Sunday, November 15, 2009

Give 'Em Hill: The road to the future is paved with $20 Tribbles

Relax, folks. Clearly, the world will not end in 2012 as has been predicted by doomsayers who fear a catastrophic convergence of a wayward planet named Nibiru and the end of a cycle in the Mayan calendar. Nor will our demise come that year from some freaky hot flash of the Earth's internal organs, colorfully depicted in the movie "2012" with lots of computer-generated crumbling of national monuments and an eternally spooked-looking John Cusack.

How do we know the planet will not die in three years? How can we approach the future with complete confidence and make definite plans to attend the ribbon cutting of the new Bay Bridge in 2150? Because it's a known fact that humanity will launch the first NX-class starship Enterprise in 2151, that's why.

And we know this not only because of the TV shows and motion pictures that have been telling us about it since 1966, but now there's actual physical proof in the form of "Star Trek: The Exhibition," which runs through January at the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose (

The show is basically the Tech's Tut, unearthing everything you never wanted to know and more about the Trek universe with costumes hermetically sealed in glass cases a la the Smithsonian exhibit of First Ladies' gowns, well-documented time lines and mock-ups of starship bridges, not to mention Trek magnets, Trek cookbooks and even Trek Christmas lights available in the


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gift shop.

Be sure to bring money

Yes, my friends, the road to the future is paved with $20 Tribbles that vibrate and purr. And as a Trek fan myself, I was delighted to tour the show this week, boldly going in with a free media pass where no one in their right mind would go if they had to pay the full $25-per-person admission and likely $28 more for two photos in the transporter and maybe another six bucks for the simulator ride (be sure to remove your jewelry or it will smack you in the mouth when you go upside down), and at least two pet Tribbles so they can keep each other company on cold nights.

Also, whatever you do, do not go to this exhibit with my friend Dino or you will still be there in time to see Zephram Cochrane invent warp drive in 2063, because Dino has to read every placard, every display tag, every costume description throughout the known museum space and beyond.

See, I am merely your run-of-the-replicator Trek nerd. Dino is a way-astronomically-crazy-kingsized-overzealous Trek nerd, or WACKO, with an illogical love of things like phaser arrays and zero-point field reaction chambers. So I was surprised to see him read everything because I thought he knew it all already.

"Wow, I didn't know this!" He shouted out in a museum-appropriate shout. "Look, it says Klingons were named for police officer Wilbur Clingan, who was a colleague of Gene Roddenberry's when they both worked for the LAPD!"

Yes, wow, that's cool, but we've only come 10 feet in the past hour and the stuffed Andorian's antennae are staring at me.

Approaching the ship

We browsed the costumes, such as a Klingon officer's uniform from the original series, back when Klingon foreheads didn't look like an old guy's elbows. Gee, was Uhura's skirt really that short? I mean, Lady Gaga wears more than that. Sometimes.

We saw props, various tricorders, phasers and Dr. McCoy's med kit — mostly replicas because original ones were either tossed or sold to collectors for zillions of dollars. (Heck, even Shatner's kidney stone sold for $25,000 on eBay.)

Suddenly, we heard a familiar sound: the soothing hum of the original Enterprise bridge. We rounded a ramp and there it was — the bridge, in all its Lite-Brite-panelled glory. A mere mock-up, but still cool.

A photographer waits there all day, snapping shots while you do your best corny Kirk impression in the captain's chair ("Spock! We! Must! Risk! Implosion!").

The guy was super bored and maybe a bit wonky from the sound bite loop of "Live long and prosper," and "I am Locutus, of Borg." So he shared some stories, like about the teen girl who came through declaring she was in LOVE with Captain Kirk. (The Shatner version. Seriously.) She was ecstatic to sit in the chair, caressing the arms and proclaiming that her life was now complete. "Um, you realize that's a prop chair just built for this exhibit, right?" the photographer asked her. "William Shatner's rear end has probably never come within 1,000 miles of that thing."

We moved on to the sleek curved hallway of the "Next Generation" set, then to the transporter room, where an operator beamed me to a Cardassian ship and back. I didn't feel a thing as my atoms were scattered, and I didn't see why McCoy makes such a fuss. Heck, if we had those now, we wouldn't need the Bay Bridge at all.

But alas, we have to wait until transport technology is invented in a hundred years or so. No worries. Dino will still be at the Thasian display.