The Commodore Hotel, New York City
Site of the third annual Star Trek Convention.
Guess who was there?
Mike and I that’s who. Now, this was before we took up our skiing careers; at this time we were college mates and shared a deep love for the original Star Trek – William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy…you (hopefully) know the crew. This was also long before ComicCon (or whatever its called) or any other such event; at the time it was considered an abnormality- to gather like fans together to spend some hard earned money to go to a hotel and watch episodes of the show we had already seen a thousand times before, to sit and listen to the stars of the show share some anecdotes about the sets and shows, and yes to dress up like the characters on it. Now that is where Mike and I drew the line – no way were we going to don a pair of plastic pointed ears and wander around a hotel in the middle of Manhattan. But we did love the show and thought it would be a hoot to go to one of the conventions, and we turned out to be right. It was a grand outpouring of love and geekiness, of strange desire and embarrassing admission, of abandonment and pride. But there were those plastic ears. Lots of them.
As we walked down the grand hallway into the suite of rooms the action was taking place in, Mike’s ever-present camera at the ready, we found ourselves in a crowd of Klingons, Romulans, Vulcans and more and though we had a rough time stifling laughter at times, those around us were taking the thing very seriously. It is a tribute to the show that it was so; it wasn’t just a television show to these people, it was a religion; a promise for a better and humane future, and thing to aspire to, to be a living part of. And since it was a relatively new event, the old fatigue hadn’t set in yet, the cynicism that will always sprout from a genuinely pure idea given enough time. Put simply it was before some years later, after attending one too many of the things, William Shatner, exasperated, had to explain to the crowd it was just a TV show and maybe these kids should get a life.
It was before that.
In 1976 it was like Woodstock man, a total mind-blowing trip into an alien world of true believers; those of the body, to quote one episode.
So we collect our blue plastic bags at the Registration table (with of course Spock and Kirk’s visages imprinted in black) and proceed into the entertainment. As with all conventions, there is the main hall where hundreds were milling about looking at the boards that told us what was happening in each individual ballroom; re-runs of the episodes were being shown non-stop in one, another had the Collectors tables where you could purchase said plastic ears, or a fake phaser or plastic model of the Enterprise, one was a lounge where unfortunately the strongest thing you could get was coffee (given my surroundings I thought at the time they should be selling LSD and Quaaludes along with small bottles of Jack but alas no).
And one important room was the auditorium where we could sit and wait patiently for George Takai or Michelle Nichols to take the stage and regale us with stories of past glory. The biggest draws, of course, were Shatner and Nimoy though James Doohan (Scotty) and Deforest Kelly (Bones) had huge crowds as well. So for a few hours, we sat, watched, listened, laughed and enjoyed the show.
Now one thing to understand about Mike and me is we always have huge expectations of things; we imagine how we would have done something. We critiqued the way the projectors for the episodes were way worse than watching the re-runs on television (WPIX in New York I think it was), and how the stories the stars told were pretty formulaic –(on subsequent visits to future shows we realized they were telling the same stories, with the same jokes in the same exact places- clearly everything was scripted, and amazingly though we were far from the only ones to go to more than one of these conventions, the crowds laughed at the same jokes as if hearing them for the first time the power of fandom). So you can imagine after a few hours of sitting there listening and watching, sipping tepid coffee out of Styrofoam cups, we got antsy.
So what do we do? Well, we go exploring, don’t we?
Now in memory, the whole deal was going on one floor of the hotel, but somehow we must have thought there was more to see, so we opened a stairwell door and started to climb. Now we also must have looked somehow official as no one stopped us to question just where it was we thought we were going. And if they had asked we would have honestly replied: “We have no idea”.
Well the floor upstairs was a flurry of activity but it somehow looked different than the main floor below; no plastic ears, no fans of any sort; just serious people walking to and fro seemingly in a dither. Not knowing what to do, or why this was at all as interesting as where we had been, we stood for a moment near the stairwell, Mike’s camera hanging off his shoulder, me trying to look like I belonged. And we must have because suddenly a guy walks up to us and says:
“Ok Mr. Shatner and Mr. Nimoy will be coming out shortly – you escort them down the stairs to the main floor – Security will meet you at the stairwell door, and take it from there.
We stood in stunned silence. Obviously, the guy thought we were with the hotel. And with a side glance at each other, we weren’t about to correct him.
“Got it,” Mike says seriously, his face somehow stern and all business. I just nodded. And of course, we were as excited as shit! Escort Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock?! Hell yea. Mike had on his bemused WTF look, slightly flushed, confident in the serendipity of life. I whispered to him:
“Now remember…no genuflecting” which got a stifled laugh. How the hell do these things happen to us I remember thinking, but like my friend, I knew about that gift horse and looking at the mouth of it. As in all things in life, the secret is just rolling with what is happening around you.
We still stood awkwardly by the door to the stairwell and I started to get paranoid (now there’s a surprise!) when I saw a woman in a business suit, glance at us and start talking to the guy who had spoken to us. Damn! Maybe she didn’t buy our story; but it wasn’t even our story, we just walked into the place; they were the ones making the assumptions; we just weren’t correcting them. I thought she was going to be a problem but at that moment, Shatner and Nimoy walked into the room. The guy who spoke to us gestured at us.
“These guys will escort you downstairs…our people will take it from there”.
Both nodded amicably and glanced in our direction. I smiled stupidly; Mike kept his stern all-business look on – how the hell can he do that, I remember thinking? !! I had to remind myself not to act like the fan I was, and start babbling about how my favorite episode was Return to Tomorrow, and I loved Robert Brown as a guest star, and what about the movie??!! And on and on.
No! I screamed at myself silently. You are here to do a job! Well….kinda.
Both men walked over to us and stood in front of us expectantly.
“Um… the door?” Captain Kirk said.
Ah yes… the door! That thing that opens and lets you go somewhere else!…yes oh yes…the Door!! Of course the door.
Mike was way ahead of me and opened the door to the stairway and was cool enough to hold up his hand to stop their advance. He would lead the way; I would bring up the rear. He was really into his role of Hotel Security Man.
And so there we went; Mike in front, William Shatner behind him, Leonard Nimoy behind Shatner, and me bringing up the rear, trying not to trip and fall into them.
And the whole way, we didn’t say a word; we were professionals after all. It wasn’t until we got to the bottom floor and it was once again time to use that thing called a door and give them over to the Production people that I said quietly:
“We really enjoy and appreciate your work”
That earned a smile from both, a little bow from Nimoy and the offer of a handshake, which we weren’t about to turn down. And then Mike opened the door, and they walked out into the ballroom and their new guardians.
And that was it. All of it. A simple case of mistaken identity and a quiet walk down a stairwell. Besides the fact that I wouldn’t wash that hand ever again, it was all nothing much right?
Except it wasn’t – not to us. To us, it was one of the greatest bits of pure chance and luck we would ever know. We were not worthy.
Eventually, we re-joined the crowds as civilians and attended the presentation in one of the ballrooms where the crowd was introduced to Shatner and Nimoy; we sat in the back so as not to be recognized (fat chance) and watched the proceedings as fans- ones without plastic ears. Though I am sure Mike was thinking the same thing I was….” that’s Leonard and Bill up there….good friends of ours…..”
At one point, while taking questions, one young girl was invited to the stage to meet the stars in person. She walked up nervously and smiled shyly as they tried to make her comfortable and answer her questions. Someone in the row in front of us said to their companion:
“How cool is that? –she gets to go on stage with them!”
And it was cool for sure, but let’s be real; it wasn’t escorting William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy down a stairwell level of cool. No, that day broke the cool meter.
We enjoyed the rest of the convention; discussed if anyone would believe us; decided they wouldn’t so told no-one.
No one had to know.
It was enough that we did.
Live Long and Prosper.