To geek out new life, and new civilizations.
Thank the Great Bird of the Galaxy, it's been a comeback year for Star Trek on several fronts. The biggest turnabout, by any reckoning, is of course the return—and a triumphant return, at that—of the Trek franchise to the big screen, courtesy of J.J. Abrams. That was a mighty big victory all by itself… but it doesn't stop there.
The stereotype of Star Trek geeks as square, uptight, 'unintentionally-celibate' couch-denters with no access to females has been repeatedly, rowdily smashed, de-virginized and otherwise thoroughly debauched in myriad ways by each successive album release by the hard-Trekkin' rock band Warp 11. They recently rocked an otherwise-snooze-inducing MacWorld; if the lyrics don't have to do with Star Trek, sex and alcohol, and free-floating sci-fi geekdom—pretty much in that order—Warp 11 doesn't want anything to do with 'em. The long-awaited Star Trek Online has warped to a PC screen near you; and Trekkers of all creeds and stripes can go see the props, costumes, weapons and sets of the history-making series at the Star Trek Expo, currently based at The Tech museum in San Jose, California. And yes, Virginia—you can even sit in The Chair.
I first visited the Trek Expo in its Hollywood Boulevard digs, just a few doors down from the famed Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood, California. It was a high-profile address, to be sure (and coincidentally right down the street from Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, home to the wax immortalization of James T. Kirk/William Shatner), but it was to be only a temporary home for the collection of iconic Star Trek props and sets—with a decidedly smaller footprint than its current San Jose installation.
The Star Trek Expo has been a major site of pilgrimage for Trekkers, especially in light of the lamented closure of the Star Trek Experience in Las Vegas—where guests could experience:
A) A walk-through of the Next Gen, Enterprise E bridge;
B) A motion-based ride that, for its time, still beat out the much more well-known Star Tours attraction at Disneyland; C) A fully-functioning themed 'Quark's Bar', complete with paralyzing drinks such as the dry-ice-smoking, fishbowl-sized 'Warp Core Breach'; and
D) The black-hole-like implosion of your wallet at unique shops that ran the product gamut from gaudy mainstream T-shirts and stickers to straightfaced, venue-exclusive, functioning Communicator props to one-of-a-kind pieces of art costing ridiculous amounts of money.
Of that whole Experience, Quark's Bar is the most universally-missed segment. They did have a small—alas, largely non-functioning—chunk of DS9 bar at the Hollywood Expo installation. Happily, it still served the purpose of being a place where one might meet easy-on-the-eyes Trekkie Girls.
The smaller Hollywood Boulevard site had as its centerpiece the bridge of the Next Generation Enterprise, and that had its own sort of laid-back charm. But for the real Mecca of Trekdom, you need to have The Original Series (TOS) bridge of the USS Enterprise, and that's exactly what's waiting at The Tech in San Jose—complete with dimmed submarine-esque lighting and the glowing control panels of the wraparound science, engineering and communication stations.
If you go on an early weekday when The Tech isn't slammed with visiting gaggles of school kids on field trips, you can settle yourself down in Kirk's classic chair, absorb the ambiance of the bridge, and even lean into that sort of comfortable, pensive crouch that Kirk would do. If you happen to be alone on the bridge-set at that moment—it can happen—you can even launch into that “What gives you the right to attack my ship?” speech you've been practicing in the bathroom mirror.
Even more impressive—hurts like hell for a TOS Trekker to admit it, but it's true—is the entire section of corridor from the Next Generation series, from which you can get a gander at Picard's tastefully low-key quarters. Strangely enough, this corridor will also lead you to the glowing TOS Guardian of Forever set/prop: the glowing rock-donut Kirk and Spock had to jump through to track down a wild-eyed McCoy jacked up on Cordrazine—and bless you and shame on you simultaneously, if you already knew where I was headed with that.
The San Jose installation also boasts a large replica of the Enterprise from the Wrath of Khan/Voyage Home film-era, and a surprising array of starship and shuttlecraft models spanning the various Trek films and series (including the Borg cube), as well as the original props for the TOS-era phaser, communicator and tricorder, plus a large selection of costumes from both the Trek TV shows and films. There also was (presumably still is) an enclosed, Star Trek-themed full-motion flight sim available just as one would exit the Trek Expo proper (right near the obligatory gift shop, where a Trekker who wants a drink can find useful gear. But following a full afternoon of Royal-Navy-Recipe grog and the 'museum-grade' lunch grub available at The Tech, the full-motion option didn't seem like a very good idea.
The Star Trek Expo will continue to run at The Tech Museum of Innovation at least through April 11, barring any last-minute extensions; for additional information, you can visit The Tech's main website here. (READER NOTE: If Warp 11 ever manages to play a gig in such a venue as this, the geek-universe as we know it will instantly explode, or implode, or something. Just a sensors-up.)