I found myself in the airport with my family trying to work our way through the concourse and out to the parking lot to go home. O’Hare airport, for the uninitiated, has a rather large concourse with wide, shining floors resembling marble, people from all over the world traversing its veins speaking dozens of languages, and airline workers rushing back and forth towing their luggage behind them as they make their way to or from a flight. I notice they almost never smile—I guess they save it all up for the passengers they’re about to serve, or used them up trying to cope with passengers who can be, shall we say, annoying?
At any rate, we were working our way through the concourse when to my surprise I looked over my left shoulder. A man was approaching too close to my space and my aura alarm went off so I peeked backwards to see who it was. I thought it better to make eye contact to let the person know I was aware of their proximity. As I made my furtive glance, the familiar face, much older now, and the famous blue ascot tipped me off immediately. He knew I recognized him and flashed me that “Yep, its me” smile along with those twinkling eyes. I’d heard of twinkling eyes, but never saw them as far as I knew. I had now, and it was fascinating.
He didn’t make a fuss about who he was, but he knew I knew and that’s all we both needed. The he was Deforest Kelley, or should I say, Dr. Leonard McCoy, chief medical officer of the Starship Enterprise. Of course he was not Dr. McCoy in this moment but he was most certainly Deforest Kelly.
I was stunned. One of my boyhood heroes was here, right behind me. He said nothing and neither did I, we just kept walking, he a pace behind but close enough that I could smell his “dad smell” aftershave. Leonard Nimoy was there too, right behind him and just to his right. I was flanked by the bridge crew of the most famous space ship in history be it television or real, and we were walking together. They knew who they were, and I knew who they were. Surreal is the only word that comes to mind.
I asked myself the only question one in this situation could ask. I mean, if the thought didn’t cross my mind, what kind of Star Trek Trekker would I be? So, I asked it. Not out loud, mind you, for that would be insulting to the two icons behind me, but in my mind: Where is William Shatner-Captain James Tiberius Kirk? Surely, I thought, he must be around for Deforest Kelley and Leonard Nimoy would never be walking through O’Hare airport without their captain, would they? It was unconscionable to my mind. They don’t have lives, separate or otherwise. They, the three of them, are woven together as a good quilt, three indivisible parts of a sewn together whole—at least in my mind.
No sooner had the question come forth than did the unexpected occur. We were approaching the down escalator and William Shatner shot past to get ahead of me, like someone rushing to cut in line at the theatre. I was stunned and turned to Deforest Kelley who was still apace over my right shoulder. Again, he showed that closed mouth grin and the flashing eyes.
“There’s that famous Shatner aloofness,” he mumbled as Shatner himself rushed down the moving escalator as though he were TJ Hooker chasing a bad guy. Nimoy hadn’t said a word to this point, I guess staying true to the silent, brooding, always-calculating-the-odds Mr. Spock, but I felt Mr. Kelly and I had a connection of sorts. My family was somewhere behind all three of us, I’d lost track of them during all of this, but I figured they were there, somewhere.
I called down the escalator, “Bill! Mr. Shatner! Bill!,” thinking the sound of my voice would provoke him to stop before he got too far away, but it was not to be. Before I knew it, Shatner was gone.
As I descended the escalator, I was only a bit dejected. Here was the opportunity of a lifetime and I let it go, or maybe it was stripped from me because of Shatner’s rush to leave. Still, I had the sheepishly smiling Deforest Kelly behind me along with the silent Leonard Nimoy—and my family, somewhere back there, but Shatner, the big fish, the white whale to my Captain Ahab was gone.
When we all reached the bottom of the escalator and began our descent, I was greeted by a surprise. Out of nowhere, literally conjured up or maybe more appropriately beamed in—there he was, the white whale. Bill Shatner was waiting at the bottom and to the right of the escalator. He smiled at me and I returned the smile. At some point as I descended, a box appeared in my hands. It was the square white box one would get at the ball park when food needed to be carried back to your seat. I have no idea how it got there, but there it was, with, of all things, two Chicago style hot dogs with mustard, onions, relish, two half slices of tomato stuck between the poppy seed bun on one side, and a nicely cut pickle slice on the other. Yes, of course there were two crunchy green sport peppers as well. What is a Chicago style dog without sport peppers?
The four of us, and my family, exited the airport through the push-open doors that led to the parking lot bathed in warm air and plenty of sun. That’s when I said it. I had no choice for to let this moment go would be blasphemy of the highest order and I’ll be damned if I’m going to be the person that lets this moment pass. So, I took two quick steps to get out in front of the three television space heroes of my youth.
Turning back to face the three of them who stopped walking and were now standing together as though preparing for a publicity photo I said smiling, “Do I dare?” At this point, all three knew what I was angling it; me and my box of hot dogs. I said it again, “Do I dare ask the bridge crew of the Starship Enterprise to take a picture with me?” All three smiled, including Shatner. I sweetened the pot. Looking down at what I held, I looked up and blurted out, “I have Gene and Jude’s hot dogs in this box and I’ll give ‘em to to you if you’ll let me stand between you guys and take the picture.”
Look, they weren’t Gene and Jude’s hot dogs. I knew that but they didn’t. Besides, what did they care? They were Chicago hot dogs. Those rubes from L.A. have no idea what a good hot dog tastes like let alone a Gene and Jude’s hot dog, so I thought I’d pass these off as the real thing; they’d never know anyway.
Shatner smiled and beckoned me over to stand between him and Deforest Kelly who gave me another smiling look as though to say, “See? It all worked out.” I set the hot dogs down on the ground, one of them tipping over in the box and spilling its guts. I didn’t care. I called to my wife to come over, take my cell phone and shoot the shot. As I maneuvered to my spot, a miracle occurred.
Gone were the old men who played those famous characters. Before my eyes, they became the men I knew in my youth. They were young again, virile, and ready to take on the universe once more. They were wearing their Starfleet uniforms too, the most impressive being the captain himself in his gold command shirt complete with insignia on his upper left chest.
There I stood, among the characters of my favorite show, an iconic show really, spanning decades and decades, and all it took was the promise of a fake Gene and Jude’s hot dog to make it all happen. I put my left arm around Shatner, or should I say due to his transformation, Captain Kirk, and my right arm around Dr. McCoy. Then…my dream ended and I woke up.
I rushed downstairs as I felt the memory of this dream fading as mist disappears in the morning sun. I had to write it down, had to document this dream for the residue of good feelings was fading and I had to preserve it. I jotted down some notes to remind me of the pertinent details and then sat with my morning coffee to reproduce it here.
So, there you have it. You may think I’m crazy, and that very well may be, but that’s ok. I don’t mind. I guess this is part of the write life I’m beginning to embrace. Good on me and long live the bridge crew of the Starship Enterprise.