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René in Vegas 2001

Slanted Fedora
Star Trek's 35th Anniversary Convention
Septmeber 6-9, 2001

reports by Stephanie Davidson and Connie Bernard

 

René at the Q&A -- photo by Connie

Stephanie

Slanted Fedora's first convention in Las Vegas was held at the Alexis Park Hotel. Although Friday, September 7, was "technically" DS9 day, René was only able to appear on Thursday due to another work commitment. And man, what a day! The actors do their autograph signing in the first part of the day and when I arrived for René's talk we were told he was still signing and would be for some time. His talk was rescheduled for later in the day and I don't think he had much of a break in between. René's Q&A was quite good; unfortunately, I failed to take any notes.

René at the Q&A -- photo by Stephanie

That evening we were treated to a performance of Love Letters starring René and Nana Visitor. René looked especially dashing in a dark suit and slim tie.

After the play, a group of us went to Gayle Stever's room to hang out. We were all delighted by the surprise drop-in by Our Man Odo! René just stayed a short while and was clearly exhausted, but he wanted to make a point of saying "thank you" for all the fan support. I've been going to cons for over 20 years and I don't believe I've ever seen a guest give so much of himself in one day as René did in Vegas!

Connie
Wednesday, September 5

While this was not the first day of the convention, it set the tone for the whole weekend. When we arrived at the Alexis Park, the first thing I tried to do was contact Gayle Stever. She was out, so we decided to go ahead and get in the registration line. As we got in line, we were handed bottles of water by representatives of TNN. The bottles were designed to advertise Star Trek: The Next Generation coming to TNN in October. They made cheap but novel souvenirs. The line seemed to take forever. That was the theme of the weekend. "This is the line that never ends. It just goes on and on my friends. Somebody started forming it not knowing what it was...." You get the point. In just under three hours we managed to get registered, buy the pictures we needed for autographs, and pick up our pre-signed autographs; and we only had to stand in four lines to do it.

After surviving the Great Line, we went to try to contact Gayle again. When we got to the phone, someone else was also trying to find her. That someone turned out to be Lolita Fatjo. I had not expected to run into anyone that important, let alone be going to the same gathering with her.

Finding Gayle's room was like some late-night treasure hunt. The room numbers started out higher than hers and just went up. Lolita, Velvet, and I all thought there must be some back way, but there wasn't. You had to go up to go down, so to speak. After you passed all the higher numbers, it started back with the low ones. Her room was tucked way back in a corner past a storage room, even. The gathering was small but pleasant that night. We spent a lot of the time talking about our flights and griping about the organization, or lack thereof, that we had seen so far. We stayed for a little over an hour. Then we made the long, and I do mean looong, trip out to Velvet's mom's house for a good night's rest before the real festivities started the next morning.

Thursday, September 6

We decided to arrive early the first day, and it's a good thing we did. We had autograph times of 10:30, but we wanted to give ourselves time to figure out just where we were supposed to be. There was no hotel map in the schedule of events. There was one in the main lobby, but even with practically putting my nose on it, I could still not figure out how to get to the ballroom where the main programming was taking place. Finally, after getting vague directions from the hotel desk, we just followed the crowd. We got to our assigned seats at about 10:20.

Dave Scott was going over the rules of the day. There were ten actors signing that day. Four of those, Shatner, Spiner, Burton, and Mulgrew, were signing only for the $1,500 ticket holders and those who had paid extra for an in-person autograph from them. The other six were signing for the $500 people as well. Dave made it a strong point to say that no pictures were to be taken during the autograph session. Apparently there had been threats made against himself and unnamed actors. He said that anyone taking pictures could have their camera taken from them. Anyone making what security viewed as a threatening move would be removed and not permitted to return. While he was saying this, some idiot tried taking a picture. He told her if he saw it again he'd have her removed. Needless to say, it was well after 10:30 when the autograph line actually started.

I don't even remember when we finally got in line. These are, however, clear memories I have from this day: Gates McFadden leading a group of us in singing "Happy Birthday" to a fan, me having to run to get a replacement picture for Gates to sign (it's a long story), coming up with a song to pass the time:

"This is the line that never ends.
It just goes on and on my friends.
Somebody started forming it,
Not knowing what it was.
And we'll continue joining it forever
Just because
This is the line that...."

....the only fan (air mover) in that whole back hallway right where Michael Dorn was the only actor benefiting from it, René seeming like he'd rather be doing just about anything besides sitting in that hallway signing his name two thousand times (I must say that he was very sweet to Velvet and commented on her "Odo was here" shirt by saying that 1993 had been a long time ago), and Marina saying "I'm so hungry that my stomach thinks my throat's been cut" (for some reason that cracked me up).

Since the autograph line was taking soooo long, programming was being pushed back, or cut. We did not plan to go to the opening remarks because they were scheduled at the same time that René was supposed to be speaking to all the general admission people and any of us that didn't want to listen to William Shatner. This too was changed from 1:00 to 2:00 which gave us time to find out where the secondary ballroom was, and even pay a quick visit to the dealers' room. On our first trip through the dealers' room we ran into a very nice, and cute, guy who worked for the Star Trek the Experience store that they had set up. He kept rolling tribbles at my feet trying to get me to buy one. He was also admiring the buttons Velvet and I had with René's picture on them. He asked where we'd gotten them. I explained that I had them made a long time ago from a picture that I took at a convention back in 1994.

A little before 2:00 we went back to try to get good seats for René's talk. We ended up in the center of the front row (the pictures I got are amazing). We listened to the end of the presentation by someone, I don't remember his name, who had been a guest star on the TOS episode "Friday's Child." He was actually interesting to listen to. 

René arriving on stage -- photo by Connie

Finally, a little after 2:00, René came on stage. He was carrying a sandwich and an unopened can of Diet Coke with him. He explained that he had planned to eat and answer questions at the same time, but with the hand-held microphone that would be impossible. He asked us if were freezing (it was really cold in that room). We said we were. He had been prepared and was wearing a jacket. He asked us if the convention was chaos. We all shouted, "Yes"! He asked, "Organized chaos?" Answer, "NO!" You could tell he agreed even though he didn't say a word.

René went on to talk about the looong autograph line, and entering hotels through some back hall or food service area. He called it the Sirhan Sirhan room, after the guy who shot Robert Kennedy and tried to escape through a kitchen. After that I never looked at the autograph line the same for the rest of the weekend.

One story that René told that I hadn't either heard or read before was the story of his first job after graduation from college. He had gone to the editor of the Pittsburgh newspaper that his father was a correspondent for to see if he could get a non-writing job. He said that he was just rebellious enough not to want to do the same thing that his dad did. The only job the guy would offer him was a cub reporter position. No way was he going to take that, so he went looking elsewhere. He eventually ended up working at a department store in the men's department. He said that one of the requirements of the job was that he had to wear a suit. The only one he owned had belonged to his grandfather, and while it was outdated it was still very stylish. There was just one problem with it. The pants were very worn in the seat, but the coat covered that nicely. The trick was to stand very straight and never bend over. He got a lot of compliments from co-workers on both the suit and his posture. Most of the other sales people worked on commission so he was told to refer customers to them. His main job was to make sure the department looked good, in other words he was supposed to pick up what customers dropped and put it back on the shelves. Needless to say, he spent his time trying to bend and stoop without showing his rear. He had us all laughing with the visual demonstration of this contortionist act.

Toward the end of the Q and A I asked a question about which makeup was the worst. Was it "Die is Cast", "Broken Link", or the end of "Extreme Measures?" 

René telling the wedding ring story -- photo by Connie

René explained that those were actually the easier makeups because they were torn up. It was the smooth ones that were hard. He went on to tell the story of one of the worst makeup experiences he had ever had. It was on Outer Limits. The makeup had no nostrils and covered his whole head. René held his nose and talked in a funny voice to show us what it was like. He said that he told the makeup artist that if they didn't do something about it, he was going to rip the whole thing off his face. The guy finally cut a tiny slit under the nose so that René could slip his wedding ring inside to keep it open so that he could get some air. When they did a scene, they'd seal the hole and then reopen it afterward. René went on to say that it was a nice illistration of how being married could be a lifesaver.

It was a very sweet story in the end, and seeing René holding his nose and actually taking off his ring and holding it up to his face to show what he'd done, not to mention the funny voices he did, was wonderful. It made me glad I'd asked what I had been afraid was a less-than imaginative question.

I can't begin to give a full account of the Q and A here. My memory isn't that good. I will say that the hour went way too fast. My only real disappointment was that there were so few people in the room. There might have been more had Mulgrew and Shatner not been speaking in the big room at the same time.

After René's talk, we went back to the dealers' room. We ran into the coolest Klingon, Vulcan, and Ferengi. They were talking about Velvet and me being dressed alike (we were wearing matching shirts that said "Odo was here" and had a drawing of him peeking out of a bucket) which got us both laughing. Then they started talking about our red faces. All I wanted to do was hide, I was so embarrassed. They caught up with us later, and we had quite a nice talk. We suspected that they worked for Star Trek the Experience, and we found out later that that was the case.

On this visit, the guy who had been trying to sell me a tribble offered to trade me one for my René button. I said the button meant too much to me to ever trade it. I told him I felt like that credit card commercial, "Convention ticket: $500. Airfare: $300. Getting to be in the front row to see René: Priceless."

After dinner, we got changed to go to the plays. I think we were among the very few who took the advice to dress nicely for the evening activities.

We then spent about forty-five minutes in a line waiting to get in to the first play. They claimed it was some technical problem that delayed things.

The first play we attended that night was Gates McFadden and Brent Spiner. I don't know that they had a name for their presentation. It was a series of short two-person scenes, one of which I think was borrowed from René and Armin's "Theatrical Jazz." It was a pleasant way to spend some time. This was a program that Velvet wanted to see, so I went along even though the only thing I really cared about seeing was Love Letters.

Fortunately, Love Letters was in the same room, so we only had to move to a new section. We had better tickets for Love Letters. Sadly, there were a lot fewer people for this than there had been for Gates and Brent. Also, the audience appeared to be a little older, possibly more mature. Another reason for the sparse crowd could have been that the night of the play had been switched and some people may have had a conflict. It's really too bad for them. They missed a truly moving performance.

The only bad thing to happen, as far as the audience was concerned, was that Dave had the late-arriving general admission people move up front to fill in the empty space. This put them ahead of those of us that had pre-ordered. The only glitch for the actors was the lighting. The light was right in their eyes, and there wasn't a whole lot that could be done about it because the lights were mounted on standards half-way back in the room and could not be turned at all. Once they had a couple of minutes to adjust, they were fine.

Since this play is so well known to most René fans, I'll be brief. This was my first time seeing it, and I was blown away. I'm glad I grabbed a few tissues because I cried, more than once. René and Nana both are so subtle in their acting that they add so much to what, done poorly, would be a boring piece. Two things I noticed right away were Nana bringing a bottle of water out with her at the beginning of Act II to show that her character was becoming a lush, and René putting on his reading glasses to show that his character was aging. The very end, when Nana walks over while he's reading that last letter is so powerful. Wow!

When it was over, I looked at Velvet and offered her a tissue. She's not the crying type that I am, so I didn't think she'd need it. She just said, "Please," and I could tell it had got to her, too. Also these two performances were her first experience with live theatre. I couldn't think of a better first taste.

After the play, there was another get-together at Gayle's room. This time I knew how to get there, but others did not. We saw René and several others going the wrong way, and couldn't stop them. We were waiting on them to figure out what we had, when Blair, Gayle's roommate, came up to us. She thought we were lost. I told her we were fine, just waiting to see if the reaction of this group would be the same as ours. It was. Pretty soon we heard laughter followed by everyone going the other way. We joined them, and I couldn't help but break into a chorus of "We're Following the Leader". Either no one heard me, or they didn't think this event merited a song. Oh well. 

René at the room party -- photo by Connie

The gathering this night was pretty large, perhaps twenty to twenty-five folks from ORACLE, FBTS, and OARFC. René could only stay for a few minutes. He spent a lot of that time talking to Gayle while the rest of us looked on, and took pictures. He did graciously accept our praise of the play. He apologized for not being able to stay longer, but he had to fly back to LA early the next morning.

We stayed a little while after René left. I decided it was time to go after I dropped the book of autographs all over the floor. I can't go anywhere without causing havoc in some form. Fortunately, there were many willing hands to help me put it back together.

Friday, September 7

This was Deep Space Nine day.

There were fewer actors signing autographs, but the line was worse. I don't know why, except that they set the tables up a little bit differently and there was a space where the line was allowed to start to wind down a back hallway. There were only six autographs to get this day: Cirroc Lofton, Alexander Siddig, Andrew Robinson, Nana Visitor, and Armin Shimerman. However, some of us did not get Armin's autograph. They explained that he was one of the world's two slowest signers, the other being George Takei, and would, therefore, be signing at least two days. We never even got close on Friday.

The one thing that stood out to me from this autograph session was how nice Nana is. We were told again not to talk to the actors other than to say thanks, but I couldn't resist complimenting Nana on her performance in Love Letters. She seemed genuinely touched by the compliment. She said she was glad we liked it, and gave me a very nice smile.

This was the day I actually used that expensive seat I'd bought. We spent the whole day in the ballroom listening to the various speakers. The only times I left were to try to get a couple of autographs from recurring cast members, and to try to get in touch with Judith and Cecy. I couldn't find any other RAFL/ORACLE people. I even checked their assigned seats several times. I learned one valuable lesson from this: Always get last names so you can contact people. We never did catch up with them, but I did get the autograph I went after.

While the autograph line dragged on, Dave brought in people to talk to those just sitting and waiting. Among these were Gene Roddenberry Jr., the Borg kids and, of course, Max, Aron, and Lolita. They were all interesting, but they had a hard job occupying a restless crowd.

Once the autograph line finally ended, each cast member in attendance got about half an hour for Q and A. Then at the end, they all shared the stage for about an hour. This was really neat to see. Everyone was friendly toward each other, but there was a sense of professional decorum. They spoke honestly about their time on Deep Space Nine, but were also glad to talk about the things they are doing now.

As the very last thing, James Darren sang for everyone. Before this performance Dave Scott told everyone that there were to be no pictures at this time because of SAG rules. Just as the song started, I saw Dave storming toward my row. He climbed over four of us, myself and Velvet included, and snatched the digital camera from the guy next to Velvet. After pulling out the disk, he shoved the thing back at the guy and left. I was so shocked that I checked to make sure my own camera was securely hidden in my back pack.

That evening we decided to go over to the Hilton and visit Quark's Bar. We ran into the Ferengi we had met the day before. In fact, he sat down with us and helped us look over the menu. Anything for profit. After we ate dinner, we looked around the shops. I decided that I was going to wait to buy anything until Monday when we were going to spend the whole day at the Experience.

Saturday, September 8

This was the actual date of the 35th anniversary of Star Trek. Most of the still-living cast of the original series was there to celebrate. William Shatner had been there Thursday, and did not make a return appearance.

The autograph line was the worst of the weekend. Leonard Nimoy and James Doohan were signing for the $1,500 people and Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Walter Koenig, and John DeLancie were signing for the $500 people, too.

I only needed two autographs this day. I had managed to get Nichelle's and John's at cons in Indy in the past. So, the only ones I wanted were George and Walter. I still had to stand in line, and walk politely past the others.

Also, they were having Armin Shimerman sign for those who missed him on Friday. He was only going to be there for a short time because he had to fly back to LA to rehearse for the play he was in.

The line was out of control. Instead of stopping at the beginning of the hallway and doubling back like it had the day before; it went all the way down before winding slowly back in the right direction. Because of this, we stood in line at least an extra forty-five minutes. Then, just before George and Armin, it split into two lines. One line was sent into a room for George's autograph. (He's the world's slowest signer because he likes to talk.) The other line was for Armin's signature. Armin's line looked fairly short, so we decided to get the longer one done first. This almost proved disastrous for us.

After we got done going through the maze to get George's autograph, we went back to get in Armin's line. They had just closed it! We were shocked. Just two people ahead of us, they cut the line. We were promised that he was going to make a special trip back on Sunday just for the few of us that had missed our chance. I was hopeful, but a little doubtful as well. I knew that paying for an autograph was no guarantee that I'd get one. I had read the fine print, you know.

After this, we were free for the rest of the afternoon. There was no one that I just felt like I had to see on stage since I had already seen most of them before. So, we spent most of the time either in the dealers' room or the room where recurring characters were signing. I got a lot of autographs and met a lot of very nice actors this way. I was especially impressed with Casey Biggs and Aron Eisenberg.

Sunday, September 9

This was Voyager day.

We found out real quick just who had, supposedly, received the threats that had caused the heightened security. Of course, it was none other than (drum roll, please) Jeri Ryan. She was as well guarded as some heads of state. I would hate to have sneezed anywhere near her, I'd have probably been arrested. The one positive to all this was that the autograph line went very quickly and smoothly this time.

Everyone from Voyager was signing except Kate Mulgrew. She had been there Thursday. Other than all the security, the thing that stood out to me most from this autograph session was how much better looking Robert Beltran was in person than he was on the show. I always thought he looked older on the show. It must have been the hairstyle.

Another highlight of the convention for me happened while we were waiting for our turn in line. Once again they brought in guests to entertain the restless horde. On this day, it was Dick Gordon, Apollo 12 astronaut. I am just fascinated with the moon landings, and Apollo 12 is my favorite of the six successful landings, so I was really excited. I even got to ask a question. This made my day.

Once autographs were over, we just hung out. We were waiting, and hoping, that Armin would get to come back to sign for those that had been left out on the two previous days. Dave Scott had said he'd announce when, or if, that happened, but I wasn't going to take any chances. Around 3:00 I heard him say something about Armin arriving, and that he would soon be signing. He did not, however, say where.

Now, all weekend the staff people had been treating everyone like we were preschoolers, or something. They acted like we didn't know how to do anything; let alone, figure out how to form an orderly line. We decided to show them we could. An assertive Brit, whose name I never got, spoke up and said that she was the head of the line. I was second and Velvet was third. The entire line agreed that if we were lined up opposite where we needed to be, we would simply move the line like a snake until we were all pointed the right direction without anyone losing their place. That's just what we had to do. We were lined up nicely before any staff person even got out there to tell us how to do it. One girl proclaimed, "No staff person was harmed in the formation of this line." The woman ahead of me turned around and whispered, "No staff person was needed in the formation of this line." The only thing we had to be told was that we needed to back up a little. Also, Lolita had to squeeze past some of us to get to where she needed to be to help with things. When I got Armin's autograph, I kidded him that he should show René how to sign. Armin has one of the clearest signatures I've ever seen. He said that he was a much more patient person than René. I just giggled and left.

After we got this last autograph, we went to hear James Darren and Robert Picardo give their talks to the general admission people. When James Darren saw me trying to take a picture from the back of the room, he invited me up front so that I could get a better one. I was a little embarrassed, but still accepted the offer. The picture turned out great, and I had another highlight of the weekend.

The last thing on the agenda was the Voyager reunion. Now, I never was a fan of the show, but I thought I should go to this. To this day, I wonder how they ever got any work done on that set. Those people did nothing but kid around and cut up. For the most part, they seem to really like each other, which is good.

That was it for the convention, unless you were one of the $1,500 people and had a ticket to closing party. But we still had tickets to the Experience that had been part of our convention package. We planned to use them on Monday.

Monday, September 10.

This was our day at Star Trek the Experience. We got there shortly after it opened and got right in line for the ride. The line was actually rather long. I think we weren't the only ones who had decided to wait till this day to go. While we were in line, we had our pictures taken so that we could have them added to the Star Trek cast picture from the series of our choice. Of course, both of us picked the DS9 picture even though neither of us looked as good in it as we did in other ones.

I have to say, I loved the ride. We were in the front row both times we rode it. Velvet was really good about not telling me what was going to happen. She had been on it before a couple of years ago.

After lunch, I went shopping. I was afraid that I had made a big mistake by waiting. My big problem on this day was finding a sweatshirt for myself. I had had all kinds of trouble finding anything I liked all weekend. There was almost nothing anywhere that even hinted at DS9's existence. I occasionally found something with the wormhole or the Defiant, but those were rare, and I didn't really like any of them. I finally just decided to get something with the Experience logo on it. At this point, though, almost everything in my size was gone. They had plenty of the smaller sizes, but none for us more expansive types. I finally found something, but it was far from my first choice. I learned that you should never wait to buy when you're at a convention with 3,000 other fans.

We called Velvet's mom about 3:30 to come pick us up. She had offered to do this to save us money since we had been taking taxis home from the convention each night, and that usually cost about $30 dollars. Unfortunately, her air conditioner had decided that today was a very good day to die, and she couldn't leave till the repairman got there. You absolutely cannot be without an air conditioner in Vegas in September. So it was back out to the curb to hail a cab once again.

By the time we got back to the house, the air was fixed and all was cool and comfortable again. We just took it easy that evening. We watched one of the videos I had bought at the Experience and something else and then called it a night. I was supposed to fly home the next day, so I made sure everything was ready to go even though my flight wasn't scheduled till the afternoon.

Tuesday, September 11

With one sentence my memories of a wonderful week were forever marred. "They've bombed the Pentagon and the World Trade Center," were the first words I heard that morning. At first I thought that it couldn't be that bad. Then I reached the TV and saw the live pictures. It was worse than I could imagine. We spent the whole day just staring at the television, crying, and calling back home to make sure everything was all right. I had to have a friend get my dog from the vet since I wouldn't be home on time. I also, and more importantly, had to make sure my daughter was okay and let her know that I was fine and would be home soon.

Soon turned out to be Friday night. I ended up taking a Greyhound bus from Vegas to Chicago and having a friend pick me up there. It was a beautiful trip, and I would have enjoyed it under other circumstances, and had I been prepared for it. As it was, I was just glad to get home.

Since then, things have gotten back to a semblance of normalcy. My daughter says she never wants to fly again, and I don't want to be too far from her. But I'm already thinking way ahead to the 50th anniversary of Star Trek. I know we'll both travel again. And, hopefully, September 8, 2016, will find us someplace celebrating a TV show that showed a world united and respectful of all our differences.

Photos by Connie Bernard and Stephanie Davidson

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