Sunday, August 31, 2008

Hopping on the Coast Starlight

We did something totally out of character yesterday: we rode the Amtrak train for 11 hours up the coast of California.

It all started when a band of people from 43Things invited us to join them. It became apparent later on that most of them would ride from Emeryville on up to Seattle, but we decided to ride the train from a little north of L.A. (Van Nuys) up to Emeryville. I had never been on a train in the United States, so this was my first one.

We flew down early Saturday morning to Burbank, took a cab ride (directions in Russian from another cab driver - much appreciated) to Van Nuys Amtrak Station, and then hopped aboard. The conductor had already warned us that the train was pretty full, and he wasn't kidding. We felt lucky to get two seats together...

but had no more than sat down, noticed that our window wasn't easy to see through due to the heavy curtains, saw the people ahead of us switch seats, and asked the conductor if we could also switch. No problem!

We spent the day gazing at the lovely scenery outside the east window, going over to the lounge car and grabbing whatever seat was available and watching through the west window, and then making reservations and having two meals in the dining car.

The kids almost outnumbered the adults on the train, and it appeared that the parents would just turn them all loose -- an enclosed, moving babysitter -- so we had to hop over them all journey long. At least they weren't in the dining car, our one refuge from them; they feasted on hog dogs and pizza, and we had a couple of nice, quiet meals.

Since the tables are few, you must stick closely to your reservation time, and we found ourselves sitting side-by-side as we got the luck of the draw in dining companions. Our first couple, during lunch, were very young, cats but no kids yet, going back to Martinez from visiting parents in San Diego. They were very pleasant, but she seemed really antsy about eating backwards: while the train lurched forward, so did her stomach.

The couple for dinner was older than we were. They started from their home in Albuquerque, and were on their way to Seattle to visit their daughter. They talked about two idyllic visits to see her in Hawaii, while her Army husband was stationed there, and Roy and I exchanged memories of Scofield Barracks on Oahu. I remembered visiting Dan there in 1977.

We had the same waitress both times, and she was a hoot. She noticed our 43Things name plates and told us she is currently hosting a fisherman's online discussion group on religious and philosophical subjects. She started long ago, before the internet was the internet, on AOL. It all sounded very familiar. We explained what 43Things was to her and our dining companions, but as it turned out, we didn't find any of them on the train.

We had an hour-long stop near San Jose, due to a brush fire up ahead. Something like that would be a miserable delay on a bus or plane but was very pleasant on a train. All the bathrooms are downstairs, we discovered, and all the goodies were upstairs.

When we got off the train, totally exhausted from over 12 hours of traveling, we ran into Mahinui from 43Things, who, with her husband, Robert, was getting ON the train. We had a quick, oh my! a hug, and went separate ways.

This is just a dry run for our big train rides to and from Chicago through the Colorado Rockies. Our sleep-in car will have its own bathroom. I can't wait for October.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Las Vegas, Day 6: Goodbye to Star Trek: The Experience

Today we said goodbye to our 11-year love affair with Star Trek: The Experience. The entire thing disappears on September 1st. They couldn't even wait for the release of the new movie.

Along one entire wall, on the far side (left) as you enter the Promenade area, people left heartfelt messages about ST:TE, about how they'll miss the place, about how their world won't be the same. It was certainly very sad.

The line to get into the rides was pretty long this morning. We bought a regular ticket, which gave us access to both the Klingon and Borg rides for the entire day, and immediately started going down the timeline trail, past the museum pieces and into the Borg line at the end.

We had originally planned to go out to other casinos, and we didn't make it. We ended up riding the Borg ride three times, and the Klingon ride one-and-a-half times, and staying mostly right around The Experience. The Klingon Encounter broke down at the beginning of the day and delayed several people. When we eventually made it on, after waiting about 45 minutes, we were stuck on the bridge. But we enjoyed that, because they let us roam on the bridge, sit in the captain's chair, etc.

We kidded later that all the signs say each ride is 18 minutes long. They don't count the hour it takes to get on the ride. And that went for each ride.

At one point we were in the Borg line and saw Max Grodenchick halfway down in the Klingon Encounter. We said, Hi, Max! and told him that the Klingon ride had broken down -- we just got off it and were told we'd be first in line for the next one. He looked forlorn and said, "You mean, we're standing in line for nothing?" We assured him he'd make it, and wished him luck.

We had our last meal at Quark's Bar, in the bar itself, a fact I've already mentioned. While we were in the bar, a fully dressed, 7-foot tall Klingon grabbed one of the patron's Romulan ale bottles and walked off with it. They were laughing... until he came back and said through the door, "What are they going to do, fire me?" and then they roared!

We went back at about 6 pm for one last "meal" at Quark's Restaurant -- dessert and drinks -- and insisted on sitting up on the raised portion of the restaurant so that we could see the T.V. screens and the wedding party that was in there. We watched everyone being pulled around us as they would take anything available. Finally, after an hour, we were shown in. We split the Nog's chocolate obsession, which was warm cake with chocolate ice cream, chocolate sauce, and whipped cream. And I had an Arcturian Fizz, an interesting red rum drink, and a nonalcoholic Data's Day after that. Debbie had her Ractajino.

The amount of merchandise in the shops was going lower and lower in quantity every time we glanced in, as patrons took everything that wasn't nailed down. Debbie took photos of as much of the Promenade, and the timeline upstairs, as possible. As sad as we both are to see it end, I think she's taking it personally.

I saw one patron looking at his menu in the ride line later, a menu that he lifted from the restaurant. And I'm sure other patrons were doing the same with, again, everything that wasn't nailed down.

After we left the Star Trek place, I immediately went to the Star Trek game. I put money in, logged on as Uhura, and checked my medals and rank. I had 37 medals (3 short of the next level), and I was an Ensign. I wanted to reach the next level before I left, but at what price?

By the time I finished with my machine, I had been promoted to LTjg, had 42 medals, and had won $45. I enjoyed playing briefly at the next level, and experienced both bonus rounds. The woman next to us, however, was playing 280 pennies for each pull of the slot machine, which is the maximum. And she had put in $100 three hours ago, was hungry but couldn't leave the machine, and had to write a presentation for tomorrow's business meeting. She was a middle-aged woman in a business suit, and when we saw her, she had racked 248,000 in pennies, which translates to $2480. Her rank was Commander, she had 60+ medals, and was winning $300 on bonus rounds. A woman from the casino kept coming over to check on her, to see if she was real. She was just amazing.

We have no idea if she ever got dinner. Or if she ever wrote that presentation. And as far as we know, she'll be there when we go to breakfast tomorrow.

Star Trek Convention, Day Five: The Voyager Crew

Leonard Nimoy came out to thunderous applause, and the room was more packed than ever before. He talked mainly about the new movie -- "it's looking quite wonderful" -- and wanted to introduce us to the new Spock, Zachary Quinto. After half an hour, they both came out together and chatted with each other before taking questions.

"The movie is called 'Star Trek,'" Zachary answered. It had been a question I had been wondering about as well. He also added, "It's hard to watch the original series and those characters and not fall in love with them."

The tribute to Voyager was the last programming of the day. We didn't have Ethan Phillips, who didn't make it due to a family emergency, but Garrett Wang (Harry Kim) came back and sat in on the group after they started. So we had Kate Mulgrew (Captain Janeway), Tim Russ (Tuvok), Robert Duncan McNeill (Tom Paris), and Robert Picardo (the hologram doctor) on stage. It was one of the funniest hours I've ever spent as they all recalled filming the series and what stupid things they'd do at the 20th hour of filming. At the end, Kate summed it all up rather emotionally: "Without your particular kind of love... you're terrific. Thank you very much."

We attended the last auction, knowing we'd never bid on the 30' by 50' banners and things like that, but we had fun watching. We then walked to Benihana's for dinner for our 7:30 reservation. They immediately seated us and we were off into a new type of adventure. With mai tais.

That night we took a look, but Quark's Bar was too crowded to get into. So we played at the Star Trek game for a long while. I am now an Ensign with 25 medals. Debbie is a Crewman with 5 medals.

The next morning we had one thing in mind: We will stand in line, whatever it takes, to go on the two Star Trek: The Experience rides, take in the museum, and sit at Quark's Bar for a meal. The rides weren't open when the Promenade shops were, so we shopped... some more. I bought some more little trinkets, and had two quarters mashed into Star Trek things.

Then we got in line to buy tickets. The doctor who's a Ferengi came up to us and chatted and we took his photo, and he called us "hu-mon" a couple of times. "Don't touch the ears," he told one woman. No problem.

We got in the Borg line, as the Klingon line, they told us, had broken down. While we waited and looked at the Klingon female models in the display case, the young man in back of us told us that he was driving a shipment back to Seattle, but when he heard that the Experience was closing, he had to stop. He bought a used ticket outside (that was good for a year) to the rides, and wanted to know about them. "I get to be on the bridge?!" he said excitedly, even after I told him that the Klingon ride is old technology and rather fuzzy.

We enjoyed the Borg ride, but when we saw how long the Quark's Bar ride was, we agreed to get in line for lunch and we'd do the Klingon ride later. While in line, I took a photo of a guy being sketched (cartoonish sketch, putting him into a Star Trek uniform), and he gave me his email address so that I could send him the photo later.

They seated us in the bar area, and the waitress seemed overwhelmed. At the end of our stay, she had given our check to the wrong party, and was out $10. (We made up for it with our abundant tip, recognizing that she's out of a job in two weeks.)

As we were about to leave, Max Grodenchik was brought into the bar and sat at a booth next to us with a young woman. Debbie waved to him, so he came over to chat with us. We talked about his Quizno's commercial and how we promise to eat the sandwiches when we see the commercial.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Star Trek Convention, Day Five: Two Spocks

I hurried down to the room where the charity breakfast was going to be held on Sunday morning because I knew there'd be a line. There's always a line. Debbie joined me a few minutes later.

We got our places close to the stage so that our photos would be better when they went onto the little stage. Debbie got into a slight argument with a guy at our table who said he reserved her seat without marking it in any way, and then withdrew his argument when he found out his wife had also reserved a seat for him. He never apologized, the idiot, even though she was so amenable as to offer him the seat.

We got our breakfast, and I went along the charity auction items and bid on a few. (I ended up winning three at the minimum bid.) Then Robert Picardo, Robert Duncan McNeill, and the new Spock, Zachary Quinto, came into the room. Ethan Phillips had had a family emergency.

Each went out to visit with each table for about two minutes each. We first saw Bob Picardo. He said he was filming another Stargate: Atlantis soon. "I promise I won't be as much of a dick this time." He is so funny. In answer to Sean's question (Sean is a real fan out of Vancouver), Mr. Picardo answered that he went blind without glasses or contacts the first year. Then, tired of seeing only outlines, put in contacts starting the next year. "I finally put them in so that I could see Seven of Nine rather than just her outline. Wowza!"

In between celebrity visits, Sean showed us celebrities he had met on his camera, including Tricia Helfer, who had been hired to hype some local wine. He found her in a local restaurant eating dinner (a friend who worked at the restaurant had called him), and brought out a photo for her to sign. She said she wondered if he was just roaming the streets of Vancouver with that photo.

The woman next to me, British accent and all, was from southern England. She noticed that I was making notes and if I needed funny stories she could tell me some. Except that the stories, from the convention, involved people fainting in her aisle or falling when she jerked the chair out from under them, or the woman in her late '60's who was wearing a short miniskirt at the convention who didn't have any "knickers" on. All rather sad.

Zachary Quinto came by next. He is currently filming the ninth episode of the third season of Heroes and seemed quite enthusiastic about it. Of course, he wanted to know if we were all looking foward to the new movie, which we are. He sought the role, and read twice for it. "I was the only one up," he said matter-of-factly. "I think it (the movie) will really be good."

Robbie McNeill came by, shook everybody's hand, introduced his son (Carter) to us, and tried to figure out if he recognized anybody. He said to me, "Where do I know you," and I told him that I had been in his original fan club so many years ago. When he started talking about his work on "Chuck," I told him that he had talked about it last year in Sacramento. "That's where I know you!" he said.

During the break after the charity breakfast, we sat with two people at a table, enjoying another muffin from the buffet and in front of a massive photo op line for Kate Mulgrew. We mused whether part of the line was Scott Bakula. "I don't think so," said one of the women, showing us her little Janeway lavalliere. "I think he's stuck up." I wondered how she thought that since Scott hadn't made many public appearances, but there was no telling. The other woman was a little older, from Australia, and was out of her mind with joy that she ws going to meet Scott because she had a photo op ticket with him. Someone from Creation announced the formation of a new line, just for Scott, and only Debbie heard it. She told the Aussie, and she ran over to be among the first in line.

I went out to the restroom after that, and found the Bakula photo op line to be almost past the convention center itself. Wow.

Michael Dorn came on stage and seemed jovial and relaxed. He's mostly writing now. "I wrote a little sitcom, and a pilot for a series about flying. And I wrote a movie about Maria Callas that I hope Marina will star in. I can tell her what to do for the rest of my time," he laughed.

He went on and on about his great time with the Next Gen actors. When someone asked him about Deep Space Nine, he said, "Great people, great actors, but they were so serious. Sort of like going from Coney Island to ..." and then he broke into a little Catholic chant.

"Terry was the closest to the Klingon relationship, what it should be. She was as big and brawny as Worf. Ezri, Nicole was this little girl. But boy she could kiss. There was one scene where I grabbed her, and then she grabbed me and kissed me back. Cut! And I stood there a second. Hmmm. That was pretty good..."

He told us he was grateful that we all took the time to come out and that we still support the actors in what they do.

The room warmed up for Scott Bakula. The seats weren't packed, but when we left five minutes before he stopped speaking, we noticed a good hundred people standing in the back, in the side aisles, all watching him. We would have left sooner, in fact that was the plan, but he was so interesting to listen to.

Scott's talk was a mixture of reminiscences, chatting with the fans, and refusing to talk much about Quantum Leap ("because this is a Star Trek convention") and then still talking about it a little. Oh, and singing. He told us he's taking voice lessons weekly, and when someone would ask him about a singing role he's been in, he'd sing a little from it.

He's been very busy, mostly on stage. "I just finished a Stephen Soderberg film starring Matt Damon. And I have a new TNT show shooting tomorrow, a pilot, with Ray Romano and Andre Braugher. If Ray and Andre can pull their weight," he said wryly, "it might go on the air."

He finally answered a question about Quantum Leap: "My costar was really troublesome. I never got to do anything different. I had a lot of days off." All of those are jokes and exactly the opposite of what happened.

Star Trek Convention, Day Four, Part Three: Inside the Lair of the Actor

One last thing before I depart from Armin and Rene: Armin mentioned that he did double duty for a few months, working on sets of both Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He was Principal Snyder on Buffy, of course. "In the daytime, I was Quark. In the evening, I was Snyder. It was like doing repertory theatre. Very hectic days. (I want to thank) two great line producers, who bent themselves into pretzels trying to make sure (I could do it)." He mentioned that doing both gave him a vacation from Quark. "Without Snyder, I don't think I would have been as excited to get back to Quark." He also told us that he never missed a DS9 episode, "but I occasionally missed a Buffy."

Sitting in general admission seats doesn't give you any real advantage anywhere, and your photos are certainly horrible, but there are two advantages: you're never forced to sit behind the tallest guy in the room, and you occasionally notice someone who's trying to slip in. We noticed Max Grodenchik sitting in the last row, listening intently to Rene and Armin. I thought it was very sweet.

Rene said that he had never met Bill Shatner until Boston Legal even though they appeared in the same movie together (Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country). "He was most supportive when I first came on." Bill was off-camera when Rene first performed his role. "He immediately took all the tension away. He is one of the most collegial, warm-hearted (people). You'll see him sitting there, talking to the crew, the guest actors, and he had genuine interest in them."

Rene was asked about Heath Ledger, with whom he worked in The Patriot. It was obviously a very emotional subject. "The irony and tragedy of seeing him in The Dark Knight was that he was on his way to becoming one of the great actors. I was deeply moved when I heard of his death."

Nana came on, surprising many with her ultra-blonde hair. She was dressed entirely in black except for a brown belt. "I feel more like me" with the blonde hair, she responded enthusiastically.

She did one episode recently on Battlestar Galactica, and told us it was a "deeply wonderful, mystical part."

She brought her husband, Matthew, on stage, and he sat down at the piano. Nana introduced her first song as being from My One and Only. She had understudied Twiggy in the stage lead, and because of Twiggy's "issues," "I went on a lot." It was a Gershwin tune, "He Loves and She Loves."

She has also recently been in the newest of the Friday the 13th films, as Jason's mother. "I got to watch them dunk my head time and time again," a reference to the head prop they used for her. Sounds gruesome.

She used to have difficulties getting out of a role after filming, she told us, but it gets easier as she gets older. "The older I get, the better I get at dropping that stuff," choosing to "slip in and out of the person fast. I used to get a hangover."

Right when Nana launched into her second song, "Someone to Watch Over Me," we slipped out the back and headed over to the elevator where we were told to meet Rene's fan club. I saw Marguerite, and recognized a few other faces. Stephanie Davis, with whom I used to email about collectibles and DS9 many years ago, was there and introduced herself to me; we had never met. I had heard she had gotten married, and she proudly introduced me to her husband, who admitted he wasn't a Trekkie. But I could see he was gamely along for the ride.

We all went up to his room (20 of us, in two elevators, and joined later by about 4 more), took chairs around the suite, and looked at one of our favorite actors. Rene mentioned that he was just off doing three months on stage in the Moliere play, and was still coming down from that.
Rene gave a fascinating countdown of the development of the play he just finished, including the difference between the previews, which one of our members had seen, and the final product. They changed the part where Rene, as Moliere, dies at the end of the fourth play, as he did in real life, and they decided to leave an uplifting ending instead of a downer.

Rene related to us that his daughter, Tessa, was due to play the maid, but she got pregnant. And the baby was born a month ago. "I call him the pink taco" instead of Olivier.

Rene told us that the play got great audiences, "very responsive audiences, standing room four deep." He plans to travel now that he has a break, take some time off. "You know what," he relayed to us, "I'm not looking for work right now."

It was just a pleasant conversation about movies, T.V. shows, indie movies, etc., over the hour-and-a-half conversation. And, of course, The Imaginary Invalid kept popping up.

"It required tremendous concentration. When you get to a certain age, you wonder, can I still do that? The way I played him, he was quite physical... I had tremendously quick repartee with the saucy maid."

We all rushed downstairs so that we could catch Alexander Siddig in his talk. We found that Avery Brooks was running long. And at the end, as he often does, he sang For All We Know to us. However, this time, due to the set-up of the Las Vegas Orchestra, he accompanied himself on piano.

Sid came on stage when Avery departed, and Sid referred to Avery when he said, "I can't and shouldn't sing. I am just going to answer questions."

He had short hair and a still-growing-in beard. The first fan asked him, What hologram program would you want for yourself? "Which one of my dreams shall I profess to you all? Something to do with a woman..."

In response to another question, he answered, "I have many fond memories of Star Trek. I remember a very bad earthquake -- Armin went home in his makeup and everyone thought aliens had landed. I remember trying to kiss Terry Farrell and falling off the bed because we were laughing so hard; no wonder the relationship never worked. I remember the people I worked with."

What's your relationship to Doctors without Borders? "I'm just an ordinary guy who thinks they do extraordinary work. I'm not involved with them. Literally, just my favorite charity of the day."

24? "Kiefer is an amazing actgor. He has an eidetic memory. He basically goes over the script and decides what he's going to say. Until 24, I pretty much didn't know who he was. I now think he's one of the finest actors in America." Apparently there was a mix-up and 24 officials didn't get the word from Sid's agent and Sid himself that he was leaving after a short time. They had written him into a long arc, and when they learned he was leaving in two weeks, they blew up his character. "But I had a good time."

"I died 11 times (in roles). I've only been in 12 projects!" Everybody laughed. "My brother and his friends are going to do a UTube video of all my deaths."

About Colm Meaney (Chief O'Brien on DS9): "Colm is a funky guy. He's super political. We get into these arguments and I don't agree with anything he says. He's super Irish. We took a limo to all the Irish bars in L.A. on St. Patrick's Day. I think we drank more in the limo than in the bars. I ordered at the bar, "Guinness for him, bitters for me. The bartender said to me, 'We don't serve your kind in here.'" Sid went back to Colm to tell him that the bartender is racist and wouldn't serve him. "Colm replied to me, 'It's not because you're black, you idiot, it's because you're English!"

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Star Trek Convention, Day Four, Part Two: More of DS9

We watched Larry Nemecek in the secondary programming room talk about the late Bob Justman, and show us some Polaroids that Bob used to have taken of himself, usually with one of the monsters from the original series, and send to fans who wrote in to him in the '60's. Priceless stuff. Of course, I've read the book Justman wrote with Herb Solow.

Rene Auberjonois came on stage with his old friend Armin Shimerman, and both seemed so relaxed because of this pairing.

Rene told us that his daughter had just had her second child, Olivier, which will probably be known as Ollie. He's one month old. He was so happy to see Julian, his first grandchild, and Ollie as well as the rest of the family when he returned home from a 3-month stint in Washington, D.C. doing The Imaginary Invalid. "So happy to be home," he purred.

He got such good reviews, he told us, that Rene emailed Bill Shatner his good reviews from the Moliere play. "Bill emailed me the other day and asked, what, did you write them yourself?" Rene relayed, making us all laugh.

Rene introduced Armin to us as "one of the sweetest guys on the face of the Earth, yet he plays the creepiest guys." I didn't hear much of what Armin was doing except "I'm continuing to write my novel."

They both addressed the one scene they both shared in Boston Legal. "I don't think David Kelley ever saw Star Trek," Rene reported, and Armin added, "yet it was a very familiar scene." They told us the gaffer, who worked on both DS9 and BL, seemed to enjoy watching them recreate their Star Trek roles.

Rene related that when they both met on the set, "we had the same control-freak..." -- and Armin added, "I think it's called fear" -- "and we recognized that in each other. They made the mistake the first year of us together in the makeup trailer."

Star Trek Convention, Day Four - DS9 Day

I'm really eager for today, Saturday: it's Deep Space Nine day.

Debbie noted that a guy who posts a blog on props and wardrobe will be at the convention, and she'd like to quiz him on some things. She acquired five lots of wardrobe in the Christie's auction in 2006 in New York, and doesn't know how to store them.

But first, Salome Jens was on in the main room. Salome played two shapeshifting-type human forms in two different Star Trek series. One gets the idea from her talk that she teaches more than she acts nowadays.

When Salome first saw herself in the shapeshifter makeup, she said she felt despair. "This is not how I want to look in life! But as I got to like my character, I had to move into the character, how the mask fit over my mouth. When I do a character, I need to fall in love. I began to love the mask. I didn't love the mask after 18 hours, however... I was known as the one-take actress." There were a lot of people at the end of the day, the actors and the crew, who wanted to go home, and she didn't dare mess up a take. "A lot of people thought she was a villain. I thought she was the only sane person in the universe. She was smart, until she got sucked in."

Nicole deBoer came next, and, as usual at these conventions, started defending the existence of her character, Ezri Dax. I'm not Jadzia Dax, and, in effect, I'm not Terry Farrell, she seemed to say, as replacing a loved character on a series is very difficult to do. And why continue the Bashir/Dax relationship after Jadzia left? "I thought he was cute," she laughed. And you can't fight it. He's a good catch. It did get a bit barfy, 'cause they were all googly-eyed."

She spent five years on The Dead Zone, which "became very difficult after Michael Piller passed away." She is now starting to spend a lot of time writing.

Jeffrey Combs and J.G. Hertzler, two character actors who each played many parts on DS9, Voyager and Enterprise, came on together.

J.G. is buying a new home in Ithaca, New York, and asked if everyone, especially the Klingons in the audience, would help him fix it up. Jeff offered to "supply all the Jem Hadar you need."

Believe it or not, Jeff auditioned for Will Ryker before Jonathan Frakes got the part. He knew there was "no chance in hell I'd get the part."

After we left during the break, Debbie went to get some coffee. In the coffee line, she stood in back of Walter Koenig, and greeted him. She thanked him for "still coming to these things. He was very sweet, she said.

We then went into the secondary room to listen to Alec Peters of Take a look at Alec's blog, as well:

Alec posted a really complete (for a beginner) treatise on how to take care of a collection, especially uniforms. Alec himself told us he has 30 uniforms in addition to his prop weapons and other items. And this is Debbie's main concern involving the costumes she acquired. Earlier in the convention, she went up to Suzie Plakson and told her that she had won her costume, two versions of it, but couldn't find a photo of it. She had wanted to find a photo of K'ehleyr, have Suzie sign it, and then display it with the costume at some point. Suzie advised her that she didn't think a photo existed, unless Debbie herself took a screen photo from the DVD and produced her own photo.

I asked Alec about this very interesting discussion point. Which is the most popular series? He said it depends on the age but mostly the rarity of the item. Was it only worn once? He likes the black and grey Starfleet uniforms introduced on TNG in the 2nd season because they just look more realistic and are cool-looking. But the uniforms themselves have been work on First Contact, Insurrection, etc. It still sounds like Voyager, however, are the cheapest uniforms one can procure, mostly because they got lost in the Delta Quadrant while they were still wearing the red, cheesy-looking uniforms.

He introduced us to a couple, a female Vulcan and a male Romulan, who just got married 4 days ago. (And are honeymooning at a Star Trek convention....oh, yeahhhh.) They met on the forum, are collectors, and were wearing their costumes.

Alec explained to us that after the Christie's auction of Star Trek memorabilia, Paramount took its remaining lots and gave them to the company It's a Wrap to auction them off on eBay. It's a Wrap had a booth at the convention.

After Alec's talk, we meandered over to It's a Wrap, briefly talked with Alec again, and perused the costumes and the props. The prices were right on there, and these costumes may have been worn by the actors, produced for the actors but never worn, or are replicas. Thanks to Alec's talk, I was better versed in the difference.

Strolling around the convention, we saw a great t-shirt:

GORN: Looks like lizards,
taste like chicken

Friday, August 8, 2008

Star Trek Convention, Day Three: Shatner and his Shit-Eating Grin

I had a couple of people to see before I met Kathy and Gayle for lunch at the Hilton cafe, so I got into the convention hall earlier. And I knew Debbie was due to arrive from San Fran right after lunch.

Malcolm McDowell was nothing like I expected him to be. Did I expect him to be a serial killer? Well, no, but I did expect a dour person, rather a pessimist. And I got exactly the opposite.

Malcolm was the villain who killed "our" Captain Kirk in Generations. Shatner took him off to the side during filming in the desert, and in the middle of the horrendous heat, Shatner asked if he could interview him for a book he was writing. After all, Bill said, "I gotta make every cent out of this thing."

His first question of McDowell was: "What's it like killing off an American icon?" As Malcolm told the story to us, he related, "There's nothing like great humility..." His answer to Bill? "Half will hate me, half will cheer." Shatner, Malcolm reports, did get the humor, and did laugh. "He has a good sense of humor." And Malcolm added, "If it hadn't been for Shatner, there would be no Patrick Stewart."

Malcolm received several questions concerning A Clockwork Orange; his villain is one of the most villainous in filmdom. After telling them all that they were at the "wrong convention," he answered that he approached the role "a lot like playing Shakespeare. I had a vision of Richard III."

"I've only played good guys a couple of times," Malcolm told us. "Time After Time, Lucky Man. But it's hard. In Lucky Man, I had to react constantly."

After Malcolm, I met Kathy and Gayle for lunch at the cafe, and we sat for over an hour talking about professional advancement, politics, and Josh Groban. Gayle said about Malcolm, "I hope Sid gets a chance to see him." Malcolm McDowell and Alexander Siddig (Julian Bashir on DS9) are uncle and nephew, respectively, but rarely get to see each other because each is so busy. After lunch, I met Debbie, and we went down to the convention together. We walked around the dealer's room, and talked to several people. Debbie always engaging people at conventions.

Jolene Blalock, who played T'Pol, the Vulcan Commander on Enterprise, came on next. Jolene is currently hyping her new movie, Starship Troopers 3, which went straight to DVD and is being released within the month.

I don't have much to report about Jolene except that (1) she is nothing like T'Pol, although she implied that a Vulcan is much like she was as a teenager, socially inept, (2) she followed Star Trek as a kid, and Spock was "my guy," and (3) she didn't like any of the "guest" Vulcans on Enterprise except for Gary Graham. "Their sphincters were so tight," she explained.

Oh, but one more thing: She went to a p.r. thing with Enterprise actors. All of a sudden all the flashbulbs went off from reporters' cameras: William Shatner has just arrived. Shatner stood next to her with his arm around her. And as he smiled, his hand went lower and lower, she said. "He had this shit-eating grin all over his face," she laughed.

The last thing this day that we saw everyone else showed up for, too: Nichelle Nichols and George Takei, original members of classic Trek, and they showed up on stage together. George announced that when he and his long-time partner get married in L.A. next month, Nichelle will be their Best Lady, and Walter Koenig (Chekhov) will be their Best Man. They are both very busy with projects even though we both know they're getting a little older, each in their seventies. They had a little "tiff" on stage while we watched, while George tried to shut up Nichelle because she cut off his story about meeting Bruce Lee. But at the end, they were arm-in-arm, walking off the stage.

After we watched Nichelle and George, we went to the Star Trek: Experience shops -- Quark's Bar was already closed in anticipation of the Gold ticket patrons' private party later -- and looked around. Then we found a seat at the new Star Trek game. I didn't do so well, but I now have 15 medals. And I'm still at the Yeoman level. Debbie is a Starfleet Recruit, and has 1 medal, I believe.

We got into a cab which took us to the Four Queens. The taxi driver was from Macedonia and has been here 10 years. I thought Debbie was being a really good sport when she agreed to have dinner at one of my favorite downtown spots, the Binion's restaurant. After all, about two years ago, we actually saw someone die in front of us at the next table. It's not something that encourages your appetite.

Star Trek Convention, Day Two, Part Two: Poodle People, Taxi Drivers and Love

I ordered room service this morning as a sort of indulgence, and to save time. The man who brought my food wheeled it in, and then asked me if I was going to the convention. He could probably could tell by my DS9 t-shirt.

He immediately launched into his issue: A friend of his died and left his Star Trek collection to him, and "it's not my thing." He's hoping to sell it all, and he thinks convention goers would love it. So he left three of his little ads with me and said he was going to leave several over on the convention tables.

COLLECTORS/VENDORS! I have for immediate sale thousands of Star Trek merchandise. Much to choose from - games, ships, comics, novels, magazines, posters & collectors plates (many autographed and authentic.

Even though I wished Otis well, I pretty much ignored the ad and hurried to the convention.

The first thing Marina Sirtis (Counselor Troi in Next Gen) said, as she and Brent Spiner (Data) cane on stage after Michelle Forbes, was: "I always hated Michelle. For three reasons. She's beautiful. She was so effing smart on the show. And she's younger than me."

Brent interrupted. "The same reasons you hated me."

Marina thought a moment, and then said, "Wait a minute. You're not younger than me."

Thus, a very entertaining hour started with Marina and Brent. Each of these actors is funny is his and her own right, but together they have someone to play off. This was their first time being paired thusly, and they really enjoyed it.

When one fan said she'd been watching her entire life, Marina stopped her. How old are you? 19. "She was an embryo when we started in 1987. And here we are, doing the same old schtick."

Marina went to England for several years to act in various roles there, and came upon an old friend. "Marina," she said, "I haven't seen you in 20 years! Where have you been?" "I went to America," Marina replied. "Oh? And how did that work out for you?" asked the friend. "Pretty good," deadpanned Marina. As Brent explained to us, no one in the industry, or outside Star Trek fans, "knows who we are." So while the Next Gen experience didn't necessarily help get them jobs after the series ended, it didn't typecast them either.

After Marina and Brent, I went over to Grace's line. She was finally there. There was one person ahead of me. The longer line was for Max, a line that kept encroaching on our little line. Max was getting up, having pictures taken with people, and even in the short time I stood in line for Grace, got up and disappeared.

I asked Grace to make the photo out to "Rabbi Ruth Adar." "There are women rabbis?" she said, looking amazed. Yes, I replied, and it took her 6 years of study to get there. She was just ordained a few months ago. Grace looked at me and said, "What a journey! I wonder what she'd think of my being a Messianic. Jesus was a Jew, you know." She winked at me, gave me a blessing, and I was finally on my way with an autographed photo for my sweetie.

Thank God that's the only autograph I'm getting at this show.

I went back to the theatre and waited for Majel Barrett to come out. While her son, Rod, was talking about his business (at the age of, well, middle-age, he finally decided to get serious about the family name and its possibilities), I watched the Poodle People.

Ricky and I first saw the Poodle People in the mid-'80's, I think it was, in Pasadena. As we were waiting in line, two old-looking adults with Next Generation uniforms on walked by with two poodles, likewise attired in Next Gen uniforms. At that convention, during every performer's time on stage, they would get on line, and, rather than ask a question, point out their two poodles: Lieutenant Tasha Yar, and Lieutenant Commander Data.

I see that they haven't changed. They're still old, they still have poodles, although these are obviously a different generation. And they have added one more dog.

Some mother with her daughter who wanted to pet the dogs said to the poodle woman: "They pretty much stole the show," when they were up their at the microphone. "They always do," the Poodle Woman replied. That's why I don't like seeing them: that's all they're about.

Majel finally joined her son with only about 10 minutes left in the presentation. She's still sharp witted but a lot slower, and I believe her hearing has been affected. It was wonderful to hear her say, "It was Gene's vision," meaning, not hers. She's a wonderful torch bearer for the series. She got to visit the set of the new J.J. Abrams movie and hopes it succeeds. But the Star Trek series are dead. "It's over," she said with great finality.

I didn't stay for Garrett Wang, although I waited until he came on stage. He's still very funny, but seems more grounded now. Nice to see.

I got into a taxi and asked him to take me to the Mirage for the Beatles' LOVE show that I had a single ticket for. During the ride, the driver, Faid, asked me if I was in sales. No, I'm retired, I said. "Restaurant?" he asked. His English wasn't as good as he thought it was, and my Farsi is downright abysmal. When I told him I had been a Customs Inspector, he knew what that was. He wanted a job and asked me how to apply. I told him to go online at OPM, but warned him it was a two-year process. He said he was good at investigations (even though he had worked at the Hilton before in service, and was currently a cab driver). I said, no, no, they're looking for people who can deal well with people, persuade them. You might be able to get into investigations later, but first you have to get your foot in the door. As I was leaving the cab at the back door to the Mirage, he was telling me how good he would be in investigations in Customs. Oh, well.

I got their early, which is what they want. I took my seat in the really unusually shaped amphitheatre. I had a brilliant seat, only two rows from the stage. The theatre was separated into several parts so that the Cirque du Soleil participants could come in from several sides. It was just amazing. To say that it was visually stunning would be using inadequate words. There were bungee cords, acrobatics, high wire, scenes on screens, and little vignettes played out as the music of the Beatles played. George Martin chose some interesting pieces, including some alternate music I'd never heard. It was frickin' brilliant. My jaw dropped at some of the things I saw, and my eyes teared up with the nostalgia of it all.

I was determined to skip the cab driver conversation -- I never mentioned the one earlier where the guy explained to me global warming and the bank loan problem, all within a ride to the Tropicana -- so I walked to the monorail. I stopped and gambled at Harrah's because I have their slot card. I discovered that one of the free drinks I got, a margarita, was so delicious I had to have another. So I gambled some more and found this delightful little video slot machine. I don't remember the name, but the bonus rounds came fast and furiously. When I had finally lost my $20, the 2nd margarita showed up.

I got off the monorail, and immediately went to the Star Trek machines at the Starquest casino. They were all busy. I played Mr. Monopoly for awhile and all of a sudden won 20,000 pennies! $200. Very nice. I went out onto the main floor to find a $5 blackjack table, but there weren't any, and all the $10 tables were full. But there was an empty seat at the Star Trek machine.

So, at the end of the day I was promoted to Yeoman, and I now have 13 medals.

Tomorrow reinforcements are coming in. I'm having lunch with Gayle and Kathy, and then Debbie arrives.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Star Trek Convention, Day Two: The Autograph Dance

I first swung around to Sean's Wrinkle in Time table (see picture on Day One) to pick up my Harry Potter shirt, then went around to look for Grace Lee Whitney. I found her easily enough, but she had a little line in front of her. The bigger line was next to her, for Max Grodenchik, bigger mostly because Max's autograph came with the Gold ticket. I secretly pitied them.

However, as long as Max takes, and as frequently as he wanders off, I was to have my own problems. As soon as I got to the front of the line, and started picking out which photo I wanted to have signed, it finally registered on me that she was having an argument with someone. I recognized his voice first, and then his face: it was Richard Arnold. Richard used to be Michael Piller's assistant (a Star Trek: DS9 producer), and now is helping with Creation. Richard was trying to get Grace to accept the point that people had to buy their autograph tickets for her autograph at the Creation table, not directly from her. She was having a tough time buying into that. However, I got stuck. I said to Richard: "So, I have to go to three lines -- one for her autograph ticket, two for her photo at the Creation table, and then three back to Grace for the autograph." Yes, he said politely, but the lines aren't that long. He waved me off.

So I got the autograph ticket (which took 5 minutes), didn't get in the photo line because I knew Grace would sell me her own photo, came back and found that some Creation security guy had capped the line. "She'll be here all weekend," he said, not knowing why people were upset. Someone else in line told me that she was due on stage. "Is that now?" I asked. Yep.

So I got out of line and went to watch Grace, Michael Forest and Sandra Smith (the latter I had never seen) on stage. I loved watching these old actors.

Grace performed as Yeoman Janice Rand on the original series. Gene Roddenberry had told her, "You're Kitty to Kirk's Marshal Dillon." Bring him coffee, lay out his clothes, stuff like that. Her first job had been on Some Like It Hot, which filmed in my hometown, Coronado, and she talked about how funny "it was seeing Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis dressed up like women, snapping each other's bras." She watched Jack get married to Felicia at the Hotel del.

Michael Forest's first job was in Highway Patrol, with Broderick Crawford. In 1967, they brought him in to look him over for Star Trek. At one point in the audition process, they asked him to take off his shirt, for reasons that are obvious now. He played Apollo. He lived in Italy for about 10 years, and while there worked in 22 movies. An American came up to him on the street, asked him if he was an actor, and then she said, "Oh,my God. You're Apollo." Star Trek had become a cult phenomenon by that point.

Sandy Smith was in the Guiding Light soap opera as "the resident bad girl." They found out that their largest audience was truckers. She is currently working on her memoir. She told us that actors are basically liars. "But the one thing we have a hard time lying about is when we tell someone we love them. Watch them." They shake their heads when they utter the words, "I love you."

Max Grodenchik, who played Rom, the Ferengi brother of Quark, the owner of the bar, on Deep Space Nine, was up next. I rarely see him on stage by himself.

He asked, "Who's seen me before?" It was about 50/50. "And who here thinks I'm Jonathan Frakes?"

He met Patrick Stewart when he performed as a Ferengi for the first time on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Patrick shook his hand and said to him in the hallway, "If you need anything, put your request through me. I seem to have a little bit of clout around here."

Max told us his first convention was in Leicester, England in 1993, where he learned how to act during the autograph session. Say very slowly, hello, what's your name, how do you spell that, where are you from, etc. Which almost explains why he has the slowest autograph lines. His first visitor from England said in a very sophisticated accent, "How does it feel to be the super Wuss of the entire universe?"

What is he doing these days? A couple of weeks ago he filmed a commercial for Quiznos. He urged us to buy sandwiches there in the test markets when the commercial starts airing on August 15th. That way, they'll go national with the spot, and "there will be a little more latinum for me."

Max told us that during filming of "Take Me Out to the Holosuite" baseball episode on DS9, he told Nana Visitor that "I'll try to be a bad baseball player, so I'll wear the glove on my right hand. She said, 'I have no idea what that means!'"

After Max left, we were treated to a music video of Garak, the Cardassian tailor (played by Andy Robinson, who couldn't be at the convention). Two Japanese fans put it together, setting Garak's action scenes to James Bond music so we'd truly see him as a spy.

One of the people I had been looking forward to seeing most, Michelle Forbes, came on next. I loved her as Ensign Ro, but her recent stint as Admiral Cain on Battlestar Galactica was really above the bar.

She seems as commanding as Cain, but hopefully she makes better choices. "I thought (Cain) had the choice to be the victim (because of her upbringing), or a self-determined person. She conditioned herself to be fearless." She enjoyed herself on Battlestar very much because "the show is terribly profound and bold. As an actor, you always want to be part of those bold choices." She thinks Ron Moore is a genius, and "the cast is a crazy alchemy of talent and humor."

Why did you quit being Ensign Ro, someone asked, when they asked her to sign up for Deep Space Nine? "I wasn't ready for marriage. I'm still not ready to play one character for seven years." She did enjoy working on Next Gen, though: "The set was like eating salad with monsters."

I went out to find Grace again, and stood in her line. She wasn't there. Finally someone else in line told me that she was probably at the original series luncheon. "Is that now?" I groaned. Again.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Star Trek Convention, Day One: The Plight of the Middle-Aged Actress

Believe it or not, we Trekkies dress according to who's on the bill. I looked at my schedule to see who was listed, and it's a bunch of (mostly lesser) actors from Star Trek: The Next Generation. So I wore my Next Gen shirt, the one I bought from Lincoln Enterprises (Majel Barrett's discontinued company) so many years ago. It's a polo shirt in Navy blue.

I had time to kill, so I gambled in the Starquest casino. I eventually ended up at the Star Trek game again, as I knew I would, but all 8 seats were full. I gambled elsewhere until after 11 am; the dealer room opens at 11, so I figured there would be empty spots after that. There were.

It was two seats over from last night's prize location. I did even better this time, and this time I understood the bonus round and what was happening. I won over $200 this time on the same $20, and it only took about 15 minutes. Very nice bonus round!

I then cashed out and went to the dealer's room. I immediately bought an old Lincoln Enterprises satin Star Trek jacket celebrating the 25th anniversary for $35. The guy from Intergalactic (I get their emails) explained that they had bought all of Lincoln's remaining inventory. "They never displayed it, never took it anywhere," he said, shaking his head. I felt fortunate.

Do you know that I spent all of the $1 bills Ruth gave me? First to Intergalactic, then to Sean's place for various merchandise (Torchwood, Serenity - she always gives me a "frequent flyer" discount even though I never ask for one), then to some other guy who sponsors tables at Vulkon and had a lot of autographs (some kind of damaged) to get rid of.

The Gene Roddenberry booth featured a captain's chair that you can win for logging on at their computer and being chosen randomly as the "best Star Trek fan" this weekend. I took the yo-yo she offered, but didn't sign up. I can't even guess how much trouble I'd be in at home if I won that massive prize!

I was in the main ballroom early to get a decent seat. I have general admission this year, the cheap seats, so nothing reserved. I discovered last year that paying extra did not guarantee me a good seat at all. First up was Susan Gibney, who played the delightful Dr. Leah Brahms in only two episodes of The Next Generation. It was a great story: Geordi LaForge, engineer on the Enterprise, had to solve some sort of engine problem, so he had the computer produce a hologram of the original engineer, Dr. Brahms. He then had a long conversation with her, and developed a relationship with her (the hologram). In the second episode, which was some time later, he meets Dr. Brahms, only to find her a lot less easy to get along with. And married.

Susan was astonished that the fans remembered her so well and was looking for answers. It certainly was hard to explain. She started off by telling us that she had just completed a play in San Francisco, a play I certainly would've attended had I been aware she was in it. She was also on Crossing Jordan intermittently as the D.A. for several years. She had been up for the role of Seven of Nine, losing, of course, to Jeri Ryan, and was brought in three times to test for Captain Janeway. She lost that one as well, to Kate Mulgrew. And, surprisingly, she filled in for a voice in two episodes for one character on Xena: Warrior Princess.

Barbara March came on next. Barbara feels like an old friend even though she certainly wouldn't recognize me. Debbie and I were two of six people who signed on for a special event at Quark's Bar several years ago, where we would meet the Klingon Duras sisters (Barbara played one, Gwynyth Walsh played the other) on the captain's bridge. They cancelled the event due to lack of response, but still took us on the bridge where we sat in the captain's chair and had pictures taken with March and Walsh. We chatted with them and then got front-row seats at their Q&A in the bar. Debbie and I split a warp core breach, the rest of which we offered to all the fans (just so we could get rid of it).

Barbara has quit acting and is now writing full-time. She told a funny story of meeting Gene Roddenberry for the first time. She was in the middle of filming, totally in the klingon make-up (which took 4 hours to put on), and could not sit down in the klingon suit because it would have strangled her, it was so tight.

Her "Lursa" Klingon was quite famous for having a costume bodice that put her breasts out there. Very nervous she stepped up to meet Mr. Roddenberry, the founder of Star Trek, and all he could do was stare at her breasts, point at them, and ask, "Are they real?"

She never answered the question, at least for us.

I saw one more of the "lesser" stars on Wednesday: Robin Curtis. Robin played Saavik in two of the Star Trek movies. Saavik was a Vulcan, like Spock, but a younger version who fell in love with Kirk's son before he was killed. (I think the love story was dropped in the original theatrical version of Star Trek III.)

She told us how her husband asked her for a divorce in November, and she was just devastated. She went to a small town in upstate New York, where one of her two brothers lived, and looked for a place to lick her wounds. She found a marvelous house, and bought it. She brought a contractor in to fix it up, fell in love with the contractor, and went into business with him. She is now a Prudential real estate agent (apparently no longer acting). Robin is all about keeping things positive and looking for that silver lining, not at all like her klingon character.

After Robin, I skipped the rest of the program and went over to the Tropicana for a late lunch/early dinner.

Oh, and I now have six medals in the Star Trek game. And one of the $1 bills that Ruth gave me showed up in Brooklyn, New York. I spent that maybe Tues night or Weds morning? And the guy who reported it said he got it at a Star Trek convention! My, how fast money travels!

Star Trek Convention: Not Even Day One: Shields Up!

Getting to Las Vegas and the Hilton was uneventful, despite dreams I had the night before of not being able to check in. I had difficulties last year, and I guess they stayed with me.

But after I had my badge, which I wore around my neck, I sat at the new Star Trek (original series) video slot machine, and started to play. Or at least I tried.

The guy at the next machine over didn't seem to be playing, but sure wanted to talk. He noticed my badge, I guess, and told me that he had been last year, wasn't sure if he was going this year, wanted to know which day was best, and reported that one of the writers had died since he saw her last year at the convention. "I think it was Brannon...something." Brannon Braga, I said, shocked. "Yeah, I think she died." Okay, I know that's wrong, especially since Brannon was on schedule to be at the convention. I offered that D.C. Fontana was there last year, and that she's getting up in age. "Yeah, I saw her last year! I think it was her." Right.

He told me he couldn't figure out how to get the slot machine to work. He could only play one game on it even though there seemed to be four games. After he paused for breath, I looked it over. It's quite unique in that you log in, you set up your own name, pick a character (I picked Uhura), and can log in time and time again, trying to reach a certain award level (based on medals you accrue), to get to bonus rounds. After the machine ate too much of my money -- after all, it's still a slot machine, and if 3 McCoys don't come up, etc., you don't win -- I called it quits. The beauty of it is that it's a penny machine.

I went into the Starquest casino, which is probably not labeled that any more because there's no "star" theming any more. But I passed a few more Star Trek banks as I walked into the shops surrounding Quark's Bar.

This is the last convention prior to its closing, the last few weeks before the 11-year attraction known as the Star Trek Experience closes for good. No report on what will happen to it, but my guess is more slot machines.

Some of the merchandise was on sale. Most of the t-shirts, though, were full price. I bought some trinkets, including a Romulan Ale bottle opener. I noticed that some display racks even had signs on them, noting they were for sale: "Display rack $200, freight extra." Beam me up, display rack. That would be free.

I got in line for Quark's Bar, figuring I would get some dessert. It was about 8:45 pm at this point. By the time I exited, it was after 9 and the line was closed. Curious that it closed so early. They seated me in the bar at a table. The room was filled with noise and men and a few women engaged in shouting conversations. Most had drinks in front of them. I noted more than one warp core breach. Deadly stuff.

In the bar they have two T.V.'s working: one had Star Trek movie on, Wrath of Khan I think, and the other an early episode of CSI. The CSI one was the only one I could actually see, as too many heads were in the way for the other one. It took away from the experience.

I noted that Counselor Troi's chocolate obsession was now a drink, not a brownie/ice cream dessert, and ordered something with cake, chocolate ice cream and syrup. Yummy.

But the guys at the table next to me kept growing louder, and their party bigger. In addition, the ST:E's Klingon was circulating and bellowing loudly; the people, especially the women, he was talking to were responding in kind. I began to resent the noise, so I finished as quickly as I could, left the money for the bill, and offered the table to them so that some of them could sit down.

On my way out I noticed a t-shirt on display that showed a green Orion slave girl. I admired the t-shirt but knew I could never wear it. Too sexist.

I was wondering what to do when I noticed that the whole Star Trek bank of slot machines was open. I remembered that the Top Gun slot machine had been there, in that very spot, during my last visit, and the ST machine resembled it in many ways: speakers behind the head that shook your glasses when something good came up. I sat down.

I read later that these new interactive machines, the result of new slot technology, debuted at a trade show in December 2007. And now here they are.

After about 15 pulls of not much happening, a woman brushed by me, obviously trying to get into the machine next to me, hitting my head with her packages and moving my seat with her body. She finally settled in and I ignored her. Then it happened.

I got to the bonus round, picked one of two choices, and waited. The reels went round and round, without my help, scoring points, and because I had played 3 coins for each line rather than 1, would multiple what I won by 3. Then, all of a sudden, 3 shields popped up on the reels, side by side. Apparently the reels keep spinning, and if you win something, they keep spinning. If you lose, don't win anything that spin, you lose a defense shield (out of 5). I had just won 5 more. So this went on for maybe 5 minutes, reels spinning and points adding up. I finally ran out of shields and the bonus round stopped: I had won $160. On a penny machine.

I played it off one more time, and then cashed out. The woman beside me got excited. "You won $160?!" she blurted, as if it was any of her business. "And you're leaving? I'm sitting there!" You're welcome to it, I said, as I grabbed my little bag and went back to my hotel room.

After all, when you've run out of shields, what else should you do? There are 6 more days here in Las Vegas. I'll need my future shields later.