Conventions Have Come A Long Way, Baby
Written By: Randy Hall
Published: Issue 9
During the past couple of weeks, we've looked at Star Trek conventions as they are today. But how did cons become such an integral part of fandom?
It surprised me to realize that I've been going to Trek conventions for about 25 years! Sadly, I never heard about that legendary first con in New York City that organizers thought would be a gathering of a few hundred friends and wound up being a rally with thousands of fans. But word of that success spread, and little conventions began popping up around the country, including the Washington, D.C., area.
Don't ask me how my twin brother, Wayne, and I found out about that con back in the dim, dark times of the mid-1970s (before any of us had ever heard of the Internet or E-mail). Wayne and I had just gotten into Trek after watching syndicated reruns and were still in college, so one of our fellow Trekkies must have told us about it, and we eagerly car pooled down to the uncharted wilds of the District's Virginia suburbs.
Most of us at that one-day-only get-together wore regular street clothes, and I remember gaping in astonishment at those first few people with T-shirts featuring images of Kirk, Spock and the Enterprise on them. There wasn't so much a dealer's room as a couple of dealer's tables, where Wayne and I bought classic blue and gold crew shirts (With no working replicator handy, we later called upon our mother's sewing skills to get the braids on the sleeves and the insignia patch on the front of our "uniforms.") We don't wear those anymore because that was more than 20 pounds - uh, years ago.
Programming was less than extravagant. The organizers had rented out a floor of the hotel and in each room placed a projector that showed episodes from the original series all day long. Of course, there were scheduling conflicts even then since some shows started on the hour and others on the half-hour. It was tough to choose between seeing "The Gamesters of Triskelion" and "Obsession," but those early cons weren't for the faint of heart.
Still, one room stayed full all day long. That was where the infamous "blooper reels" were shown, and I still remember the first time I saw Kirk turn toward the camera and earnestly say "Spack," then break into laughter as the film moved on to Scotty asking: "But Sir! What about the environmental controls and all that kinda stuff?" I'd never seen anything like those clips, and bloopers still crack me up to this day.
Finally, the guest list had only one person on it: the woman whose husband was the butcher for the mechanic whose sister worked with Gene Roddenberry's barber. Well, not really, but the concept of having the people who actually brought the intrepid crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise to life showing up and talking to our humble little group was considered utterly absurd.
Nevertheless, we all had a great time and were back several months later for the next con. The guest then was Susan Sackett, who had actually SEEN and SPOKEN TO the stars, and we hung on her every word. There was also a preview of some bizarre little sci-fi flick called Star Wars, but we all agreed it would never get anywhere without Kirk and Spock in it.
Since then, conventions have become mainstays of fandom, and I've had the opportunity to see every member of every crew on stage. I have autographed photos and action figures from the majority of them. At one point a few years ago, I thought I'd never be able to get the one signature I wanted most: that of William Shatner. Imagine my surprise and delight when I learned he'd begun attending cons again, and today, I have not one but three autographed photos of the man who brings my favorite Trek character to life. It's good to be a fan!
Well, summer weather may be here for most of us, but the summer convention season is getting off to a slow start. The next convention I've learned about will take place the weekend of May 26-28 in Tampa, Florida. That's when Vulkon will bring in several guests, including George Takei (who'll be there on Saturday only). So if you want to spread the word about BBK (and Excelsior), here's a terrific chance!
By the way, if you know of a site on AOL or the World Wide Web that does a great job listing upcoming cons, let me know about it by sending me e-mail at RandyHall@aol.com.