Trekkies teach Vegas how to live long and prosper

Anthony and Deidre Flood Jenkins are about to have the moment of a lifetime. Pavilion Room 4 at the Las Vegas Hilton might seem a funny place for this, but that’s where George Takei and Walter Koenig—who played Sulu and Chekov, respectively, in the original Star Trek—are taking pictures with fans. Anthony, who watched the show in its original run, is a bookseller; Deidre is a schoolteacher. Takei’s unmistakable baritone carries all the way through the line. The Jenkinses are about to meet their heroes.

The process is efficient but personal. Takei and Koenig are friendly, shaking hands and hugging before snapping the photo. Even though the process takes only about six seconds, it doesn’t feel like an assembly line.

For the Jenkinses, it is worth every penny. “For a second there, I became a little kid again,” Deidre says.

There was a lot of that at the Hilton from Aug. 5-8. Like everything else in Las Vegas, the Official Star Trek Convention was a mix of imagination, show business and commerce.

Down the hall in the vendors’ room, fans could find something for every budget. A small tribble cost $4; a Star Trek: Enterprise jumpsuit actually worn by Connor “Trip Tucker” Trinneer went for $4,000, with plenty of tricorders and replica uniforms in between.

There was also a Vegas connection. Lisa Geczi’s Intergalactic Bartender is a local start-up rising out of the shadow of Quark’s Bar at the Hilton’s former attraction Star Trek: The Experience. As director of special events for the Experience until its 2008 closure, she put together a recipe book featuring drinks such as the Final Frontier Frost and Maximum Warp, as well as a line of over-size glassware for drinking these cosmic concoctions. With Chase Masterson, who played the effervescent dabo girl Leeta on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as her spokesperson, the sky’s the limit.

That personal touch is important. Several actors who have appeared in the shows over the years were there, chatting with fans and selling autographs, pictures and CDs.

Max Grodénchik, for example, who portrayed the Ferengi Rom on Deep Space Nine, sat next to Grace Lee Whitney, who played Yeoman Rand on the original series. In addition to signing autographs during the day, Grodénchik joined several of his co-stars in a group called “the Rat Pack,” which performed at a special dinner at the Stratosphere, mixing comedy with music.

When he first auditioned for a role on Star Trek, Grodénchik couldn’t have imagined that one day he’d be working Vegas on the strength of his performance.

“If I had known the stakes were so high,” he admits, “I would have been too nervous to audition.”

Gary Lockwood, who was prominent in both 2001: A Space Odyssey and the original series pilot, “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” has done five or six Star Trek conventions a year since 1975.

For other actors, working conventions still has surprises. Scott MacDonald and Randy Oglesby have worked together on the stage—including a run on Broadway—and were delighted when they were cast as adversaries in the third season of Star Trek: Enterprise. They’re just as happy sitting on a Xindi Council panel with fellow Trek actors Tucker Smallwood and Rick Worthy, taking questions and sharing reminiscences.

As accomplished stage actors, MacDonald and Oglesby hadn’t anticipated appearing in a science-fiction TV show and working Vegas. But now they embrace it.

“It’s a form of applause,” MacDonald says of meeting fans. “I watched Star Trek as a kid. It’s very flattering.”

Says Oglesby, who has played seven different Star Trek characters: “It’s a great, strange thing that I’d never dreamed would happen when I was doing O’Neill and Chekhov.”

Listening to these actors talk about their time with Star Trek and beyond, it’s clear that we need to be willing to reinvent ourselves and find joy in it, even if it’s not what we were doing three years ago. Just as stage actors can discover Shakespearean undertones in television roles, Las Vegas can find meaning in catering to visitors on a budget, even though it’s been built for luxury. A trip to Vegas should mean “feel like a kid again” moments for everyone. The Star Trek Convention provided just that.

David G. Schwartz is the director of UNLV’s Center for Gaming Research.