For Trekkies, it never gets old

Sam Siegel of Pennsburg as Thought Admiral Kethas epetai-Rustadzh draws a glance from some terrestrial beings before heading in to the convention in Cherry Hill.
Sam Siegel of Pennsburg as Thought Admiral Kethas epetai-Rustadzh draws a glance from some terrestrial beings before heading in to the convention in Cherry Hill. (MICHAEL BRYANT /Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 30, 2013

For decades, fans of the television show Star Trek have displayed unbridled enthusiasm for their beloved corner of the science-fiction galaxy, affectionately dubbing themselves "Trekkies" and donning costumes of their favorite aliens and space commanders.

This weekend was no different. At the Crowne Plaza hotel in Cherry Hill, hundreds of Trekkies young and old convened for the Philadelphia installment of the nationally traveling Star Trek Convention.

The gathering, billed by organizers as "a weekend of everything Trek," gave fans a chance to interact with a handful of actors from the show, such as Avery Brooks (Commander Sisko), Michael Dorn (Worf) and Gates McFadden (Dr. Crusher), who appeared on stage to answer questions from the crowd.

That these gatherings are also definitively commercial affairs was also in evidence. Stars autographed glossy pictures of their characters for $35 to $50 a signature. Other Trekkie-pleasing memorabilia was also for sale, including signed posters (one of William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy was priced at $595), miniature stuffed animals (fluffy space commanders could be had for less than $10), and books written by cast members. I Am Not Spock, by Nimoy, was going for $25 at one stand.

But the real draw of the weekend, many participants said, was the chance to interact with fellow Trek-lovers, many of whom travel to several conventions a year, developing relationships in the process.

"It's a great community," said Mercury Presentia of Long Island, who attended as the character K'Ehleyr, a Klingon/human hybrid with a disturbing forehead who appeared in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Presentia, who has been watching Star Trek since the Voyager series in the mid-'90s, said the show, with its sophisticated writing and themes relating to big-picture social issues, tended to create deep devotion among its followers, and those who gather at conventions are eager to discuss the show.

Sam Siegel, 38, of Pennsburg, agreed, saying the conventions are often like reunions. He has been attending them for 23 years, he said, making friends with people he sees only at Trek-related functions.

That includes his membership in the Imperial Klingon Forces, an 1,100-member organization with 30 chapters across the globe, he said. The IKF, as he called it, allows Klingon enthusiasts to convene and discuss various aspects of the Klingon way of life. Its website boasts of requiring no membership dues.

Siegel, wearing a Klingon mask and a "command cloak" covered in badges, acknowledged that some may find Trek enthusiasts peculiar, but that their devotion was not as far-fetched as it may appear.

"People who are 'normal' would find this nerdy, and it is. It is nerdy," he said with a smile. "But it's no more nerdy than those who do taxidermy, or collect baseball cards."

Nerdy or not, attendees Sunday generally seemed pleased with the chance to reflect on the show with other fans who could competently identify the differences between series such as The Next Generation and Voyager.

As Max Grodénchik, who played Rom in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, chatted with fan Julie Harris, 48, at his autograph table, she nodded when he postulated why Trekkies would routinely congregate to celebrate a decades-old franchise.

"There's something about the Trek series," he said. "I think the vision is a hopeful vision of the future. And there's something very positive about that."


Contact Chris Palmer at 609-217-8305, cpalmer@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @cs_palmer.

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