“Are we going to visit the baby Captain Professor X or the baby Priceline Negotiator?” I stopped kicking the back of Catie’s seat long enough to sarcastically ask. She shot back a disapproving glance in the rear view mirror. Hell hath no fury like a Trekkie scorned.
Up to that point, Catie, Katie, and John had spent the entire three-hour trip to Riverside, IA, “the future birthplace of Captain James Tiberius Kirk,” swapping stories and cracking jokes about their favorite science-fiction series. Maybe I was starting to feel a little left out. Having never seen more than a few minutes of the show (in any of its many iterations) or a single Star Trek movie, there was little reason for me to tag along other than my love of road trips. In other words, I was going into uncharted territory – perhaps not boldly, but at least willingly.
I recognize and respect the influence Star Trek has had on popular culture. But trying to sit through an episode leaves me feeling bored and guilty. Is there something wrong with me for not being engaged with the adventures of the Enterprise? What do the franchise’s devoted fans understand that I don’t? And what in God’s name is a tribble, anyway?
I didn’t know it then, but I was about to find out.
When we arrived in Riverside, we found exactly what I expected: an otherwise ordinary rural farming community but for a faded sign saying “Welcome to Riverside, Where the Trek Begins.” In fact, the only thing that distinguished the town from my birthplace of Manhattan, IL, was that the churches and bars were on opposite sides of the street. But one weekend a year, something extraordinary happens in Riverside: Trekkies make a pilgrimage to Trek Fest to celebrate Captain Kirk’s future birth with Star Trek costume contests, question-and-answer panels with the show’s stars (among them Chekov, Uhura and Sulu), fireworks, Kirk’s Stomping Grounds Rodeo and, most suitably, a demolition derby.
Not that we were able to take advantage of any of that. For some Godforsaken reason, we decided to visit Riverside on one of the 363 days of the year that were not during Trek Fest. The town wasn’t quite lifeless; kids played in yards, and a pair of mechanics were reassembling tractors in a field near the BP gas station. But a Star Trek-themed rodeo it wasn’t.
“If I was Captain Kirk, I’d rather be eaten by space ghoulies than spend my life here,” I muttered.
I knew the girls were upset and disappointed when they didn’t respond to my jab. John and I shared a guilty glance and decided to be quiet for the first time in hours. Finally, Catie pulled into a cracked driveway so we could turn around and leave this failure of a trip behind us.
Just then, I caught a large, white blur speed past us out of the corner of my eye. It couldn’t be. Catie turned to tail it, and when we finally caught up, we made our first promising discovery of the afternoon: We were following the U.S.S. Enterprise.
The Caties gave each other a high five, and John and I relaxed. Finally, the trip had found its purpose: to pursue the Enterprise as it was boldly towed where no one … well, most people haven’t gone before. Our jostling pursuit of the Federation trailer took us through seven long miles of crows and corn. And then we saw a cloud of dust a mile in the distance. Whatever we were headed toward was big and wild enough to kick up dirt and debris four stories high.
When we reached the Enterprise‘s destination, we were shocked. Squirreled away in the heart of Iowa, miles from any town or major highway, was a compound of three metal barns surrounded by a huge gravel parking lot with around 150 fully costumed Star Trek fans milling about. We rolled along the perimeter and realized there were more Trekkies inside the barns, viewing movies on giant projector screens and yelling out the lines as if they were watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Red-shirted loyalists were bent over tables set up all along the entryways as they quickly but joyfully organized paperwork and wrote name tags in a language I could only assume was Klingon. We parked the car and sat in air-conditioned wonder.
I took the lead. “Well, looks like we found the mothership. One of you ladies want to go out there and find out what’s going on?”
Catie took her hands off the steering wheel and turned to face me. “No. We are clearly at some kind of event that they have planned, and it would be rude to interrupt. I’m not going to let you or John say anything mean or sarcasti-“
Before she was able to finish her sentence, I slammed the car door shut and jogged toward the admissions tables. Behind me, John rolled with laughter, and the girls were red with a mixture of rage and embarrassment. But they had nothing to worry about. After spending three long hours listening to constant praise and discussion of the franchise – and being unable to stretch my legs – I needed to indulge my curiosity.
I was about 40 yards from the tables when the workers looked up and started to cheer. All of the attendees, even those in the barns, began whooping and holllering; thunderous applause echoed off the aluminum walls, and wolf whistles pierced the din. I froze, not sure whether to take a bow or run away. Then I noticed the caravan of firetruck-red limos and stretch Hummers entering the compound. Six of each filed in, circled the barn and lined up. The drivers climbed out, wearing red shirts and black slacks. Some of them were less than amused, while others awkwardly shuffled their weight from foot to foot. One, who had a V-shaped insignia he must have brought from his own collection, beamed with pride.
The commotion ended, and I finally made it to a knot of authoritative Spock look-a-likes who seemed to be in charge. I ran up with a big smile on my face, eager to find out what was going on. But before I could even say “hello,” I was greeted with a bevy of questions and offers.
“It’s not too late to register. Would you like to sign up?”
“I have an extra set of clothes and ears – are you an XL?”
“We have more parking in the back if you want to leave your car with the rest of the groups.”
Slowly, conversation after conversation, the passion in each conventioneer’s voice brought the event into focus. There I stood, an outsider who clearly had no idea what he had stumbled into, and their reaction wasn’t one of suspicion or resentment, but rather an eagerness to share their joy. I quickly explained that we had just been in Riverside and decided to follow the Enterprise out here, only to find the event we had stumbled upon was a Trekkie meet-up before a special pre-screening of the new movie. They offered us seats in the caravan to a nearby theater and some tickets, but we had to pass – we were meeting Katie Mac’s parents for dinner
It was that evening that the mysterious appeal of Star Trek was revealed to me. The devoted fans in attendance had no desire to prove that Star Trek was the best franchise; they were simply excited to share with others the hobby that brought them so much happiness. I knew then that I hadn’t just been missing out on the source material; I had been missing out on the community.
That was four months ago, and to this day, based on the unwarranted kindness with which they treated me, I still consider watching one of the movies … someday.
Brendan Sears would like to let all the observant readers out there know that yes, the Catie in this article is the same Catie who contributed another piece to this issue. Check out www.thesquonk.com, where Brendan writes under his gamertag, WoundedRiot.