Chris Long was born with pointed ears. But that wasn't a problem until he turned 7 and a nasty bunch of schoolmates started calling him a strange, foreign-sounding name: Spock.
Naturally, Long was stung by the teasing, but he hadn't a clue what the name meant. At least not until his parents allowed him to stay up late one night and watch a new science fiction show that had made its debut on television a year earlier--"Star Trek."
"Suddenly, I realized they were comparing me to him ," said Long, referring to the pointy-eared Vulcan named Spock who manned the science officer's station on the famed star ship Enterprise. Two things happened next: "I began wearing my hair long and became a dedicated 'Star Trek' fan."
Long, a Poway resident, was among the hundreds of "Trekkies" who beamed into San Diego Saturday to relive memories, paw through paraphernalia and schmooze with members of the original Enterprise crew at a "Star Trek" convention at the Bahia Hotel.
Organized by Creation Conventions of New York, the two-day extravaganza features trivia contests, a "Star Trek" sound-alike competition, gossip about minutiae such as what the original show's stars are up to these days, and appearances by actor James Doohan, who played the lovable chief engineer with the heavy brogue, Scotty.
Buoyed by the airing late last year of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," a modern version of the popular program, the event drew an estimated 750 fans young and old from throughout Southern California. Some came in full Trekkie regalia; others were bedecked with assorted pins, patches, jewelry and other accessories reminiscent of the show, which became a cult hit only after its cancellation by NBC--after just two seasons.
The undisputed standouts were Dennis and Debbie Hanon and their 5-month-old daughter, Denise. The three were draped in authentic-looking Star Fleet uniforms like those worn in the second, third and fourth "Star Trek" motion pictures. Debbie made the duds
from a pattern she bought at one of the dozens of conventions the couple has attended over the last 12 years.
"I'm supposed to be Admiral Kirk, of course, and Debbie is Lieutenant Savek," Dennis said proudly as he stood in black boots, black pants with red stripes and a burgundy, emblemed shirt over a white turtleneck.
What of the baby, who was smiling and drooling profusely in her burgundy jump suit as her parents chatted with admiring passers-by?
"She's just a 'Star Trek' baby," Debbie explained. "She's a very bright child, but she's a little young to understand the significance yet."
The Hanons' obsession with Trekkiness doesn't end with their clothes. The couple watches reruns of the original show every day and catches the new program four times each weekend on two separate television channels. Employed as accountants in San Diego, the Hanons also present a "Star Trek" role-playing game for friends every few months. They went to seven conventions last year.
"We are very into it, because it's an intelligent show with interesting characters," said Dennis, who became a loyal follower during the program's first season in 1966.
Plowing through piles of Trekabilia--just the way the Horta burrowed through solid rock in one particularly memorable episode--conventioneers spared no expense as they grabbed up everything from synthetic ears ($1.99) to limited-edition ceramic plates bearing colorful etchings of Kirk and other crew members ($29.50).
There were comic books, novels and autographed photos of the stars, as well as copies of the Star Trek Star Fleet Medical Reference Manual, and reproductions of fazers and communicators. Going particularly fast were $20 "Star Trek" blooper videos, as well as stuffed Tribbles--small fuzzy creatures that multiplied rapidly in a popular episode called "The Trouble With Tribbles"--that sold for $2, $4 and $8 apiece.
Even a collection of poetry by the actor who played Dr. Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley), as well as a cassette of songs recorded by Nichelle Nichols, who starred as Lieutenant Uhura and sang in occasional episodes, were snapped up.
"People will buy just about anything," said Peter Grubbs, general manager of Barrett's Comics & Games, which sells merchandise at about 80 "Star Trek" conventions a year.
"Take this Klingon doll. That goes for $30. These 'Star Trek' fans are really into this stuff."
Long, attending his seventh convention, dropped $10 for the script of an episode from the new series, which was autographed Saturday by Majel Barrett Roddenberry, who played Nurse and later Dr. Christine Chapel and is married to "Star Trek's" creator, Gene Roddenberry.
The inscription? "To Chris: The 24th Century is just beginning."
Another fan, 41-year-old Thomas Hansom, doled out $65 for a shiny black "Star Trek" jacket, which he wore proudly while perusing the merchandise with his wife, Judy, and their two children. For Hansom, who estimates he has more than $1,000 invested in memorabilia surrounding the program he has followed devoutly for 21 years, $65 was peanuts.
"I guess you could say my living room is a 'Star Trek' shrine," said Hansom, a career counselor in the U.S. Navy who hails from Yakima, Wash., but now lives in San Diego. "I've got videotapes of all the episodes (that's 100) as well as the movies (all four of them). We've got plates of all the heroes--they put a new one out every three months, you know--plus the coffee cups, T-shirts, posters. My daughter even bought paper dolls."
Every now and then, Hansom will declare it "Trekkie Day," plop in front of the TV set, and watch all four movies in a row, according to son Marcus, 12. On Saturday, the Hansoms bought patterns for Star Fleet uniforms to outfit the family.
"I've been with Captain Kirk for so many years, ever since I was a young kid," Hansom said. "I guess what attracted me initially was his command abilities, the way he made decisions. He is so impressive."
Some Trekkie Trivia
Perhaps the highlight of the day--aside from Scotty's appearance, of course--came when fans matched wits in the trivia contest held in the packed, sweltering convention auditorium. Let's see how you do:
Q: What was the name of the pet Spock had as a child on the planet Vulcan?
A: A "ceylot," described by one veteran Trekkie as a large, furry dog-like creature with fangs eight inches long.
Q: What was the name of the reptilian alien Kirk battled in the episode, "Arena?" (C'mon, even I know this one.)
OK, now for a real doozy, which stumped all but the woman who posed it.
Q: In the book (yes, these people read all the Star Trek novels, too ) , "Wrath of Khan," what was the occupation of Scotty's niece?
A: She was a shuttle-craft pilot for Star Fleet.
All right, go for the consolation prize:
Q: What were the names of the whales in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home?
A: George and Gracie. (And if you didn't get that one...)
For answering these and other questions, the lucky Trekkies were awarded prizes ranging from the official Star Trek Fan Club Magazine (which most of them probably already had) to a videotape on the making of "Star Trek" by creator Roddenberry.
Much of the talk among conventioneers Saturday focused on "Star Trek: The Next Generation," which has an entirely new crew and a new, bigger Enterprise that breaks into two parts. The show is set in the 24th Century--almost 100 years after Kirk and his colleagues soared the galaxies.
One observation expressed by several fans was that women have more influential roles in the new production; in the original, they mostly played nurses, communications experts and endangered victims wooed by Kirk. Another modern touch: While the original crew once boldly went where no man had gone before, the new crew goes where no one has gone before.
There were varied impressions of the new captain, Jean-Luc Picard, played by Patrick Stewart. Some lamented that the thin, stern and bald actor lacks panache and seems incapable of the galactic derring-do so ably practiced by William Shatner's chesty, macho James T. Kirk.
"He's nowhere near as convincing," complained Hansom. "Kirk would jump in there without hesitation and fight anyone, no matter what. Picard is really kind of a wimp."
But some said it was nice to see a captain who was a little more cerebral and not just an aggressive muscleman.
"I was leery at first, but I think it's nice that Picard is a man of words and a little more intellectual than Kirk," said Carl Norman, a financial planner who began watching "Star Trek" as a boy growing up in central New York.
Nearly everyone interviewed said that, while the plots may be a little too reminiscent of the original show, the cast is unique and intriguing.
"I'm glad they didn't try to just duplicate the old characters, because I think that would have failed," said John Nickel of San Diego, who used a line from "Star Trek" while exchanging vows with his wife, Bonnie, at their wedding in July. "I was prepared to be disappointed but I think they've succeeded in making it a quality science fiction show with a whole set of interesting people finding difficult challenges."
"And another thing," added Nickel, who may name his child due to be born three days ago--Kirk. "It's just nice to have 'Star Trek' back on television."
The program has been picked up for a second season. The convention continues today between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m.