I used to think the TV contained little people and the scenes they acted in were real. I also used to think the music played by radio stations came from the bands performing live in their studios. For the longest time, I could never figure out how The Beatles traveled so fast from one radio station’s studio location to the next. And when it came to Hey Jude, well, forget it. That song has a never ending chorus that just keeps repeating. Somewhere, The Beatles are still repeating, “Naaaa, naa, naa, na, nan, naa, naaa, hey Jude!” and wondering how will they ever get off of this merry-go-round.
But back to the TV thing. We watch TV and wonder. We wonder how they can make a story come alive the way they do. We wonder how much of the scene is real and how much is a useless façade. And we wonder what those fabulous on location scenes look like in real life. If you’re like me, you learn how to weave disparate scenes together into one seamless narrative. You discipline yourself to respect Deus Ex Machina and not question it. Finally, you pick a favorite location shot, find where it was taken, and go there to breathe the history.
I admit it. I’m a crazy big Star Trek fan. When you’re growing up in the space age 1960s and you want to be an astronomer, there was no other television show to turn to. The fact they got the science (mostly) right added to its luster. More important, Gene Roddenberry’s “Wagon Train to the Stars” contained a weekly morality tale that has the endurance of Shakespeare (notwithstanding the fact many plotlines were lifted from the Bard himself). Best of all, it showed us smart guys could also be tough guys. Physically tough (how many shirts did Kirk rip during his many fights?). Mentally tough (how many computers did Kirk outwit into a shower of malfunctioning sparks?). Star Trek was the ultimate Revenge of the Nerds before nerds even knew they could exact revenge.
I grew up watching Star Trek. First (albeit only briefly) during its original run. Then, for a period of years well beyond its original five-year mission, every Saturday night. The family ate homemade pizza and followed dinner up with a showing of Star Trek. I knew every important lesson of every important episode. I vowed, when I had kids, I would share this same experience with them.
You’d think they would appreciate it. No. They complained. I even let them pick out their own episode to watch. They did, then furtively slipped out of the room as I was engrossed in the particular dramatic dilemma I had seen so many times before. I thought I had failed as a father.
But then “modern” movies and TV shows started referencing the original Star Trek series. I could see my kids capitulating. Star Trek must have been cool if these current cool things incorporated it. One episode location – “The Arena” – appeared in several movies including Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991), Coneheads (1993), and, more recently, Tropic Thunder (2008).
You might remember this episode as the one where Kirk must fight the lizard alien (a species called the Gorn). The one thing that stands out in “The Arena” is the jagged rock formation that looks downright alien. Indeed, it looks so alien you’d think if was a fake fiberglass fabrication. You’d be wrong. It’s an actual rock formation located in Agua Dulce within Hollywood’s “Thirty Mile Zone” (a 30 mile radius encircling the intersection of La Cienega Boulevard and West Beverly Boulevard within which production companies don’t have to pay extra travel costs to the crew). Known as “Vasquez Rocks” (named after infamous stagecoach robber Tiburcio Vasquez, who hid in this desolate land during his robbery spree of the 1870s), this area is now a public park. The pointed rock prominently featured in “The Arena” has been nicknamed “Kirk’s Rock.”
I’ve always wanted to see these rocks, and not just because they represent dramatic evidence of the San Andreas Fault. Nope, it was their Star Trek heritage which drew me to them. And, thanks to a tenacious son, on the last day of our recent trip to Los Angeles, we piled into the family truckster and made our way out to this forbidden zone. Actually, except for the rattlesnakes, it’s not that forbidden. There’s a road that leads right to the rocks and you can park at their base before making your ascent.
Unlike Mount Vesuvius, I never had a desire to climb Kirk’s Rock, only to stand in its presence. My kids, on the other hand, had that age old explorer gene common for Carosas. They made their way up to the summit for the now requisite selfies.
And they did this not merely “to see what was on the other side,” but because it was Kirk’s Rock. It was the rock they saw so many times in that half-century old episode of Star Trek. It was a dream ingrained in their brains. Something they always wanted to do. Something they’ll never forget. It wasn’t on a Saturday night and we didn’t need homemade pizza to make it special. Those seeds were planted long ago.
I love it when a plan works.