takei and Walter Koenig. The sound was terrible, however—Walter was completely inaudible where I was, not all that far away, with people shouting behind me that they couldn’t hear. Even George, who hardly needs a microphone in most circumstances, couldn’t be completely heard above the din. What I heard of Rod’s toast was gracious and generous.

Afterwards I saw Walter and his wife standing against the glass wall. After the crush on the floor below, I noticed at first how there seemed to be a space around them that no one was violating. I also thought that Walter looked very sad, but I obviously don't know him well enough to interpret his expressions. I started to say something to him, then worried I was intruding, but he responded, so I continued, but I still felt this sadness. Then I looked at his wife, and the concern on her face was so clear that I took it as confirmation that my impression was correct. Now I felt again I was intruding, so I moved along.

I of course have no idea what Walter was thinking or feeling, but I know what I thought about when I saw him. There were original cast members and other partners in that Enterprise who weren’t here but would toast this anniversary elsewhere. But there were those who couldn’t be here: Dee Kelley and James Doohan, and Gene Roddenberry, among others. All were honored in some way during this Celebration, but at this moment, I was aware of their absence.

I went out into the night air on the outer ring of the observation deck, and by the time I was back inside, the Klingon band was starting up. There was no problem hearing them.

It was time for me to go. But it turned out my evening wasn’t entirely over. I stopped at the information desk outside the elevators on the ground floor of the Space Needle to consult on bus schedules back to my West Seattle digs —some routes change at night. The young woman there went off to get definitive information on the exact wheres and whens, an incredibly nice thing to do, beyond the call of duty.

But also nearby were several convention staff people, including Leslie, sort of chief of talent operations, who lives in West Seattle as it turned out, and offered me a lift if I’d wait until she’d seen that all the actors who wanted to go back to their hotel were accounted for (some didn’t; I heard stories the next day about some late-night partying.) It was while I was waiting that I had a conversation with Sky Conway about “Of Gods and Men.”

Until recently, Leslie had been a principal staff person at the Science Fiction Museum, and had originally suggested that it host this celebration. I knew Seattle was a city that valued writers (like Portland and Vancouver, also rainy places), and I knew something about theatre there, but it also has a thriving science fiction community.

Anyway, after noting the noisy chaos of the Moment, it’s only fair to also note how unfailingly kind the staff was throughout the convention, most of which was managed efficiently and came off splendidly. Seattle also responded with a sellout crowd on Saturday. In fact, the people of Seattle I met were all pleasant and helpful. I noticed that all the people on the buses thanked the driver as they disembarked. What is this place, Canada? Maybe Starfleet HQ should be here.

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