Thirty-two years ago today, my dad and I watched the premiere of Star Trek: The Next Generation. So I thought today would be a good day to
die get the gang back together — not in the upcoming Picard series, but in my dining room.
Across years of attending E3, Super Megafest, and Star Trek conventions, I've had the good fortune to meet castmembers from every Star Trek series. Each gave me a moment of their time with conversations I'll always remember for the insight into their off-screen personalities: Jonathan Frakes is goofy and gracious; Brent Spiner is witty and wily; Denise Crosby is open and kind. These moments came as they autographed eight-by-ten glossies, which became my touchstones for these celebrities who brought to life characters that molded my upbringing and creativity.
I eventually moved into an apartment where I could display these mementos.
A Saturday night spent decorating the new place: pic.twitter.com/NmgwaagzNP
— Ken Gagne (@gamebits) July 6, 2014
Of my collection, only one franchise was nearly complete: The Next Generation. And of that, only one actor was missing: Wil Wheaton.
Wheaton was the keynote speaker at the first Penny Arcade Expo East, held every year in Boston. It is also the only PAX East whose keynote speech I missed, and that weekend didn't present another opportunity to corner young Wesley Crusher.
The next possible encounter didn't come until almost a decade later, when I booked passage on the JoCo Cruise, an annual cruise of nerd celebrities: actors, sci-fi authors, podcast hosts, and comic artists. Wil Wheaton was one of the guests in 2017, so I came prepared with both one of his books and a headshot I'd bought on eBay.
On JoCo Cruise, celebrities are treated like fellow passengers, and we're asked not to stalk or harass them. Still, I felt I could acknowledge Wheaton's celebrity while still being respectful. For example, I was reading Wheaton's book by the pool when he happened to walk by, and I asked for his signature, which he graciously provided — completely natural.
That moment was happenstance, though — for the headshot, I had to be more deliberate, as I couldn't just "happen" to be walking around with his photo. On Pajama Day (I was dressed in my DS9/Voyager medical jammies), I again hung out by the pool, this time with his photo. I saw Wheaton playing a board game with friends, which I didn't want to interrupt; then, without pause, he dove into lunch with his family, which was another private moment. When he was finished eating, that was my chance.
I approached him with the photo and a Sharpie marker and asked for his autograph — which, like his castmates, he graciously provided. It somehow came up that I'm from Leominster, hometown of R.A. Salvatore, who I was surprised to learn is a friend of Wheaton's! Wheaton credited Salvatore as being a mentor during his transition from actor to writer.
I also told Wheaton that his was the last autograph I needed to complete my TNG collection. He signed it appropriately.
Unlike the $20–80 I'd spent for each of his castmates' autographs at conventions, Wheaton's only cost me a cruise. But it was worth it.
That was two-and-a-half years ago, and in all that time, I've never framed and displayed Wheaton's autograph. On my dining room wall, except for a few scattered superheroes and Star Wars characters on the far end, the headshots were grouped by Star Trek series, with the same franchise in each column. I didn't know how to rearrange it to make room for young Mr. Crusher. Some friends recommended I get a ladder and add an entirely new row, filling it in with non-Trek actors in my collection, but that seemed overwhelming.
But this week, I'm moving out of my apartment, and I'll no longer have room for any such displays. Today, the anniversary of TNG's debut, was my last chance to reunite Wesley with his Enterprise family.
So as all the other headshots came down, one went up.
The TNG crew is always together in my heart, and I can revisit their adventures anytime with a DVD. But today, I tied together all those personal experiences, scattered across all the years. As with all my Star Trek encounters, this was a fleeting moment, but a happy one, and one that I'll take with me in all my travels.