The Big Goodbye

by Gray Cargill on September 11, 2008

Star Trek: The Experience

Star Trek: The Experience

We brought baseballs.  Lots of baseballs.  There were baseballs lining the bar, baseballs in a blue bucket in front of the bar.  I didn’t read any of them, except my own, but I can imagine what they said.  Things like “Thanks for ten years of wonderful memories,” “Thank you for giving me a place where I could come and forget my troubles for awhile,” and “We’ll never forget you.”  From January 3, 1998 to September 1, 2008,  Star Trek: The Experience at the Las Vegas Hilton served as a home-away-from-home for Trekkies from all over the world who came to this place as if it were our own Mecca.

The Star Trek-themed attraction featured a restaurant and bar modeled after Quark’s from Deep Space Nine, where you could order delicacies like Flaming Ribs of Targ and Fried Pipius Claw and drinks like The Warp Core Breach and the Mind Meld; Promenade shops, also from Deep Space Nine, featuring all manner of Trek collectibles; a motion simulator ride called the Klingon Encounter; an interactive attraction called The Borg Invasion 4D; the History of the Future Museum; and multiple TV screens everywhere airing old episodes of the various incarnations of Trek.  It was a Trekkie paradise.

Replica of Voyager

Replica of Voyager

On the last day of operation, we gathered to pay our respects with baseballs.  Why baseballs?  Someone came up with the idea from the Deep Space Nine episode, A Call to Arms, when Gul Dukat and the Dominion wrested the Bajoran space station Deep Space Nine from the Federation, and Dukat found Captain Sisko’s baseball sitting on his desk.  When he was asked what it was, Dukat said “A message, from Sisko. . . .He’s letting me know he’ll be back.”  We wanted to let everyone involved with the Experience know we would not abandon them.  And if, by some great fortune, they come back, so will we.

I flew into Vegas on the Experience’s last day of operation.  By some twist of fate, I was speaking with a fellow passenger from my flight at JFK and learned she, too, was headed to the Hilton for the ceremony. We immediately bonded.  Later, after I checked into the MGM and had some lunch, I headed over to the Hilton. The Star Trek area was busier than I had ever seen it. There were some fans who had gone all out for the occasion, dressing in Starfleet uniforms or even as their favorite alien race.  To be honest, I thought I’d feel a little weird about that; but for this occasion, it seemed perfectly appropriate.

Props in the Museum

Props in the Museum

I purchased a ticket for the rides and the History of the Future Museum ($49.95).  Normally, being the cheapo that I am, I’d complain about that price, but not that day.  I wandered through the Museum, looking at the props (including costumes, tricorders, phaser rifles, etc.) for the last time and staring up at the large-scale models of ships hanging from the ceiling.  Down in Quark’s bar, which was full to capacity, you could hear the chanting of fans thanking the bartenders, whom they all seemed to know by name.  There was a Memory Wall (walls, really), papered with hundreds of notes from fans expressing their sorrow over the closing and how much it had meant to them over the years.

I stood in the long line waiting for the Klingon Encounter, but was encouraged by staff to go on the Borg Invasion first, since the line was shorter.  Before we boarded, a very tall Klingon going by the name Commander Churoq (actor Mark Weitz) stopped by and told some jokes to us:

Churoq:  “What’s funnier than two dead Ferengi?”

Us:  “Three dead Ferengi.”

Churoq:  “Ah, you’re telepaths.  Here’s another one.” Long pause, and then boisterous laughter as if he’d just told a great joke.  We all laughed with him.

The Borg Invasion was more fun than I even remembered, as actors dressed as Starfleet officers led us through the corridors of a space station that was under attack by the Borg, and one by one, they were “assimilated”, including one who was snatched right up through the ceiling by a Borg drone. After the show, we all clapped and cheered.  The cast seemed emotional. Who could blame them?  In a couple more hours, they would be out of jobs.

Quark's Bar and Restaurant

Quark's Bar and Restaurant

I went downstairs to check out the Promenade shops, which were nearly bare of anything to buy; some were already closed.  The Trekkies who had come to convention in early August bought up most of the collectibles.  I saw General Motog (actor Tom Deishley), a grey-haired Klingon, speaking with some fans.  Quark’s bar was a raucous, rowdy Trekkie frat party.  There was pounding on the bar, chanting in Klingon, and an atmosphere paradoxically both festive and somber at the same time.

I wandered out to the line for the restaurant and ran into Cathy, my friend from JFK, who was at the front of the line.  She had met a father and his son, Kent and Patrick, and they had all agreed to share a table for dinner.  They invited me to join them and I accepted.  I wasn’t too hungry, since I’d eaten at MGM’s buffet only a couple of hours prior, so I just had Hoshi Sato’s Coconut Shrimp and a Liquid Latinum (an alcholic beverage that was a lovely shade of blue topped with a greyish liquid). We had a great last meal, sharing stories of our favorite series and characters we liked, and getting to know each other better.  Kent won Cathy and me over when he asked to take our picture, because we “looked just like Beverly Crusher and Deanna Troi”.  That smooth-talker!

As we sat there, Commander Churoq came in and made the rounds of the restaurant, stopping to engage in conversation with us humans.  He sat down with a man at the table opposite us and started commenting on the man’s food:  “It’s dead.  You should send it back,” he said, with a perfectly straight face. “I wouldn’t eat it.”  (Klingons, of course, prefer their food to be alive when they eat it.)

The Enterprise

The Enterprise

Cathy and I parted company with Kent and Patrick after dinner and headed upstairs for one last ride on the Klingon Encounter.  As it turned out, we wound up being part of the very last public ride (there was a VIP ride following ours for people who paid $500+ for tickets!).  A film crew showed up and interviewed a tall, bearded man from Kentucky right behind us who was dressed in a Starfleet red command uniform.  He told them this was his 1,015th ride!  I tried to do the math in my head for how many thousands of dollars that had cost him over the years, but gave up. He was very emotional and talked about why he loved coming here so much, including the cast members, but also meeting fellow fans.  The film crew followed us as we entered the ride and right up until we boarded the shuttlecraft.  It was a little distracting and kind of took me out of the fantasy, but on the other hand, it was kind of cool knowing I might make it onto a future DVD extra (which is what they said they were filming for).  I really did feel like I was a part of Star Trek history at that point.

The Klingon Encounter has always been my favorite ride, and this time did not disappoint.  I had a big goofy grin plastered to my face the whole time, from walking onto the bridge of the Enterprise-D–which was positively bustling with Starfleet officers–to the bumping, dizzying motion simulator ride.  When it was over, I felt a sense of emptiness knowing it was the last time I’d do it.  We all applauded the actors again at the end, and Cathy and I made our way to Quark’s.

Party at Quark's!

Party at Quark's!

The Klingon/Starfleet frat party was still going strong.  Cathy stepped away to make a phone call, and I managed to slip between people to get to the bar to order some drinks for us.  This time, I tried an Arcturian Fizz, which was like vodka and lemonade, only blue and not too fizzy.  There was a guy at the bar drinking out of a fishbowl (a Warp Core Breach?  A Borg Sphere?  I’m not sure which) who looked like he was pretty blotto.  He kept shouting something unintelligible. Not long after, Major Kahlen (actress Lynn Sterling), a female Klingon, came through the bar and began to lead the crowd in Klingon song, pounding her fist on the bar.  The volume in the room went way up.

I met Nick, who told me he had helped to build the Experience (thank you, Nick!) and was now working on Cirque du Soleil’s Ka at the MGM.  About then, the bar staff began shooing us out of the bar and up to the SpaceQuest Casino, where the Decommissioning Ceremony would be held at 10pm.  A Decommissioning Ceremony is a Naval tradition held when a ship is taken out of service.  You can read more about the tradition at Wikipedia.  During the wait, the crowd grew.  I met some fellow fans and chatted with them, including a woman originally from Vermont, and a guy I recognized from one of the Trek message boards I frequent.  By the time the ceremony started, I was surrounded by people taller than me, and couldn’t get a decent view for pictures.

Decommissioning Ceremony

Decommissioning Ceremony

The guest speaker for this ceremony was Suzie Plakson, who portrayed several aliens in the Star Trek universe, most notably Worf’s Klingon wife, K’Ehleyr, and  a female Q on Voyager.  A tall actress with a regal bearing, she was a terrific choice.  She gave the ceremony exactly the right honor and dignity it deserved. She performed the time-honored ritual of calling out each and every staff member by name, and they all got their moment in the sun.  Everyone was thanked with applause, whistles, and cheers from the fans.  (We should all leave our jobs with such honor!)  The actors were called out last, many still in costume.  I was amazed at how many fans in the crowd knew them each by name, and knew their characters by name.  As much as I loved the Star Trek Experience, I’d never gotten to know any of them, and I realized that was my loss.

The last actress called out, April Hebert, who played the Vulcan T’Pril, was entrusted with the United Federation of Planets flag that had flown over the attraction–her honor as the longest-running cast member.  She tried mightily to maintain a stoic Vulcan composure, but crumbled a little, and the tears came.  For her and for all of us.  After that, Chad Boutte, the Operations Manager and Director of Marketing for the Experience, closed out the ceremony, holding up one of the baseballs and speaking eloquently and emotionally of the amazing last ten years and our collective hopes for the future.  At the end, a golden curtain dropped in front of the Experience, barring it from our view.  It was really over.

Decommissioning Ceremony

The Curtain Falls

Over 100 employees of Star Trek: The Experience are now employed elsewhere or are looking for new jobs.  Imagine how difficult it must be for the actors to find new work in Las Vegas, given the special nature of their previous work.  I feel for them.

If you weren’t able to make it to the ceremony but want to see what all the fuss was about, you can click below to view an 8.5 minute YouTube video (by nikzane) of the closing ceremony below:

Oh, and those baseballs?  Those are reportedly being donated to Boys and Girls Clubs and various youth organizations.

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