Star Tracked

Channel 32 aired reruns of the original Star Trek most afternoons and that's how I got hooked on the classic television show, becoming a proud Trekker who read all the James Blish script adaption books as well as anything else related to the series.

My bedroom walls were covered with Star Trek posters, a model of the USS ENTERPRISE (NCC 1701) hung from my ceiling, and my bookcase was full of Star Trek books. Trek memorabilia and collectables filled the room and I was known around Hillsboro High as the Star Trek expert.

I praised series' creator Gene Roddenberry – "The Great Bird of the Galaxy" – a former airline pilot who saw the show as a "Wagon Train to the stars" when he first created the show in the early 1960s.

For the record, there were two Star Trek plots – the first one was called The Cage and it aired 1964 with movie actor Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Christopher Pike with Leonard Nimoy's Mr. Spock a much different character than he would become later. The Ship's first officer was a female named Number One – played by Majel Barrett who would later marry Roddenberry and portray Nurse Christine Chapel in the original series.

The Cage didn't sell (although it would be reedited and aired as a two part episode in the first season) but NBC took the unusual step of ordering a second pilot with changes.

Captain James T. Kirk (played by William Shatner) was now the ship's commander with Nimoy back as Mr. Spock. George Takai's Sulu and James Doohan's Scott were both in the second pilot which was called Where No Man Has Gone Before with guest stars Gary Lockwood and Sally Kellerman. It aired in 1965.

That pilot sold and it launched what became the show I came to loveabout the twenty-third century interstellar adventures of Captain Kirk and his crew aboard the United Federation of Plants starship Enterprise.

The original series lasted three seasons and went off the air in 1969 but it found a second life in syndication which is where I discovered it on Channel 32. I didn't care much for the animated series that aired on Saturday mornings in the 1970s but I was forever preaching the morality of the Star Trek concept to my friends and classmates.

Sometimes I get embarrassed that I became obsessed with a television show instead of getting involved in world peace or some other important issue or social cause but there was something about the show that captured my imagination and my hope.

I had a hard time convincing cynics that the show wasn't about monsters and aliens but rather about the human spirit and the best of mankind, the hope for a brighter inclusive future where everybody can live together peacefully.

The Enterprise is a multi-cultural mixture of people from all races and cultures, including alien beings accepted as part of the crew.

I was often teased by my classmates for joining the Star Trek cult that grew after the original series left the air and I was excited about a rumored new series called Star Trek Phase II that was being discussed in the mid-1970s even though that never happened.

Star Trek gave me my reputation and legacy among my peers and that was okay with me. Maybe I came across as a dufus sometimes in my overzealous attitude about the show but it was my way of fitting in and having something to talk about.

My family mostly humored me but they were also willing to buy me Star Trek books and other stuff on my birthday and Christmas so they weren't totally in denial about it either.

I left my Star Trek books to future Hillsboro High trekkers in the yearbook Class Will when I graduated and I listed my class goal as "To attend a Star Trek Convention" – a phenomena that began popping up all over the country following an inaugural gathering in New York City in 1972.

I joined the Navy out of high school, right around the time of the mini-Star Trek cast reunion when the actors were invited to the roll out of the prototype Space Shuttle named Enterprise in honor of the Star Trek Series.

I was assigned to the destroyer USS SPRUANCE (DD 963) homeported at Naval Station Mayport FL after completing boot camp and A School. I was forced to leave most of my Star Trek collection back home given the tight quarters on the ship but I was happy to promote my Star Trek expertise, trivia knowledge, and insight to anybody who was willing to listen.

I was known as 'Spence' or "Lin" around the ship (my name is Linwood Spencer). Ship life can be lonely so I joined a Star Trek Pen Pal Club I saw listed in one of the fan magazines I subscribed to at the time.

I became the envy of the ship when I started receiving the most letters by far of any member of the ship's crew. Janson the divisional mail petty officer complained about dragging so much mail aboard the ship addressed to me. But I was willing to share my Star Trek mail with guys who didn't get many letters from home and that made me popular around the ship.

The Trek pen pal letter writers were from all over the country, a variety of ages and life stories. Some wrote once or twice and then were never heard from again.

"You obviously didn't wow them with your reply," my good friend on the ship Cheats said when I showed him the log I kept, listing the name of the person who wrote, where they were from, and some of their interests or characteristics so I could keep track of who was who in my responses.

Sometimes, I'd use the copy machine in the ship's office to Xerox a generic typed letter and then I'd write a handwritten cover sheet to make it more personal. The generic letter gave my standard bio of where I was from, what I was doing on the ship, how I discovered Star Trek, my favorite episodes and characters, and some of the best quotes.

For the frequent letter writers who established a regular correspondence, I handwrote my letters to make them personal and responsive and I began to establish regular and favorite correspondents, including Elaine from Southern California who sent me a photo of her with the actor James Doohan who played Scotty, Shelia from Maryland who suffered from mental health challenges but remained faithful to the promises of Star Trek, and Annie, a young teenager from New Jersey who was innocent and wide open to the possibilities Star Trek offered, as well as being excited about writing to "a real life Sailor".

I probably sound sexist admitting that I favored the female writers but I was a lonely Sailor and I'd be a fool to pass up such opportunities I enjoyed getting to know the letter writers, sharing parts of my life, and romanticizing the Navy too which hopefully made me sound more interesting since I was competing with everybody else on the Star Trek Pen Pal List for attention and affection.

I loved having discussions and debates about the best episodes – including The City on the Edge Of Forever when Kirk goes back in time to save a delusional Dr. McCoy and falls in love with a Earth woman from the 1930s, Amok Time which explores Vulcan customs, traditions and biology, Mirror Mirror which transports Kirk and company into an alternate Trek universe, and the humorous The Trouble with Tribbles about loveable pets that won't stop multiplying.

My personal favorite episode which I was more than willing to defend and argue as the series' most meaningful story was from half way through the third season- Let That Be Your Last Battlefield with guest stars Lou Antonio and Frank Gorshin playing two survivors of a war-torn planet – each half black and half white – committed to killing each other.

Only the most astute observer realizes before the big revelation that they are half black and half white on opposite sides of their bodies which makes them different from one another and a reason for each to see the other as inferior and a reason to despise.

That is the message of Star Trek in one sentence was my argument.

Elaine from SOCAL was older than me, mature and experienced and I liked reading her perspective in her letters, intrigued by interacting with "an older woman".

Shelia from Maryland was clearly troubled and unhappy, living in some sort of group home for emotionally challenged young adults and I wanted to be a supportive friend helping her through a difficult time by using Star Trek as an escape, but it was Annie from New Jersey who became my all-time favorite and most ardent correspondent, writing me a letter almost every week.

Annie was funny and cute in her missives and she was the one that I felt closest to on an emotional and spiritual level. Star Trek almost became an afterthought as Annie wrote about her challenges at school and frustrations at home and I saw myself in the big brother role offering her guidance and mentorship as she weathered the storm of adolescence.

Cheats warned that Annie was way too young for me to be writing to. The six year age difference might cause trouble because I could be seen as a pervert writing to a younger girl but it wasn't as if I was ever going to meet her so what was the harm if I could help her get through her life?

Excitement was in the air when Paramount Studios announced in 1978 that Star Trek The Motion Picture was going into production, based on a script originally pitched as the pilot episode for Star Trek Phase II that never came to foliation a few years earlier. The Studio was hoping to cash in on the success of recent power house science fiction movies like Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

I exchanged many letters with Elaine, Shelia and Annie during the next several months discussing the various reports, updates, and rumors about the new movie which I read about in various magazines like Starlog.

The entire original cast was back in their original roles. The movie was directed by Robert Wise, best known for helming the award winning West Side Story and The Sound of Music.

The storyline was about a mysterious powerful alien cloud known as V'Ger approaching Earth, destroying everything in its path. Now Admiral Kirk assumes command of the recently refitted Starship Enterprise to lead it on a mission to save the planet and determine V'Ger's origins.

The film was a Christmas release in 1979. I saw it with Cheats in Jacksonville Florida with mixed reactions and I immediately wrote to Elaine, Shelia and Annie. I was happy to see Star Trek back with the familiar faces and characters but missing was the familiar interplay between the crew so much enjoyed on the original series.

The movie's special effects seemed to be the main focus with way too many endlessly long and pointless shots of the ship. I wasn't all that keen on the new uniforms and I felt the film was stunted and stilted.

"For the most part, I was disappointed," I wrote to all three of my favorite pen pals. "But I'm still glad to have the Enterprise crew back together and I'm hoping there will be new and better adventures in the future."

Keep reading to find out if there was!