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February, 2001
Wisdom from a Volcano
By George Takei

LOS ANGELES - I continue to be captivated by the popularity and the longevity of the Star Trek phenomenon. It remains a pervasive factor in my life, whether professionally, personally or in my public service activities. And this gift has serendipitously expanded my horizon and enriched my life.

A direct professional tie-in can be viewed on February 18th when an episode of "V.I.P." starring Pamela Anderson is aired on the Fox network. I play the voice of an omniscient super computer that was programmed by a brilliant techno-genius who is a fervent Captain Sulu fan. Hence, my casting as the voice of the computer.

The Star Trek conventions, of course, keep on trekking. My first convention of this year was in the charming city of Portland, Oregon. It was a lively gathering on a cold, damp weekend. Long-time fans mingled with a growing number of young, first-time conventioneers. And, as well, the con gave me the chance to indulge my preservationist interest and again explore the imaginatively restored turn-of-the-century historic district of Portland.

I did voice work last week on a feature film project, cryptically titled, "Noon Blue Apple." I play a mysterious voice that haunts the mind of the lead character. No direct Star Trek connection here other than the fact that the director knew of my work from the original series.

But Star Trek has also afforded me the opportunity to contribute more effectively in a myriad of other areas not related to my professional career. This month, I was honored to serve as the star of a fund-raising dinner to help build a planetarium on the campus of Long Beach City College. With this facility, young students will be able to expand their study of the heavens and let their imaginations soar to the stars. Clearly, without the Star Trek association, I would not have been able to support this important cause as effectively as I was able.

On another occasion this month, I addressed a group of young interns at the Japanese American National Museum on volunteerism. Here again, I was able to connect with them more successfully as Captain Sulu of Star Trek than as the Chairman of the Board of the Museum.

We have a mayoral election coming up this spring in the city of Los Angeles, my hometown. I am supporting the former Speaker of the California Assembly, Antonio Villaraigosa. I know that I was asked to speak at his press conference largely because of the draw of my Star Trek linkage. As well, when I spoke at the Japanese seniors' intermediate care facility, Keiro Services, Star Trek combined with my association with the Japanese American National Museum, were the factors that attracted the large audience of seniors. I chatted with one lady who was 104 years old. She was born in 1896 - having lived in three centuries! In so many unexpected ways, my association with Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry's visionary creation has opened doors that have expanded my life horizon.

But when any hint of self-importance might begin to creep into me and I start believing that my Star Trek association is free entrée to anything, a humbling reminder always seems to bring me back to reality.

This month, my niece, Akemi Takei, sportscaster for KING-TV in Seattle, got married to David Louchheim, a radio sportscaster, on a beautiful beach in Maui, Hawaii. It was a singularly romantic affair, the bride and groom barefoot, with waves crashing in on lava rock outcroppings behind them. The reception was held at a hilltop restaurant overlooking the Wailea Country Club and the turquoise blue Pacific beyond. As we sipped cocktails, nibbled hors d'oeuvres and waited for the sun to set, I slowly became aware of a generational divide. The parents of my niece and David's friends were thrilled to meet me. They were eager to have their pictures taken with me. They told me they were long-time Star Trek fans from back in their college days. The young people, however -- Akemi and David's friends -- were gracious and friendly but rather blase. In fact, some weren't really that familiar with Star Trek. They, I realized, were the post-Star Trek generation. The passage of time brings with it the larger context of life.

I was forcefully reminded again of the larger context of life on a hike into the crater of the now-dormant volcano, Haleakala on Maui. The crater is vast. And it is heart-stoppingly beautiful. There is a narrow, lava gravel trail that leads down to the bottom. It was irresistible. I had to go down into it. As I tramped down the sere landscape, rich with the burnt colors of inert lava, I imagined what this scene must have been like millennia ago. It was, we were told by a ranger, an inferno of blasting, bubbling, molten red lava. For centuries it spewed up flaming magma from the belly of the earth forming the island of Maui. This place was a hellhole of exploding liquid fire. But now, it was dead calm. Only this scorched and arid crater of unearthly colors remains.

As I huffed and puffed my way back up to the volcano's rim - 10,000-feet above sea level -- I thought of the ardent excitement of the middle aged Star Trek fans of the evening before, and, in contrast, the nonchalant affability of their children. Intense fire and cool, youthful calm. There didn't seem to be that much difference between the human generations and geologic time.

 



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