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Wil Has a Way

A couple of weeks ago, as a perk of my job, I got to go on a cruise around the Hawaiian islands. Aboard the ship was a computer-related conference that my company sponsored, and I was presenting three different sessions to the conference attendees. Pretty nice, huh? But -- and I swear this is TV-related -- also aboard the ship was another group, one perhaps even geekier than the computer crowd.

Yes, there was a floating "Star Trek" convention aboard the same ship.

Now let me say that in the entire time I was aboard, I saw not one person dressed in official Starfleet uniforms, nor did I see any Klingons. (Which is probably wise, since anyone wearing Klingon gear would have quickly expired in the tropical heat.) I have to admit, I was a bit surprised -- I haven't been to a sci-fi convention since I was in high school, but my memories of the last one I attended included plenty of people wearing pointed ears and long Doctor Who scarves.

I hope the people who came to my sessions learned some things during our weeklong junket, because I sure know that I did. Among the things I learned is that "Star Trek" guest actors are not as glamorous as they look on television, but are really approachable and polite. A woman notable for playing a space floozy with a heart of gold on "Star Trek" was very sweet with my daughter at the pre-cruise luau. A character actor who has played almost every race, both human and alien, over the years complimented my daughter as well. Okay, let's admit it -- most of the interaction that went on between the Snell family and "Star Trek" celebrities came courtesy of my daughter. Cute toddlers have this effect. And yes, one day I can tell my daughter that she once met "Q" himself. Which she will roll her eyes at in the universal body language equivalent of, "Dad, you're so lame."

I also learned that eating coconut can give Mister Sulu the bad tummy music, but fortunately I learned that second-hand. (An aside about George Takei, "Star Trek's" Sulu: He's been doing this for almost as long as I've been alive, and he's a pro at it. When they introduced him at the luau, not only did he stand up and give everyone the Sulu Smile, but he performed the freakin' Vulcan hand sign. That's above and beyond the call.)

But of all the Trek people I interacted with, the one who impressed me the most was Wil Wheaton, famed for playing Wesley Crusher on TV's Star Trek: The Next Generation. Wheaton was a double-booked guest, appearing both at the technology conference (he's got a weblog) and in the Trek events.

First off, let me say that Wil Wheaton is a talented public speaker and a pretty good writer and weblogger as well. His recounting of his tumultuous first meeting with "William fucking Shatner" (Wheaton's phrase) is one of the funniest TV-related stories I've ever heard. (It's available in book form.)

But the thing that impressed me the most about Wheaton was his generosity with the people who came up to him on the cruise, either out on deck or in one of the sessions. The business I'm in is one with its own share of hard-core fans, and I have to admit that from time to time it gets hard to stay friendly and polite when people keep coming up to you and asking you the same questions. I try really hard to do that, but Wil Wheaton puts me to shame. Every "Star Trek" fan that came up to him, he put immediately at ease. It was amazing to watch. Everything they would tell him, he would listen with interest and give a kind response to. Now, granted, Wil Wheaton is an actor, but whether he's interacting these people out of genuine interest or sheer politeness, either way it was an astounding thing to watch.

It's okay if you don't like Wesley Crusher. (It's not easy being the somewhat misguidedly-conceived kid's wish-fulfillment character on a sci-fi TV series.) It's fine if you don't care about "Star Trek." (I'm a mostly relapsed Trek fan myself.)

But I've decided that I really like Wil Wheaton. Not just because I got to see that he's a real person, roughly my age and with a lot of my same interests. But because I saw how he was at handling the attention, the adoration, the weird and the wacky that comes with being a known "Star Trek" actor. He could easily have been a grade-A dick of the Shatner variety. But instead, he was a kind, decent human being.

No wonder Wil Wheaton doesn't work in TV much anymore...


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