Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
The weekend of April 8-10, 2022, marked the inaugural Star Trek Mission, the first in a planned convention series from ReedPOP, the showrunners behind the much-vaunted C2E2 and other comic cons. In this geek endeavor ReedPOP in conjunction with Paramount Pictures hopes to do for Gene Roddenberry’s creation what the Star Wars Celebrations do for that rival galaxy. As it happens, the premier shindig was held in Chicago, a mere three hours away from our humble dwelling. Naturally we had to see…
As in all other MCC miniseries about our con experiences, it all comes down to this: the overlong grand finale in which I recount every anecdote I didn’t already share, post one last round of photos, and see how many readers make it all the way to the end, days after the event is long past and everyone’s already looking forward to the next con. It’s a draining process with few rewards, but that’s my thing.
DAY ONE: FRIDAY, APRIL 8TH:
My master plan required a 5 a.m. wake-up call to leave Indianapolis around 6 and, Lord willing, reach McCormick Place in three hours or less, losing an hour in the transition from Eastern to Central Daylight Time and thereby arriving right around 8 a.m. when the Will Call badge pickup booths would open. Most critically of all, I could get us parking in precisely the perfect section of the closest lot to the show floor. Rain, construction, and Chicago rush hour traffic each stood in our path, none formidable enough this time to ruin my master plan. America’s new preference for work-from-home on Fridays definitely has its fans in Chicago, judging by the relative lightness of the Dan Ryan Expressway, which was perpetually gridlocked in the Before Times.
We arrived, we went through one of the three security checkpoints, we used the bathroom, and then we learned the bathrooms weren’t far enough away from the checkpoints to count as being officially “in” the building, so they made us go through security again, though this time we used a different aisle so we could meet a different inspector. Another guard forbade access to the registration booths until and unless we first visited the separate health-check booths, where they’d verify either vaccine cards or recent COVID-free test results. Then we were given a green wristband that would grant us permission to go pick up our actual con badges. All weekend long, guards checked far more assiduously for green wristbands than they did for badges.
To our surprise, two hours before showtime, the line to get into the con had less than a dozen early birds standing ahead of us. Then I realized I forgot my camera in the trunk. While Anne held our place in the rather short line, I went out to our delightfully convenient parking space, fetched my gizmo, came back inside, went through the third security lane (basically waved past as they recognized me by now), and rejoined Anne so we could stand there doing nothing for the next two hours till the show began. That tedium was our reward for navigating all the other tedious housekeeping steps up to that point, in which the main thing was getting the best parking. Other, actually fun main things would come later.
VIPs were allowed into the show floor at 9 a.m. sharp. We gen-pop commoners were ushered in an hour later, and thus did the revelry begin…with me following Anne to the booths where she most wanted to pick up con-exclusive merch — to Fansets, then to Propstore, and then to the Star Trek: Mission Chicago Official Merchandise Store. She found and acquired exactly the cute new things she wanted and I tried not to have flashbacks about previous terrible experiences with places whose names contained the words “star”, “merchandise”, and “store”, particularly The Worst Line We’ve Ever Waited In Our Entire Lives. This line was relatively merciful and well staffed. No pain was inflicted except upon our budget.
That was our first half-hour. All photo ops were scheduled in the afternoon, autograph tables are almost never manned at the get-go, and the first major panel wasn’t till 11:30. As a middle-aged couple who’d been up since 5 in the morning our time (4 a.m. Chicago time!), we felt we therefore had the right to defy convention norms and grab early lunch while there were seats available and food supplies hadn’t yet run out. I expected either or both to happen eventually, as it has at C2E2 sometimes in the same venue. (Ever try grabbing lunch at C2E2 at 6 p.m. when you’re starving, the food-cart staff are exhausted, and you’re eying each other as The Enemy?) Curiously, supply-chain issues never hampered us at the refreshment stands unless you count the exorbitant prices.
We wandered the autograph area to get an idea of where everyone was stationed. The Discovery crew, the largest cast on the roster, had their own section between the concessions and the photo op battleground. The Picard quartet would occupy a corner on the farthest end opposite. The other Trek casts had their own tribal space in between the two polar opposites. Last-minute invitees — Lower Decks‘ Noel Wells and Strange New Worlds‘ Celia Rose Gooding — had no dedicated banners and had to borrow other assigned tables with makeshift signage for their short stints. But as of 11:05 Friday the only actors in the house and ready for meet-‘n’-greets were Chase Masterson (DS9’s Leeta the Dabo Girl, whom we met long ago in Indy), Natalia Nogulich (Next Generation‘s Admiral Necheyev), and Discovery captain Sonequa Martin-Green, who could only be there Friday but went above and beyond to make the most of it.
At 11:30 came the first of three panels we’d attend over the weekend, a Q&A with Wil Wheaton!
His thoughts were solicited on:
- His teen crush on Marina Sirtis, because she showed him kindness and compassion, values lacking in his immediate family.
- Turning 50 in July, which means he’s two months younger than me. I hadn’t realized we were that close in age, or that he was aging.
- How The Next Generation‘s writing staff outsourced their densest technobabble to college science geeks to kludge together for them, which gave one Wesley-hater the chance to write his most syntactically wretched line ever, which he’s remembered ever since.
- Wesley’s later transcendence into a “Traveler”, which is basically a Time Lord, and how screenwriter John Logan kept his final Trek-canon appearance in Nemesis ambiguous on purpose.
- His staunch anti-fascism stance, for those who wondered and/or who like applauding broadly labeled stances.
- His enthusiasm for the conceived-on-the-spot idea of Wesley and Picard having their own Freaky Friday episode.
- His new book Stil Just a Geek, making its world premiere at the show a few days before its official street date.
…and more, more, more.
And then we at long last had some free time for exploring, seeking, and boldly going into the vendor area proper….which didn’t take long. Very few things took long on Friday. Even that day’s photo ops mostly ran on time, apart from the Plexiglas snafu with George Takei. I’d hazard to guess Wheaton’s slight delay at his op at the end of the day was likely over the same issue, as previously recounted. No other line or area was overly populated. At all.
With our shopping largely done, we still had time for Wheaton’s autograph line before our photo-op merry-go-round began. I love when actors write books and have them available for signing at cons, so I happily picked up a copy of the new one, then at his table compared notes on what it’s like to get as old as we are, to have youngsters doubting you, and to attend high-energy rock shows where we simply must maintain a minimum safe distance from the mosh pit lest we end up in traction for months (see also: my last time at a concert).
Nearby, an autograph schedule for all Friday actors was later signposted. Judging by the numerous empty tables around the floor throughout the weekend, its lists of signings would prove fictional, random time stamps generated by a mischievous A.I. having a laugh. We ignored it as we stopped for a bit at the table of Robin Curtis, a.k.a. Saavik from two of the OG Trek films. An extremely sweet lady, she remembered us later at her photo op. We’re quite a visually memorable couple, the two of us.
From 2:00 to 5:30 we alternated between photo ops, people-watching, aimless wandering, a churro break, and leaning against concrete walls and counting that as “rest”. We’d committed to so many appointments that we had no time frames for any more panels in their entirety. Apart from the stars appearing on the main stage across the hall, a handful of gatherings and screening rooms were assigned to rooms up on the next floor, far from where the madding crowds would’ve been if there’d been any crowds or any real madding. We never went up there all weekend. Out of sight and barely promoted outside of what amounted to some fine print buried in the con app, we have little idea of what we missed. I did see a comment from one attendee who checked out the “quiet room” up there, a nice idea scantly implemented — the way they told it, just an empty nook with tables and chairs and zero amenities.
We are squares who neither drink nor receive social invitations, and consequently almost never have reason to reserve rooms in officially designated convention party hotels. We retrieved the car from its extremely convenient space to the delight of our poor shredded feet and drove 15 minutes north to our hideaway for the night and its spooky self-parking garage. Check-in took forever because only the manager and one other employee were running the front desk, and said employee was dealing with a family of ten whose accommodations remained in flux from the time we joined the line until the much later moment we sallied off with our room keys in relief and resignation and exhaustion.
Dinner was at the hotel restaurant. What had once been a delightful Italian eatery called Filini was now FireLake Chicago, whose website shows pride in their celebration of Minnesotan cuisine. Much like the convention, many empty tables were to be had. Supply-chain issues crushed Anne’s day-long dream of an Orangesicle float, which their menu had promised her in vain.
DAY TWO: SATURDAY, APRIL 9TH:
A potent cocktail of protein, ibuprofen and snoozing was all the recovery regimen I’d needed to be up an at ’em for a second round of marathon geekery. Anne is a morning person who recharges to 100% whenever a rooster crows somewhere in America, even when I’ve kept her up half the night with my stentorian snoring. She therefore had to wait patiently on me before we could check out, fetch the car from the hotel cavern, head south, take a few wrong turns because I forgot the important downtown Chicago difference between “turn right” and “turn slight right”, do an alarming Duke Boys jump over a large metal speed bump that lunged at us out of nowhere, and then return one more time to McCormick Place to earn my Perfect Parking trophy before 8 a.m. We grabbed a small breakfast from the Starbucks inside the doors before it had formed any lines, went through the security check one last time, showed the next guard our dangling green COVID-free wristbands that had gotten kind of gross from 24 hours of continuous wear and accidental food-dunks, and were the second and third fans in line behind a Starfleet medical officer deeply engrossed in her reading.
The VIP badge-holders all slept in because that’s one of the perks, and they probably commuted to the show and stayed in the party hotels so they wouldn’t have to worry about parking. Meanwhile we endured our two-hour standstill prologue, which grew less tedious as more talkative fans joined the line and helped the minutes fly by. As an introvert I can’t pretend talking to strangers is an easy reflex, but when it happens, as it often does as cons, I’m there for it.
VIPs were again allowed into the fray at 9 sharp followed an hour later by us cheapskates, and thus did the revelry begin anew…with us making a beeline for Kate Mulgrew’s autograph table, sandwiched between the tables of Jack Quaid and James Cromwell. Again, no stars showed up for the metaphorical starter pistol. Several were listed on the laughably hypothetical schedule as commencing at 11:00. We envisioned them perhaps showing up together as one long kick-line while a jazz band riffed on the classic-Trek theme. I can only assume Paramount denied any and all requests for jazz covers. If only Captain Riker had been there to order that daydream for us.
We whiled away another hour with more fan chitchat, including offering some tips of encouragement and emotional calming to those near us who were new to cons and deeply nervous about meeting the Captain Kathryn Janeway and all the groundbreaking SF accomplishment she entailed. (Not to mention, y’know, she’s done non-Trek stuff!) Anne and I have been doing this long enough that we’ve adapted to the reality that actors really are just human people inside like us. Many of the folks you pay to meet stay grounded enough to recognize the personhood of each and every fan, and aren’t deigning to descend from an immortal dimension to bless us with a contact high from their radiant fame. Sure, exceptions exist, a minority of blowhards prone to confronting every perceived slight with a bellow of “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?” But most autographing actors will listen to you patiently and kindly as long as you don’t blather on for ten minutes, and will not in fact order the guards to drag you off to the con brig for the heinous crime of Fawning Incorrectly. Nervousness is normal for your first several cons, but if you can help it or if a friend can help you with it, don’t let your nerves give way to fear. This aspect of the hobby is fun.
So anyway, onetime Mrs. Columbo star Kate Mulgrew entered at 11:10, which is far closer to on-time than our typical con-guest experience, with Babe star James Cromwell on her heels a couple minutes later. The two paused for greetings and a pic together before she began signing and listening to our blather. We reached her table around 11:40 and, for reasons that would add another 300 words to this entry, suffice it to say all our own advice vanished from my head and my nerves fractured for two minutes and I made the autograph purchase process way harder than it needed to be and earned concerned looks from both Mulgrew and Anne, but the net result is I came away feeling six inches tall but at least she autographed my copy of her most recent book How to Forget, in which she recounts the time she took a break from acting to care for her elderly parents in their final days. I’m 170 pages into it and, as someone who’s about the same age she was when those events took place, it’s hitting me hard in quite a few ways.
(Let me know if you really want to hear those 300 self-unflattering words in the comments! Far be it from me to cover up my own mistakes! Like the other part I neglected to mention how I lost my mind on Friday and overpaid wildly for that day’s parking! Convoluted quotidian anecdotes that make me look dumb shall always be my thing! But I really am trying to delete some scenes here to save on wordiness! Yes, really! As if I haven’t already lost most readers by now anyway!)
(Where were we? Oh, yes, a con.)
After our brush with captaincy greatness, we headed over to the Main Stage for late arrival at Panel #2 of 3, a chat with the Lower Decks trio. I took no notes because I’d much rather listen to talented comedians doing their comedy thing than tuck my head down and take notes all through it like some kind of Boimler. The highlight may have been castmates Tawny Newsome and Noel Wells giving Jack Quaid the gift of a Tom Paris commemorative plate, or it may have been any number of things we chuckled at in the moment that are now lost like tears in rain. The point is, in those moments, fun times.
Post-panel, we adjourned to the Dunkin Donuts stand outside the exit for an infusion of sugar to boost us through our remaining six hours. We alternated between more meandering and more “resting” as we encountered the same fans again and again and again. In this show that had reportedly anticipated 8000 attendees, I’d be shocked if the total population ever reached 2000, which is pretty generous as informal estimates go. Fewer bodies meant easier navigation, but it was a niche block party compared to the average Star Wars Celebration.
2:00 to 4:30 was another photo-op time block for us. By this time, that area had become a madhouse. Hundreds of would-be subjects clogged the entrance and perimeter as the Epic Photo Ops staff struggled to triage everyone through the bottleneck into distinct lines to the two (2) open photo booths. All ops ran behind schedule for a while and fans crowded up as closely as possible for fear of missing the announcement of their line’s formation. Sometimes they used mics for announcements; sometimes they shouted above the din. As of today I’ve yet to hear any widespread reports of Mission Chicago becoming a COVID super-spreader event, but that throng could’ve been a great springboard for one to happen if fewer folks had come prepared.
Eventually we got through that annoyingly bustling inconvenience, lightened at one moment when our line for the Lower Decks trio began chanting, “LOWER DECKS! LOWER DECKS! LOWER DECKS!” Thus we demonstrated we were the greatest photo-op line of all time. By the time our grand finale with the Picard cast rolled around by 4-ish, things had calmed down and the photo-op area had become a relative ghost town, which was nice. To be fair, 4:00 was also when the con’s most popular and eagerly awaited panel began, starring the Strange New Worlds cast in their first public joint outing. Our Picard allegiance meant missing out on them, but considering the new show is a spinoff from some Discovery episodes we haven’t seen, I don’t know if it’ll even be welcoming to new viewers like us who missed their characters’ debuts. We accepted this consequence of the schedule conflict, which is bound to happen at every con ever.
To minimize our errand-running stops on the drive home, after photos we grabbed an early lunch of the crappiest grilled cheese sandwiches I’ve had in years. But at least the to-do box was checked, and held us till we could grab gas station snacks later in Indiana.
One last time we reported to the Main Stage, where we caught one of three live performances that day by Indianapolis’ own Five Year Mission, whose Trek-tribute geek-rock stylings have been name-checked in a few MCC con write-ups in years past. Their albums are tremendously fun (the best is their hilariously focused single-episode ride through Spock’s Brain), but their live act always cranks it up several bracing notches. Earlier we’d passed by and could hear them jamming on “Happy Birthday, George Takei“. This time we arrived to hear “For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched Spock’s Brain” and “Dagger of the Mind”, though we could barely see them through a quartet of friends who thought the perfect place for an extended confab was to stand in front of the back rows and block our view of the stage and the talented gentlemen totally rocking the house. One gabber eventually realized our rows existed and moved away, while the others remained firmly out front in their personal pocket dimension.
They were a classy warmup act for our final event and final panel of the con, the Kate Mulgrew Q&A and promotional book tour stop. As fans stepped to the mic for their chance to connect with her, I was surprised to hear how many of them had flown in from all around the country and beyond for this special occasion, including one family from Belfast. The Midwest convention glut of the 2010s made it far too easy for us to take such gatherings for granted. The eighteen-month pandemic hiatus restored our personal appreciation for these opportunities to get out and socialize (not mention exercise!), but quite a few fans saved up and schemed and spent and sacrificed far more than we had to be here.
And that was one of the best parts of the weekend, connecting with others who “get” the things we get in lines and elsewhere, and not just our seat mates in Clan Mulgrew. There was the young navy veteran who updated us on the last two years’ worth of Buck Rogers development news. The older vet who was once gifted with an exquisitely tailored suit in Germany, which fascinated me as someone who’s never owned a single matching suit, and who had firsthand experience with seeing the propagandist fake storefronts behind the Iron Curtain back in the day. A family of four whose younger daughter super-liked Badgey and, er, whoever the dolphin character is in later Lower Decks episodes. The younger couple in the Lower Decks photo-op line, a comic-shop clerk and her Dungeon Master/S.O. The first-con-ever couple slightly older than us who nearly did jazz hands in their own Picard-cast op after seeing us in action, but demurred because they didn’t want to steal our motif. We wouldn’t have minded, really.
The internet connects a lot of us, for better or worse, in its own ways, but often impersonally so. When you can find shared human connections live, face-to-face, without devices and without killing each other with viral death-breath, it’s cool how these shows about science heroes can conduce such an astounding feat of interpersonal magic.
Anyway, let’s wrap up that final panel with Mulgrew, whose highlights included but were by no means limited to:
- Rousing applause when she reprised her immortal line, “I believe there’s coffee in that nebula.”
- Her thoughts on the tangled morality of the Voyager episode “Tuvix”, a bizarre one with no easy answers at the end.
- Confirmation she had COVID a long while back — as have many others in the house, I’m sure.
- A fan finagling his way onstage to perform his brief Janeway impression, which to her sounded more like Katherine Hepburn, which of course meant she had to respond with her own oft-performed version of the latter, but doing Janeway dialogue.
- At least three younger fans who elevated her to advice-columnist status and sought her guidance (not an uncommon practice at celeb Q&As where it might be your one shot to hear your role model’s thoughts, though to us olds it sometimes feels weird to hear).
- A reading of chapter 46 from the aforementioned How to Forget, which is several chapters past where I’m at now but contained no spoilers.
- A full trailer for one of her next projects, the Showtime miniseries remake of The Man Who Fell to Earth, with the late David Bowie replaced by the super awesome Chiwetel Ejiofor. Judging by her phrasing, Mulgrew may play a chief antagonist.
…and, as they say, more, more more.
Afterward came a special signing at which Mulgrew fans could only have her sign copies of her books, no photos or other merch. We’d already checked off that box. We returned to our perfect parking space and were off the property by 6:30 their time. As one parting act of Chicago cost-gouging, one of the three I-90 tollbooths on our way back kept eating our dimes.
We lost an hour returning to Indiana, stopped for overpriced gas and good cookies near Fair Oaks Farms, and were home by 10:30 our time, with new memories and new geek goods. The con buzz took a couple more hours to wear off.
…and that’s the show that was. I’m sort of surprised, and yet not really, that not a single soul recognized that the bright yellow, vaguely Hawaiian-ish outerwear I wore both days was in fact a Star Wars shirt, a souvenir from our last Chicago con three years ago. Fun trivia: on Friday I’d worn two Star Wars shirts all day long. Call it my own tiny role in the grand design of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. Also, as of six days later, so far no COVID for us.
The con was far from perfect, but we appreciated the chance and the highlights and everything else I should stop babbling about already. ReedPOP has announced the sequel show will be Star Trek: Mission Seattle, coming in May 2023. We don’t fly for cons, but we hope other fans take advantage of that next opportunity to find each other across the stars.
The End. Thanks for reading! See you next convention, which will be ridiculously sooner than you’d think.
Other chapters in this very special MCC miniseries: