Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Look Away Look Away Look Away Dixie Trek

In 1980 the Atlanta Star Trek Society was formed to further the ideals of IDIC and the vision of Gene Roddenberry throughout the United Federation of Planets, or at least Atlanta GA. They hosted their first convention on the Emory University campus. In 1982 they changed their name to Dixie Trek and organizers William Smith, Owen Ogletree, and Ron Nastrom moved off-campus and into the wider world of Atlanta fan events.

Personally I was never a big Star Trek fan – beyond the Kirk-Spock-McCoy dynamic and the overwrought 1960s TV writing there isn't much there for me – but if you became a science fiction nerd in the late 1970s, Trek was an ecosystem that you moved through and dealt with regardless of your personal feelings about the show. As a teenage nerd for whom conventions were the most fulfilling social events, I wasn't going to miss one, even it was mostly about Star Trek.
Mark Lenard and fan at Dixie Trek '84 - photo by Don Harden

As near as historians can figure, the modern-era Dixie Trek began in April of 1984 with a two-day show at the Oglethorpe College Student Center, a venue which would later host the one-day Dr. Who event "Brit-Con." Guest Mark Lenard - Spock's father Sarek, the first TV Romulan, and many other roles - was a hit with the fans.

Moving out of the collegiate atmosphere, 1985's Dixie Trek happened May 17-19 at the Northlake Hilton, which is now a Doubletree and which was the site of many small Atlanta fan events in the 1980s. Guests at the '85 show included Jon "Dr. Who" Pertwee, Terry "I Invented The Daleks" Nation and Majel "Nurse Chapel" Barret. The video room at this convention may have been the first time I ever saw Blake's 7. It is certainly the first and only time I was ever in the same hotel suite eating Moon Pies with the guy that invented the Daleks.

I was more of a Dr. Who fan than a Trekkie (I blame Monty Python), so Dixie Trek's growing emphasis on British entertainment was a welcome development, helped by organizer William Smith's connections to Atlanta's PBS station, then airing Dr. Who among its other, tweedier BBC programmes.

For their 1986 show Dixie Trek moved slightly west to the Sheraton Century Center, a fine establishment with a management that understood the nerd market. Guest Peter "Dr. Who #5" Davidson absolutely charmed the pants off Atlanta, both at the convention and via live remotes broadcast on PBS. My memories of this show are fuzzy but I believe they involve carting a load of fellow geeky teens around in my Mom's van, and being pulled out of a room party that involved people drinking BEER and SMOKING.

"Do I want to go to the Star Trek con, or stay home and watch Star Trek?"

Dixie Trek's 1987 show was May 22-24 downtown at the Hyatt Regency, an Atlanta landmark whose revolving restaurant, the Polaris, was a fixture of the city skyline for decades. Dixie Trek was poised for the big time, but tragedy struck; their headline guest Leonard Nimoy cancelled to go work on "Three Men And A Baby." The show had to soldier on with Robin "Saavik #2" Curtis, Robert "Freddy Krueger" Englund, comic artist George Perez, Janet "Tegan" Fielding, and Mark "Spock's Dad" Lenard. I believe I wound up dropping in and out of this show but not buying a badge. I'm sorry guys.

Dixie Trek '88 was held May 13-15 back in the Sheraton Century Center, with guests Johnathan Frakes from ST:TNG, along with Julie "Catwoman" Newmar, Paul "Avon" Darrow, and SF author Brad "I am at every convention" Strickland. Our anime club programmed a weekend of Japanese animation for the show, which meant hauling our VCR and a box full of tapes down to the hotel and screening 4th-generation untranslated copies of films like Project A-Ko and Macross.

we're talkin' FUN

Dixie Trek '89 - June 16-18 - moved to the Radisson, which was at one time known as the Dunfey's Royal Coach and later the Castlegate, a well-known fan convention destination with overbearing and confusing architecture and a staff that didn't care what went on as long as the bills got paid. It's my recollection that I spent much of this convention wandering around with my anime nerd pals, scoffing at the Trekkies and distributing insulting literature. At the time if we weren't on staff running an anime video room, our custom was to show anime out of our own hotel room and bring snacks and drinks and have what punk band Black Flag would call a "TV Party." So we probably did that. Details are spotty but apparently one of the guests was Dr. Who #3 Jon Pertwee.

1990's Dixie Trek was June 15-17 in the selfsame Radisson/Castlegate, and the listed guests included Gates McFadden and Denise Crosby from ST:TNG and Marta Kristen, Billy Mumy and Mark Goddard from Lost In Space. It's my understanding that a pregnant McFadden had to cancel, which is just as well as the Castlegate was not the healthiest place for children or other living things. I'm pretty sure I did not attend this convention.

Dixie Trek '91 happened on May 10-12 in the now officially named Castlegate. Guests included ST:TOS's Walter Koenig, ST:TNG's Suzie Plakson, Lost In Space's June Lockhart, comic author Peter David, and comic artist George Perez. I did not attend this show either; my spare time was taken up with seeing bands and college, and my convention-going time was taken up with visiting Dallas for anime stuff and trying to get Phenomicon started. But more on that later.

are we still talkin' fun?

In 1992 Dixie-Trek moved to the Century Center for a May 17-19 show. The Century Center may have at this point been a Marriott - it's switched back and forth a few times - and Denise "Pet Sematary" Crosby and Jonathan "Oh the pain, the pain of it all" Harris made return visits. I was not there.

Dixie Trek '93 was again at the Sheraton Century Center with guests Nichelle "Uhura" Nichols, Gary "Land Of the Giants" Conway, and David Hedison, one of only two men who portrayed James Bond's pal Felix Leiter twice.

In 1994 Dixie-Trek was back at the Castlegate May 14-16 with a rare convention guest appearance by Christopher "Superman"Reeve and Noel "Lois Lane" Neill - and that was it for Dixie-Trek. Star Trek as a fandom-inspiring franchise was on the wane in the 1990s; diminishing returns on films and a cycle of lackluster TV programs failed to keep the public's interest in the face of newer, fresher genre offerings, and like many other conventions Dixie Trek struggled to get new attendees and to keep the ones it had. The Castlegate was cursed to be the hotel where conventions go to die; in 1995 the Atlanta Fantasy Fair's final convention would take place there as well, and a series of smaller shows would fail to survive its fake Olde English exterior. Of course, 1995 would also see Anime Weekend Atlanta premiere at the same hotel, and it's still going 22 years later. Incidentally, the former site of the Castlegate is now a Wal-Mart, which seems to be doing fine.

Dixie Trek may have remained obscure if not for the October 19 2009 episode of "Big Bang Theory," in which the character Sheldon relates the story of his feud with TNG actor Wil Wheaton and how it began at a Mississippi convention called, yes, "Dixie Trek". One might think that if REAL nerds were writing "Big Bang Theory," they'd know Dixie Trek was a real convention, one Wil Wheaton never attended. Then again, highlighting the Atlanta SF fan scene of the 80s is what this blog is about, so maybe we should have written about Dixie Trek sooner so that these overpaid fake-nerd Hollywood writers would be able to look this stuff up on the Google. You're welcome.

So long, Dixie Trek. May the infinite diversity of infinite combinations grok your Spock... always.

Special thanks to William Smith, Owen Ogletree, and Ron Nastrom

1 comment:

Timelord Cardiff said...

I think I am on that video ... there was a conga line and I was in line with an Orion Slave Girl... She got green all over me... LOL