phenom

by Julie Barton

Your mission: Locate the origins of a strange, space-related ritual occurring in the southeast quadrant of Earth's Iowa on the last Friday evening in June. Set coordinates for Riverside, a farming town, population 850. Make a left at the gas station's flashing sign ("NESTEA, WORMS, GREETING CARDS"). Leave your vehicle by the grain elevator and hurry past the hungry stares of the primitive carny ride operators. In the park, keep on walking past the pet show on the concrete stage. Your destination lies far beyond, past the softball fields. There, in the last rays of the setting G2 dwarf star, a haze of toxic blue fumes tells you that the demolition derby is underway—and with it, Riverside's annual Trek Fest.

What, thus far, indicates science fiction, you ask? There are no Vulcan ears or Federation badges evident in the crowd as it cheers for the Chevy Impalas and Chrysler Newports bashing each other in the giant mud pit. And if, as I did, you ask a waiting driver whether he watches Star Trek, you'd be greeted by a startled "Naw." Nonetheless, there are a couple of logical reasons to call this event a Trek Fest:

The signs all say "Trek Fest."

On March 22, 2228, Captain James T. Kirk will be born here, behind Riverside's former barbershop.

Trek Fest is the brainchild of former Riverside city council member Steve Miller. A fan of the original series, Miller knew from The Making of Star Trek (by Stephen Whitfield and "Star Trek" producer Gene Roddenberry, 1970) that Kirk would be born in a small Iowa town, so in 1985, Miller talked his fellow councilors into declaring Riverside Kirk's future birthplace. They even changed the town motto from "Where the best begins" to "Where the Trek begins." Still, enthusiasm was not universal at first.

"The hardest thing was telling the senior lunch program that there was this guy who didn't exist, but people wanted to believe he existed, and he was going to be born here," Miller says. "Not an easy concept to explain to the rural elderly."

Roddenberry was easier to win over. When contacted about the declaration, "He said that as far as he was concerned, the first volunteer had it," Miller says.

Like most Iowa towns, Riverside holds a festival every summer, a typical Midwestern frenzy of softball and sauerkraut, barbecue and demolition derbies. "Star Trek" was simply grafted onto the celebration.

The morning after the derby, the science-fiction flavor of the Trek Fest does intensify. Purists may find plenty of cause for disappointment. At best, the festival might feature a peripheral actor from the original series. The parade down Main Street is three parts tractor and Boy Scout to one part shuttlecraft. Most of those in uniform or alien headgear shun the costume contest, which entails sweating on the hot stage while a crowd renders judgment by applause. The same two latex-foreheaded guys seem to win every year by bellowing "It is a good day to die!" both in English and the original Klingon.

Still, no other Trek event can rival Riverside's je ne sais quoi. Original "Star Trek" episodes run all day long in the old barn next to the concrete stage, where country line-dancers kick up their heels to the music of groups like The Rednecks. The mix of sounds is fascinating:

MR. SPOCK: [In sick bay, gasping] I apologize for my weakness earlier when I tried to take control of the ship. I simply did not understand.

DR. McCOY: What is there to understand, Mr. Spock?

REDNECKS: Where didja come from, where didja go?

MR. SPOCK: I am a Vulcan, Doctor. Pain is a thing of the mind.

REDNECKS: Where didja come from—

MR. SPOCK: The mind...

REDNECKS: Cotton-Eyed Joe? [DANCERS: Whoop! Whoop!]

MR. SPOCK: ...can be controlled.

Purists (and Paramount lawyers) may also be irritated by the sale of "negative birthday" T-shirts, jogging shorts, and key chains, as well as vials of "Kirk Dirt" dug up from outside that former barbershop (which one hopes will see some improvement in the next 232 years). But proceeds go to worthy Riverside causes, such as scholarships or furniture for the elderly. This year, community leaders say they'll finally be able to put a roof over the concrete stage.

Perhaps dented Chryslers, pet shows, and barbecued pork are weird ways, even for Kirk's ancestors, to show sci-fi appreciation. Riverside, however, reminds us that the Trek begins not in outer space but right here on Earth. It even suggests that "Star Trek" has been about us, and only us, all along.   </end>

Photographs by Julie Barton

JULIE BARTON is a writer living in Iowa City.
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