You might expect an article on a "Star Trek" convention to tease the geeks and nerds dressed up as Enterprise crewmen and green-skinned aliens; but I can't satisfy that expectation.
For one thing, I'm quite the "Trek" fan myself.
For another, the May 5 gathering in Cherry Hill, N.J., was surprisingly normal.
PHOTO By JOSEPH W. SMITH III/Sun-Gazette Correspondent
To be sure, there were plenty of costumes, vendors and celebrities - including "Next Generation" stars Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner and LeVar Burton - along with Tim Russ from "Voyager" and Chase Masterson from "Deep Space Nine."
(For non-fans, these are three of the five different "Star Trek" TV shows.)
But, as one attender observed, when it comes to avid fans - say of sports teams, pop stars or Black Friday sales - Trekkies are probably the most peaceful.
That might reflect "Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry's futuristic vision of a harmonious earth united in spite of differences.
Indeed, during the question-and-answer session, Stewart was asked jokingly whether in his travels as Enterprise captain he'd found any cure for baldness (a Stewart trademark). The star responded that Roddenberry himself had once been grilled about Captain Picard's shiny dome. The big man's reply: "In the 24th century, nobody will care."
The most notable display of civility also occurred during the Q-and-A, when a severely handicapped man exchanged remarks with Stewart using a keyboard and synthetic voice; at one point, the crowd waited nearly two minutes while the man painstakingly typed in a response to Sir Patrick. That's a lot of silence from a thousand people, some of whom paid nearly $400 for their weekend package.
My friend Matt Kelley and I shelled out $95 each for admission, plus another $75 for a guaranteed autograph session with Stewart. Individual autographs and photo ops with other stars were $30 or $40 each - though much of this could be gotten as part of the costlier package deals.
Though I'm a lifelong Trekkie, I was dying to ask Stewart about his London stage version of "Waiting for Godot" with Sir Ian McKellen. To my great disappointment, he told me the performance had not been recorded for commercial sale; but, he added, "Watch this space!" - hinting, perhaps, of a reprise in America.
While waiting with hundreds of others for a Stewart autograph, I chatted with a couple who brought along their 17-month-old daughter - with a tiny T-shirt declaring "Trekkies: The Next Generation"; Dad showed me her board book called "The Star Trek Book of Opposites," with shots from the original series showing, for example, the bridge both "empty" and "full."
I also met a 14-year-old from York attending his third convention. Noting that he was well below the show's age demographic, I asked how long he'd been a fan.
"I started 47 months ago," was his somewhat startling reply.
The convention featured speeches from long-time Roddenberry associate Richard Arnold; from Morgan Gendel - writer of the beloved "Next Generation" episode "The Inner Light"; and from Stewart, whose genial 80-minute talk had the audience roaring with laughter.
Also present were about a dozen vendors selling "Trek" memorabilia: T-shirts, caps, shot glasses, coffee cups, books, CDs, "Ressikan flutes" autographed by Gendel (selling briskly at $100 each) and the actual Vulcan harp used in "Star Trek V," signed by original series star Leonard Nimoy ($5000).
Not to mention hundreds of non-Trek photos and posters autographed by such notables as Shirley Jones, Burt Ward, Bruce Dern, Tippi Hedren and Emma Watson.
Perhaps my favorite encounter was with fellow Pennsylvanian Samuel Siegel, in full Klingon regalia - including ridged facial features - who introduced himself as Thought Admiral Kethas epetai-Rustadzh, a character from one of the hundreds of Star Trek novels.
Siegel also handed me a very non-Klingon-like business card for the Imperial Klingon Forces (www.i-k-f.org), which specializes in "costuming and make-up creation," conventions, online meetings and "Klingon swordplay lessons."
And I met two smiling ladies in the red crew garb of the original series, plus a silver-clad woman dressed as the Borg character Seven of Nine from "Voyager." Like Siegel, they all thanked me when I asked to take their picture.
So, yeah - "Trek" fans can be a trifle odd. But they sure are easy to get along with.