Star Trek's Cleveland Roots: Roddenberry at the Cleveland ConCoction

Eugene "Rod" Roddenberry, the son of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, is the Guest of Honor at the Cleveland ConCoction, a sci-fi and gaming convention in its inaugural year at the airport Sheraton Hotel a couple weekends ago.

Roddenberry, who's pictured always with hair cut short and stalagmitically gelled, is today sporting a longer look. It's golden from the California sun. He's interfacing with a small, impassioned crowd of Star Trek aficionados in a Q&A during the Friday 3 p.m. session, before many of the weekend guests have even arrived. The mean age here is up around 60, but a few non-Boomer types sit in the first row. One in the seat closest to Rod wears Spock ears. The young man's hanging on his every word (which was lately "Takei.")

"My God, that's guy's Facebook page," Roddenberry says, of Star Trek's original Sulu. "I've asked him if he hires somebody to manage that, but there's nobody working for him. It's just him and Brad."

This crowd, which purports or pretends to be on a first-name basis with not only Star Trek cast and crew members, but their webs of friends and extended families as well, surely needs no clarification — as I did — that "Brad" refers to Brad Takei, née Altman, George Takei's longtime partner whom he married in 2008. This crowd refers to William Shatner as "Bill."

Additionally, this crowd wants answers to specific plot questions in Star Trek spinoffs. They'd like to spend some time speculating on the location of lost audio files from the original recordings for the Star Trek animated series, the writing of which Rod cautiously submits is "as good as, if not better than" the writing in the original series. Rod hastens to remind the audience that that series is available instantly on Netflix. "I'm not trying to sell you anything," he says, sit-standing on the raised platform at the front of "Orion A," one of three Sheraton conference rooms which will host the majority of panel and seminar-style programming this weekend.

The Roddenberry Q&A is only the second official offering of the day. The Opening Ceremonies at 5 (about which, I take no pleasure in reporting, there will be nothing even remotely ceremonial) are still on the horizon. A nonspecific "trivia" event occupied the 2 to 2:45 block, but not a single person attended. Two women dressed either as pirates or elves peeked their heads in, but promptly scuttled elsewhere when they saw Orion's empty chairs.

But the Trekkers have arrived for Rod, and intend to watch his presentation of Trek Nation tomorrow morning. That's the documentary recounting his 10-year journey to explore his father's life.

"I care a lot more about the legacy of Roddenberry than the legacy of Star Trek," Roddenberry admits to the crowd. He says that all his work — his family's charitable foundation, his entertainment projects, his SCUBA adventure squad — is in the service of perpetuating his father's hard work and his family's good name.

You get the sense that he travels a lot. After the panel, Roddenberry cozies up at the Sheraton bar and engages ConCoction staffers — all of them diehard fans, you can tell — in conversation about which American breweries serve versions of Romulan ale. He reiterates his opinion that the word 'fan' has returned to its original meaning, and now carries negative over-the-top connotations. So he calls his current posse "Admirers of the Show."

Of which there are many in Cleveland. ConCoction is the first real convention for the geek community in Northeast Ohio, and though it may seem like something of a backwater stop, it's actually awash in notable Star Trek heritage and lore.  

Three in particular:

Star Trek Premiere:  In September 1966, the Star Trek pilot "Where No Man Has Gone Before" premiered in Cleveland at the TriCon festival at the downtown Sheraton. This was prior to the episode's original airing on NBC. It received a standing ovation.

Fan Group Origins: Northeast Ohio became a nursery, then, for Star Trek fandom. One of two global fan groups, the International Federation of Trekkers, began in Cleveland when local admirer Russ Haslage wasn't satisfied with the sort of fanaticism he saw on display in the early 1980s. He called Paramount Studios and asked to speak to Gene Roddenberry personally.

To his dismay and delight, Roddenberry called him back, and helped Haslage establish the IFT in 1984.

"We're Trekkers, not Trekkies," says a redshirted Joe Outlaw, captain of Cleveland's West Park IFT Chapter. "We still use Starfleet's pseudo military structure, but we're much more focused on community service."

The IFT — "Pride. Service. Honor." — has its international headquarters in Amherst, Ohio.

Barfleet:  From 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday night, a terminal hallway in the Sheraton's capital-I-shaped floor configuration hosts the "Mad Scientist Party," at which there's a tremendous amount of alcohol.

Tonight, the booze is courtesy of Barfleet, a national, Cleveland-based organization whose "sole mission" is to provide hospitality and throw parties at sci-fi conventions.

Of the two dedicated party rooms up here on Floor 5, one is no longer even recognizable as a hotel room. The beds have been somehow removed. A turntable pumps all the hits (i.e., all the hits that were popular at about the time Santana & Rob Thomas' "Smooth" was really big). In another room, a bar has been installed. Italian lights and Dexter-ish plastic wrap are the predominant decorative motifs. The Jack & Cokes, for the record, are extremely strong.

When a woman pokes her head out into the red light of the hallway to observe the party's progress, and then shuts it in a hurry, a Barfleet commander I'm chatting with (he's wearing a gorgeous smoking jacket) assures me that it's one of the rooms they'd reserved.

A moment later, he raises a glass to the steampunk gentleman who's chatting up a bevy of dancing Magic enthusiasts, and then raises it higher yet.

"Rod's in the house," the Barfleet commander yells. "You guys, Rod's in the house!"     

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Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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