It was 1966 and I was 13 years old sitting in the family room with my family (amazing how well titled the room was) watching the very first episode of Star Trek. A Thursday night 46 years ago today. I had always been a sci-fi buff and laced that addiction with comic books. The show was near perfection in my 13 year old mind and it became a staple of our Thursday night viewing.
Those years that Star Trek was in its first run on TV were years that saw my passage from a youth to a young adult. The year before Star Trek I had watched the Watts riots explode across the same TV in that same room with my family. I heard Martin Luther King call for peaceful protest while others cried out to burn down their own homes. That little conflict in Vietnam was taking on more significance and the news at night was beginning to report daily body counts. Soldiers only a few years older than me were being killed in a war that no one seemed clear about while a whole population of Americans were feeling so disenfranchised that they found violence was their only option to gain equality.
It wasn’t all negative. The Gemini missions were going off with great success and we were on target to put a man on the moon in just a few years. (FOR THE RECORD: Neil Armstrong has been a true hero for me ever since he stepped foot on the moon. Thank you, Neil. May you rest in piece.) The Monkeys also premiered that year and the Beatles released Revovler. Music has always been a big part of my memory pattern. During that time the Smothers Brothers started to morph from folk singing humorists to political satirists.
It was also the year that my dad accepted a job transfer. In the summer of 1967 we moved from Bethlehem, PA to Phoenix, AZ. That was also the year that I went from junior high to high school. Arizona, back then, was a totally different world than it is now. Smaller, friendly, clear blue skies, cool nights even in the summer, and open desert surrounding the city. I remember the first dust storm we experienced during the August monsoons. The mile high wall of dust would approach like something out of a Dune movie and engulf you in a dark, dust followed by a downpour of rain that smelled of must and earth. It was a feeling that made you sense just what you were in the world.
As the second season of Star Trek got ready to unfold in our new family room I was treated to Jimi Hendrix and Sgt. Peppers. It is funny that during that summer the Monkeys went on tour and their first concert was in Phoenix. It was before we had relocated. Their opening act was Jimi Hendrix. The audience of teenie boppers did not like Jimi’s style, but the Monkeys sat in the front row in awe. That started my musical journey. The fresh discovery of what music can really do. This was my music, not my parents.
I was in transition that year as well. Physically as well as mentally. So much of what I am today started to coalesce that year. I joined the wrestling team and went from a slightly pudgy kid to a hard body. The workouts included running and off season I kept up the running. Running has been a part of my life ever since and I attribute so much of my energy and youthfulness to that sport.
It was also the year that I started to develop my own political and social opinions. In my classes there were hippies (the first generation, not a cliche) and cowboys. There was a diversity of belief and opinion, yet we all lived inside the same campus and tolerated and talked with each other. I learned tolerance and acceptance at the hands of my parents and friends. I learned that beliefs are just that – something you believe. They are different from scientific facts, but no less important for us. We were clear back then that the constitution allowed for civil protest and the vocalization of dissent. The church was where we went to hone our beliefs. The government is where we went to have the civil boundaries defined. They were different and separate.
The whole time that my personality was swishing and swirling into what it would become, Star Trek was playing in the background. I never missed the show and that included the re-runs during the off season. It was more than an escape. The Monkeys were pure escape and diversion. Star Trek got me thinking. I didn’t always agree with theme, but I always thought about it and the shows lingered in my head long after they were over. It was a show about tolerance and listening. And humor. It knew when to not take itself too seriously. I think more than anything, I liked that about the show. When you keep yourself grounded you have a greater chance of accepting others for what they are.
It was in 1970 that I made a road trip that, to this day, is one of the most significant events of my life. Along with two friends, Jim and Don, I went to LA for a week during the summer. We each had $100 in our pockets and the blessings of our parents. We drove over in a VW beetle listening to Santana, George Harrison and Creedence – on eight track. We had no plan, but followed our instincts along the Huntington and Laguna beaches. Motels were plentiful and we dined on fast food. I’m still amazed at all we did, which included a Lakers game (Chamberlin kicked ass with a triple double), Disneyland and a jaunt down to San Diego to the UCSD campus. On the way back home at the end of the week the engine on the bug froze up. We hitchhiked into El Centro. Our first ride was in the back of a ranchers pickup with some other long haired hitchhikers. He dropped us off about three miles shy of the destination, got out and shook hands with each of us. There was a convenience store there and the clerk, a woman in her mid-thirties, got on a CB and asked if anyone could give us a ride. In a matter of minutes a black man heading into town opened his doors for us. We road in his decked our red car with dingle balls hanging from the rear view mirror to El Centro where he dropped us off at a motel. We got a room and the next morning Jim’s dad met us and towed the bug back to Phoenix. I still had money left.
I could not imagine that series of events happening today. Yes, there was a lot of passion in the late 60’s. People were in active disagreement and political debates were changing the country. But, there was an underlying acceptance of differences.
Listen, I don’t miss a lot of things from those days and I have grown so much since then and continue to do so. I do miss that time when someone would put out a hand to help you regardless of whether you were liberal or conservative, black or white, young or old. No. It was not nirvana or some paradise. There were a lot of pricks and assholes, but kids weren’t shooting each other in schools, either. It was the same life we have now, but with a different sense of tolerance and willingness to allow someone to have a different opinion.
Plus, we had Tribbles!