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Thursday, December 28, 2006


Strange, new worlds at the Las Vegas Hilton

Last summer, a sibling and I went on a 10 day road trip that took us to Yellowstone, down to Las Vegas, over to Disneyland and back again. The Las Vegas stint was fairly uneventful. We drank cheap margaritas, we gambled a bit and we watched other people drink cheap margaritas and gamble a lot. One afternoon we headed over to the Las Vegas Hilton, expecting more of the same but with a Star Trek theme.

In the parking garage we encountered two guys dressed in full Trek regalia. Did they work for the casino? We had no idea. If so, patrolling a 110-degree parking garage in a military uniform and Klingon makeup had to be painful. Near the entrance, a readerboard told us everything we needed to know. A Star Trek convention was in town. Thousands of geeks from all over the world, many posing as employees of the United Federation of Planets, were clogging the casino's corridors. Just past the doors we could spot three dozen of them redeeming meal vouchers at a Pizza Hut.

Rather than turn and flee back to the MGM, I ran back to the car and fetched an Ewok doll that had served as a totem throughout our journey. What better way to spend an afternoon among 15,000 Star Trek fans than taunting them with a piece of merchandise from a competing franchise? With the Ewok held high, or at least partially visible, we confidently headed inside.

Now I'll be honest, I don't know much of anything about Star Trek and my sibling would be hard pressed to give you the name of Captain Kirk's heterosexual life partner with the pointy ears. I've seen the movies but I've never caught a single episode of any of the shows. When it comes to enduring sci-fi franchises with "Star" in their titles, I swing more towards Wars than Trek.

Our first stop was "The Star Trek Experience," a portion of the Hilton converted into a pseudo-theme park. In addition to a gaming floor with spaceships hung overhead, two rides, a museum, employees wandering around in alien suits and a gift shop that sells Klingon beer, there's a restaurant called "Quark's Bar." Around fifty Trekkies were lined up ahead of us. Nearby, stood a husband and wife dressed as upper brass in Federation uniforms. Quark himself (Wikipedia tells me he's a "Ferengi" bartender) was working the crowd and eventually wandered up to ask the husband for his name and rank. Without skipping a beat, he threw out information detailing his work history in this imaginary universe. The husband was the captain of a Federation Starship that had seen action in the past but, in recent years, was stuck on Earth patrol, apparently a shit gig in the Star Trek universe.

Quark didn't offer us a second glance. If there was a social order in the Las Vegas Hilton that afternoon, our t-shirts and the Ewok had earned us a spot on the bottom rung.

Once seated, we ordered a pizza shaped like a Federation logo and a large, glowing cocktail filled with rum and dry ice. All around us: a table of Vulcans, a heavy-set Klingon dripping sweat, a booth full of lieutenants and a guy dressed as LeVar Burton's character. I wonder what Hunter S. Thompson circa 1972 would have made of a Vegas scene like this. Dozens of people in Hollywood make-up and immaculate space fatigues, all drinking heavily and pretending like they were living in the 23rd century. It was loud and I couldn't make out their conversations. How far were they taking this cosplay stuff? Were they talking shop? Discussing warp drives and the tactics Captain Pickard used in the same way Civil War buffs bicker over Sherman's March to the Sea?

Our waitress, an undergrad who looked she would have been more comfortable working a register at a Hot Topic, acted like she was embarrassed to be there. I remember her saying, "Yeah, they come through in droves once a year, every August, for this thing." She told us she once worked at a restaurant at Treasure Island. Who are the better tippers, the norms on the Strip or the Trekkies? Her answer: the Trekkies.

We spent the next hour in "The Experience." A spin on the Borg ride would have run us $30 a head. We passed and took pictures of the Ewok instead. I didn't have the nerve to butt through a small ocean of photographers to get a shot of the doll with four Klingons wielding plastic swords. This gal was willing though. I never did figure out if she worked there or was a random fan.

The Ewok also spent some time mingling with a display case full of furballs called "Tribbles" in the gift shop. The Klingon beer I bought is still sitting in my fridge.

We eventually made it up to the convention floor, where Trek Christmas was going full throttle. Many of the key players from all of the shows were in attendance. Giant banners covered the walls: Scott Bakula 20 feet tall. Near the entrance sat a recreation of a bridge from the original series. Sweet Jesus, this stuff covered every surface. Sure, they were Xeroxes but even the "no smoking" signs had Trek plastered all over them.

Inside a large banquet hall, William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy were doing a Q&A. We snuck in and caught the last question. After triumphantly bowing like a pair of Caesars, they headed into another room to sign autographs. We had nothing on the agenda for the rest of the afternoon. Getting a photo of the Ewok with Spock and Kirk suddenly became a mission worth wasting several hours on.

The entrance and line leading to the two of them was blocked by several guards. We asked an employee what it would take to meet Nimoy and Shatner. We would have needed to purchase a day pass for $60 and another $30 "Meet and Greet" pass that wouldn't guarantee us anything. $180 all together and the the very real possibility that three hours in line wouldn't get us jack squat. Common sense kicked in and we decided to head over to the Hard Rock Casino instead.

But not before a geek who had been eavesdropping on our haggling could toss in his two cents. He was disgusted by the two us, by the Ewok and our ignorance of all things Trek. For him, it was as if we had wandered into the Super Bowl and couldn't name either of the teams on the field. A snippet of the conversation that ensued:

TREK JUNKIE: "You had no idea this was happening today?!!"

ME: "Uh, no."

TREK JUNKIE: "You didn't see all the advertising on the internet? On TV? I know people that have been looking forward to this since Thanksgiving, for...their...their....whole lives!!"

ME: "Oh, that's nice."

He couldn't process our apathy. We might as well have cluelessly wandered into Haj or the inner sanctums of the Vatican for an out-of-the-clear-blue chat with the Pope. What was $180 in exchange for thirty seconds spent in the presence of living gods like Shatner and Nimoy? From his perspective, we were squandering the opportunity of a lifetime. We were going to leave all this, an event 1,000 times more important than the birth of Christ, to look at one of Keith Richard's guitars down the street and maybe stop at a Starbucks afterwards.

Either his head was going to explode or he was going to declare jihad on the two of us. We headed for the exits before he could decide on the best course of action.

Click here for more photos from the Hilton.

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