Science Fiction Summer

Drew with Daleks at DixieTrek

I dropped out of the elevator, crouched low to avoid detection. Looking left and right, I rolled quickly over to the wall trying not to be seen. I’d been avoiding her for most of the morning but her spoor hung heavy in the air in this place. I knew that the big cat was looking for lunch and that she had me in mind for the main course.

She wasn’t your usual cat, this one. She stood five feet tall at the shoulder and her coat was jet black streaked with fluorescent red. Her claws were long elegant blades and she had mysterious green catseyes, but it was her black leather cape and knee-high go-go boots that were a definite giveaway that this wasn’t your everyday feline.

Mrowling.

I think she said she was from Mrowling. Or maybe that was her name. The fake teeth made her speech hard to understand…and the little bit of drool trailing out of the corner of her mouth was anything but enchanting….which was the term that she’d just used to describe it.

I couldn’t remember everything she’d said as she latched onto me in the dealer’s room, all I knew was that she wouldn’t let go. She said that she liked redheads and that her thong was cutting into her chainmail bikini. As she started pretending to clean herself outside the video room I knew that this was one kitty I could never take home to Momma or out in polite company….especially as she was without a doubt the real thing, a six-foot tall talking cat-vampire girl.

Well, at least she was convinced that’s what she was… the real thing.

I’d managed to shake her at the bathrooms, tiptoeing out behind a gaggle of Klingons who were discussing the finer points of why Darth Vader could never be Luke Skywalker’s father. As I passed the Dr. Who autograph table I ducked behind a very confused Peter Davison and tumbled off into a supply closet where a couple of security people were arguing about who was the “commander” and who was the “red shirt”. They gave me a “what are you doing in here” look and continued whining back and forth at each other.

Now I only had to figure out how to get up through two levels of hotel, across a skyway and back to my friends without running into Miss Kitty.

No wonder I love Science Fiction conventions, they’re always an adventure.

For those of you who aren’t big fans of science fiction, this is your stop. Please gather your bags and prepare to disembark carefully and quickly, because we’ve got a lot of ground to cover and we’re running behind….

So I knew that I loved science fiction ever since I saw a movie a long time ago starring Bruce Dern and a pack of cute little droids who were tending a spaceship loaded down with plants and animals from Earth. The movie is called “Silent Running” and it really got to me at an early age. I’d like to have it on DVD, so if anyone out there feels so moved to go buy it on Amazon and send it to me I’d be your biggest pal EVER.

Sure I’d always enjoyed Star Trek, but I’d grown up watching the re-runs of it and kind of took it for granted. Still do to a large degree. It was too dreamy, too “clean”, too utopian. Gene Roddenberry was a foolish dreamer. Of course none of this stopped me from buying just about every Star Trek book and technical manual that I could get my hands on over the years. I have books that show how to build tricorders and phasers and explain the proper alignment of dilithium crystals. These days I’m slowly building the entire original-series collection on DVD. Forget about the sissy New Generation….

Star Wars came along and grabbed me and my friends and it’s never, ever let me go since that summer in 1977 when I went to that galaxy far, far away. Take my Star Trek collection and quintuple it and you might begin to approximate my Star Wars collection. I stopped wanting to be a paleontologist and started wanting to be a pre-production artist like Ralph McQuarrie. The man is an AMAZING illustrator…again, if anyone’s feeling particularly generous I’ll take an original Ralph McQuarrie illustration.

So it shouldn’t have been any wonder to me or my friend Dale Mann that on Friday, May 17, 1985 that we found ourselves cruising to the Northlake Hilton Promenade to attend something called “Dixie Trek”; our very first science fiction convention. I still have the program from that convention…. actually, I still have a thin manila envelope with ALL of the programs from EVERY Dixie Trek I ever attended in front of me as I write this article.

Now I’d heard of science fiction conventions before, my Dad was a secret Star Trek fan and had built a plastic model of a Klingon Battle Cruiser and suspended it over my bed with monofilament fishing line. So at some point he’d described these strange Trekkie conventions to me. The way it went, they were all in California, where all the nuts were (and largely still are).

I’m not certain how we found out about DixieTrek, most likely a flier at the comic book store, but important thing is that we went. It was strange and other-worldly. People were dressed weird. There was a concentration of balding overweight people with thick glasses and wild stares. Tall gangly people, remarkably short people. People in wheelchairs. People who were SO nerdy that people would just stop and stare at them.

And then there were the ones who made THOSE nerds look like rockstars.

Most people would have immediately sensed that there wasn’t a cool person within a three mile radius of the hotel. They would have informed you that the anti-cool vibe was so amazingly powerful in that spot, on that weekend, that had Mick Jagger been staying at the hotel for the weekend he wouldn’t have been able to get a woman to give him the time of day, much less to follow him back to his room.

But see, most people would have been wrong if they’d made that assertion. Certainly these folks had a hard time participating in regular society, and sure, their fashion sense bordered on the side of roadside circus, but when they got to the science fiction convention something amazing happened…something truly remarkable.

They met people just like themselves.

And by “just like themselves” I don’t mean overweight or balding or near-sighted. I mean that they found other people who were just as excited about Warp 3 as THEY were. These were people who knew how to dream, just like them. People who knew how to think outside the box, just like them. People who’d always fantasized about walking around in public, dressed as a big giant girl cat-vampire with a cape and not much else….just like, well, Mrowling was in fact unique. But the idea was the same. These were incredibly bright people, well-spoken people. Sharp as tacks, smart as whips and not afraid to wear a picture of Poppa Smurf Vader on their XXXL t-shirts.

That first convention was fun. I got to meet Jon Pertwee, the actor who played the third incarnation of Doctor Who on the long-running British adventure series of the same name. He even wore his costume, I mean, how cool was that?! We saw Majel Barrett give a lecture…which was cool because she was married to Gene Roddenberry, the man who created Star Trek. How could I not be hooked?

From that point on I always looked forward to the beginning of Summer and Dixie Trek. From 1985 to 1990 I didn’t miss a single convention, and over those years I got to meet and listen to a great number of people who worked on all those neat television shows and movies. Over the years I learned a lot more about cons, but have never really pierced the veil that I know exists for the weekend that a con is in existence. I’ve never actually stayed there overnight.

It’s a shady world of costumes and role-playing games and all-night video parties and midnight dances and hotel-room parties and scavenger-hunts and drinks with famous actors & actresses. It’s Monty Python sing-a-longs and hide & seek played in the belly of huge convention centers where there are an endless number of places to hide…and seek. There are romances and rivalries and bitter ongoing feuds between gangs of geeks. There’s always adventure, and there’s always SHOPPING.

The first time I walked into a Dealer’s Room I felt like Carter entering King Tut’s tomb. There were toys for sale in that place that I’d never even HEARD OF before. They had stuff that I’d had when I was little that I’d completely forgotten about. They had books and comics and videos of things that I didn’t even know that I needed to have. Table after table after table of magnificent crap….I thought I’d gone straight to Heaven.

Then there were the people you’d run into in the halls. I had a neat conversation with Bob Fletcher, the costume designer from the original Star Trek series as I was buying a nice dagger. He told everyone about a nearly-disasterous sword-fighting accident on one Broadway show he’d done. I chatted with Walter Koenig, the guy who played Chekov on the same Star Trek series.

Thumbing through these programs I see names and autographs from a lot of neat people that came to Dixie Trek. People like:

George Takei (Sulu from the original Star Trek)
Peter Davison (the 5th Dr.Who)
John Nathan-Turner (a long-time producer of Dr.Who, who just died a few months ago)
Billy Mumy (Will Robinson from Lost in Space)
Mark Lenard (he played Spock’s Daddy)
Robert Englund (he played Willy on the TV series “V”, but is best known for the role of Freddy Krueger in the Nightmare on Elm Street series)
Anthony Daniels (C-3P0 from Star Wars, he once served me a piece of birthday cake)
Julie Newmar (she was the “other” Catwoman on the 60’s TV show “Batman”, the one who wasn’t Eartha Kitt)

And then there was James Doohan….best known as “Scotty” on Star Trek. As in “beam me up Scotty”. The one who’d always say “Captain, she canna take much more”. That Scotty.

That was Dixie Trek #9, held in June of 1989.

About 7 months earlier I’d received a telephone call from a man in Burbank named Jeff Walker who informed me that he was a publicist for Warner Brothers and that my essay entry in the “Why I Want To Meet Batman In 50 Words Or Less” contest had won the Grand Prize. In the first month of December 1988 my Dad and I had been hustled off to London for two nights of filming on the set of Batman (only as extra’s mind you) at Pinewood Studios.

Cut back to June of the following year.

I was now a guest at Dixie Trek (albeit a super low-priority guest). Everybody wanted to know what Gotham City looked like. They wanted to know what the Batmobile looked like (yes, I’d gotten to sit in it!). They wanted to know a lot of things about the movie….but most of all, they wanted to know how in the heck I had managed to win the damned contest.

Before the big rollout of guests at the convention they assemble the guests in a sort of “green room” upstairs, two or three people with walkie-talkies herded us around like errant sheep….these days I know that you HAVE to do that with actors or they’ll wander away and get lost. Back then I just thought it was neat.

I knew that one of the guys standing next to me looked vaguely familiar, he just didn’t sound familiar. As the border collies started driving us toward the elevators I put two and two together and realized that here I was, being herded into an elevator with Scotty from Star Trek! For nine excruciating floors (32 painful seconds) I bit my tongue to keep from saying something about going below decks on the turbolift to check on the dilithium crystals or to the emergency bridge to see the Captain….or some similar nonsense. It took a great deal of willpower on my part to keep myself from annoying the guy.

The next thirty minutes flew by quickly, they introduced everyone on-stage, including me. I chatted when it was my turn, and shut up when it wasn’t. And just as suddenly as it had begun, my 15 minutes of convention fame ended. The ballroom emptied as the convention-goers filed out to go to other activities and chase down the actors for autographs….I think that I wandered off for a hamburger.

After that things get fuzzy again.

I started working on movies in Atlanta in 1991 and somewhere along that time period Dixie Trek faded into the blue. It just folded up and disappeared.

And somewhere along there we started going to something called DragonCon, which bills itself these days as the “World’s Largest Sci-Fi & Fantasy Convention”. The world of fandom is as varied as the number of books and comics and TV shows and movies will allow….and the fans of ALL those things come to DragonCon every year. For one brief, glorious weekend in September the streets of Atlanta are alive with Romulans and robots and monsters and stormtroopers and jedi knights and goth-girls and anything else you can imagine, including giant six-foot tall vampire-catgirls with capes, chainmail and thongs. You think maybe I’ll be ready for her this year? I dunno….

This year’s DragonCon is on Labor Day weekend. If you’re sufficiently intrigued, to the point of actually attending, let me know ahead of time and we can all meet up there at the hotel bar for a drink and a good half hour of staring at the people in costumes. For a nominal fee I won’t even mention to all your friends that you went to something so geeky. And remember kids, nominal is Latin for $100.

Live long and prosper,
Your Pal Drew

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