General Ramblings


It’s a beautiful afternoon in the SLC, warm again after a week that seemed to promise an early start to a long, gloomy winter. Even though I know it’ll cool off again by the end of the month, and possibly even snow, today’s conditions represent my ideal October moment: mellow sunshine, no jacket needed, and the trees burnished with golden leaves that have yet to drop. Halloween is coming… and what better way to get in the mood than a visit from a certain black bird? No, not that black birdthis one:

My thanks to Cemetery Dance for scaring up this clip!


“The Mindless Menace of Violence in America”

On April 5, 1968, the day after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed by an assassin’s bullet, Senator Robert Kennedy, the younger brother of the late John F. Kennedy and a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in that year’s election, delivered a speech at the City Club of Cleveland. The night before, he’d given a beautiful, heartfelt, improvised statement about Dr. King’s death that is sometimes credited with helping to keep the peace in Indiananopolis, even as some 60 other American cities were wracked by riots. With his Cleveland speech, he expanded on the themes he’d spoken of the night before.

How sad that every single word he said is still perfectly applicable on this day, July 8, 2016… the morning after five police officers were killed by snipers at a peaceful protest against the police killings of two black men earlier this week… only a month after the 48th anniversary of RFK’s own death by an assassin’s bullet.

I remain stubbornly convinced that humanity will evolve — is evolving — beyond our savage nature, just as I learned from all those musty old Star Trek re-runs when I was a kid. But goddamn, the road is long. And it’s so very hard to be patient.

The words of Robert F. Kennedy:

[This is a time of shame] and a time of sorrow. It is not a day for politics. I have saved this one opportunity — my only event of today — to speak briefly to you about the mindless menace of violence in America which again stains our land and every one of our lives.

It’s not the concern of any one race. The victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. They are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed. No one — no matter where he lives or what he does — can be certain whom next will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed And yet it goes on and on and on in this country of ours.

Why? What has violence ever accomplished? What has it ever created? No martyr’s cause has ever been stilled by an assassin’s bullet. No wrongs have ever been righted by riots and civil disorders. A sniper is only a coward, not a hero; and an uncontrolled or uncontrollable mob is only the voice of madness, not the voice of the people.

Whenever any American’s life is taken by another American unnecessarily — whether it is done in the name of the law or in defiance of the law, by one man or by a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence — whenever we tear at the fabric of our lives which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children — whenever we do this, then the whole nation is degraded. “Among free men,” said Abraham Lincoln, “there can be no successful appeal from the ballot to the bullet; and those who take such appeal are sure to lose their case and pay the cost.”

Yet we seemingly tolerate a rising level of violence that ignores our common humanity and our claims to civilization alike. We calmly accept newspaper reports of civilian slaughter in far off lands. We glorify killing on movie and television screens and we call it entertainment. We make it easier for men of all shades of sanity to acquire weapons and ammunition that they desire.

Too often we honor swagger and bluster and the wielders of force. Too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of other human beings. Some Americans who preach nonviolence abroad fail to practice it here at home. Some who accuse others of rioting, and inciting riots, have by their own conduct invited them. Some look for scapegoats; others look for conspiracies. But this much is clear: violence breeds violence; repression breeds retaliation; and only a cleaning of our whole society can remove this sickness from our souls.

For there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions — indifference, inaction, and decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is a slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books, and homes without heat in the winter. This is the breaking of a man’s spirit by denying him the chance to stand as a father and as a man amongst other men.

And this too afflicts us all. For when you teach a man to hate and to fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies that he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your home or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies — to be met not with cooperation but with conquest, to be subjugated and to be mastered.

We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as alien, alien men with whom we share a city, but not a community, men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in a common effort. We learn to share only a common fear — only a common desire to retreat from each other — only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force.

For all this there are no final answers for those of us who are American citizens. Yet we know what we must do, and that is to achieve true justice among all of our fellow citizens. The question is not what programs we should seek to enact. The question is whether we can find in our own midst and in our own hearts that leadership of humane purpose that will recognize the terrible truths of our existence.

We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions, the false distinctions among men, and learn to find our own advancement in search for the advancement of all. We must admit to ourselves that our children’s future cannot be built on the misfortune of another’s. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled or enriched by hatred or by revenge.

Our lives on this planet are too short, the work to be done is too great, to let this spirit flourish any longer in this land of ours. Of course we cannot banish it with a program, nor with a resolution.

But we can perhaps remember — if only for a time — that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short moment of life, that they seek — as do we — nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and in happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment that they can.

Surely this bond of common fate, surely this bond of common goals, can begin to teach us something. Surely we can learn, at the least, to look around at those of us, of our fellow men, and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our hearts brothers and countrymen once again.

Tennyson wrote in Ulysses:

…that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Thank you, very much.



Speak Up

I keep thinking I should’ve been the one to speak up…

I was immersed in my book, an eighteenth-century world of pirates and slaves and ladies in need of rescuing (if they don’t figure out how to rescue themselves first), savoring my last few minutes of escapism before the train reached my stop and another day of mundane labors began. I’d just been interrupted by a friendly guy across the aisle, who’d simply had to say he’d read those books too and how did I like them and wasn’t there supposed to be a TV miniseries (actually a regular ongoing cable series) made from them? We’d shared a moment of small talk, but now he’d returned to his own thoughts and I was sinking back into the seductive textures of that richly imagined other place —


The word struck my ears like a knitting needle shoved into my auditory canal, and I realized that the atmosphere in the train car was changing. People were sneaking furtive glances over books and phones, cocking their heads to listen, shifting in their seats as if trying to gain whatever distance they could between themselves and the ugly word.

“Towelhead bitch is killing us, you know…”

I took a quick glance around. There was a man one row behind me, on the opposite side. He wore a bright blue blanket wrapped around himself like a cloak, his face had a raw, weatherburned appearance, and his hair stood up in windblown twists. Homeless, I immediately assessed, but not harmless like my friend David, who panhandles near my office and always has a friendly grin and a fist-bump ready when he spots me. This guy was the other kind of homeless person, the one who radiates unfocused, unpredictable hostility and makes you think about crossing the street in mid-block before you reach his corner. Another refrain boiled out of him, erupting as if he just couldn’t contain it. His voice was louder this time, not quite a shout yet, but definitely raised above a normal speaking level. Too loud to ignore.

“Don’t you people care that this bitch has killed hundreds of people in the time between stops? From Ninth South to Courthouse, how many of our countrymen have died?! Towelhead bitch!”

It isn’t unusual to encounter people like this on the train, people who’ve had way too much to drink or inhale or inject, or people who haven’t had enough. Often, their tirades aren’t aimed at anyone in particular, at least no one that anyone else can see. This guy, though, was glaring at someone across from him, never moving his gaze as he continued to rail in his almost-shout about Americans dying while people like this were coming here and taking jobs and getting ready to start their killing ways on our soil.

I craned my head around to see who had gotten him riled up. Given the nature of the slurs he was throwing around, I expected to see someone in hijab or perhaps the turbaned Sikh gentleman I occasionally share my commute with, about whom I’ve heard nasty (and ignorant, since Sikhs are not Muslim) comments. But it was neither. Directly behind me was a young woman dressed in jeans and a buttondown shirt, as anonymously Western-style as anyone else on the train. She had dark brown skin and thick black hair, and a tiny bit of gold flashed from the side of her nose. Rather pretty, I thought, although, if anything, she looked Indian to me, not Muslim. Mostly, though, she looked like she wanted to shrink herself into a dot and disappear like Lee Meriweather on the old Star Trek series. She visibly cringed as the loudmouth launched another “Towelheaded BITCH!” her way.

I shifted my attention back to the crazy guy and felt my own mouth opening to say something, anything, to try and make him shut the hell up, but I hesitated. How unhinged was he, exactly? What if he had a knife or a gun? I don’t like to think of myself as a coward, but I am cautious, and this guy was getting more agitated by the second. His knees were jumping with nervous energy, like someone who’s downed six espressos in a row. The air in the train car was static-charged and beginning to stink of adrenaline. Somebody had to do something before this guy hurled himself out of his seat like a boulder from a trebuchet.

He was just beginning to direct another volley of verbal abuse at the poor woman when the guy who’d asked me about my book shouted, “Hey, sir? Who are you talking to?”

The crazy guy’s snapped around and his black stare settled on a new target. “What business is it of yours, chief?”

“You’re kind of making it everybody’s business, as loudly as you’re speaking. What’s the problem?”

“The problem is that camel-fucking towelheaded bitch sitting over there plotting to KILL US ALL! The problem is my American brothers spilling their blood…”

“It looks to me like that woman is just on her way to work, sir. She’s not plotting anything or hurting anyone.”

And at that, as I’d feared, the crazy guy was on his feet and moving toward the man who shared my taste in reading. I don’t remember what he was shouting at this point; my own fight-or-flight reflex was taking over. I do recall setting my book down on the seat next to me and preparing to stand up myself. I might not have been the first to act, but I was ready to help my comrade across the aisle if the lunatic attacked him.

He was holding his ground pretty well on his own, though. In a calm voice, he informed the nut that he’d been in the Army and seen people die, too, but the woman two rows back didn’t have anything to do with it. The crazy guy wasn’t having any of that, though; he wanted to fight and was trying to egg the man on. The vulgar language escalated. The train was nearing the next station, and Crazy Dude wanted to “take it outside,” so to speak. But the heroic man remained in his seat, saying he didn’t need to prove anything and Crazy Dude just needed to chill. He made eye contact with me at one point and a nervous smile tugged at his lips. I knew then he wasn’t as cool as he appeared, but damn, he was putting on a good front.

Then the train stopped. The doors opened. And the belligerent, bigoted, crazy man, still spouting a steady stream of angry slurs, got off. The train started moving again, and just like that, it was all over. The collective exhale from those of us who remained sounded like the whoosh of air brakes.

I turned in my seat and asked the woman who’d innocently provoked all that ugliness if she was okay. She nodded, and smoothed her hair back with a trembling hand.

“The guy was off his meds or something,” I offered. She smiled and nodded. Then another man leaned down to her, holding his cellphone. “I called the cops,” he said. “They’ll be looking for him back there.” She nodded again. At the train’s next stop, she got up and went to the doors. Everyone who’d witnessed the incident was watching her, and she knew it. She looked around, gave a little wave, and said, “Thanks, everyone.” Then she was gone too.

The next stop was mine, and as it happened, the other guy’s as well, the one who’d asked about my book and then stood up to the crazy man. We stepped down to the platform together, and I said to him, “Thanks for saying something back there.”

He grinned and said, “Thanks for backing me up.” I nodded, even though I really hadn’t done anything. Then I walked to my office building and went to work hunting for errant commas.

All this happened Friday morning. I’m still thinking about it now, Sunday night. Thinking about the sickening sensation that always competes with relief after something like that is over, when the tide of unused adrenaline begins to subside and you can’t help but imagine all the ways the incident could have gone, just how bad it might’ve become. I am troubled by the things that man with the wild eyes and the blue blanket-cloak said, how they mirror a lot of the nasty memes, comments and “humor” I encounter almost daily on social media. Surely this guy was off his meds, or he needed to be on some to start with, but his cultural and racial hostility, his paranoia about people who look or believe differently than himself, is not uncommon. We may be living in the 21st century, surrounded by glittering technological wonders, but there is still a core of unevolved, brutish tribalism slithering around just beneath our veneer of sophistication. And it seems to me that it’s getting worse, not better, in this election year… and yeah, that bothers the hell out of me.

And I’m troubled as well by my own actions — or rather, inactions — during the whole incident. We all like to think that when we’re confronted with injustice or bigotry or just plain danger, we’d have the strength of character to stand up for what’s right. That we’d be the hero. I keep wondering what Jamie Fraser, the hero of that big fat historical adventure I’m reading, would have done in the same situation. But of course, he’s fictional and I’m not.

I keep thinking I should’ve been the one to speak up, instead of waiting for another man to do it. Because what might have happened if he hadn’t?


Another Year Gone

And 2015 is in the books.

Normally, this would be the entry where I get all melancholy and lament the passage of time and all the stuff that didn’t happen in the past twelve months, how my life isn’t amounting to much, etc. But this year… well, 2015 was actually a pretty damn good year for me. There were some moments of sadness, yes. A couple friends passed away, both of them far too young and whom I regret not getting to know better while I had the chance. And there was one celebrity passing that affected me deeply. Also, I completely failed (as usual) to write a novel or clean out my damn basement. I didn’t read enough, I didn’t manage to keep up on new movies, and I struggled (as usual) to find the time for everything and everyone that required it.

But I also seemed to have more than the usual allotment of triumphs for one year, too, some of them pretty major on their own terms.

I celebrated ten years at the ad agency, the longest I’ve ever been with any one employer and something pretty astounding to reflect on, considering I initially thought it was just a “for now” job that would last maybe six months.

I underwent LASIK eye surgery, threw away my glasses, and regained my original face (and, as lame as it sounds, a lot of my confidence).

I caught three “wishlist” musical acts that I never thought I’d manage to see live, namely the legendary rocker Bob Seger and his Silver Bullet Band; national treasure Willie Nelson; and Van Halen, improbably reunited with original frontman David Lee Roth.

Anne and I went to Scotland for 16 days.

And the year ended with a new Star Wars film, which the more that I think about it, maybe wasn’t that big a triumph after all. But that opening weekend was fun, at least.

Overall, though, it was a good year. It feels both good and really odd to say that. It’s so out of character for me. But it’s late, and rather than dwelling on that, I think I’ll just post this photo again. Because it makes me smile, and because it symbolizes, as well as anything else, my 2015:

coo kiss


Seriously, I HATE the 21st Century

I recently read someplace that you can supposedly tell what a new century will ultimately be about by the time you reach the fifteenth year of that century. In other words, the issues and overarching trends that will define the century are, according to this theory, already shaping up in that first decade and a half. If that’s true… if the past fifteen years are any sort of guide to the 21st century as a whole…

Is it any wonder I’ve practically made nostalgia into my own personal religion?

I’m going to go home and watch The Rockford Files now.



In a few days, I’ll be 46 years old. Once, not so very long ago, that age seemed as far-off and science-fictiony to me as 1999, 2001, or even, yes, 2015. And yet… here it is.

Long-time readers know that I don’t especially enjoy my birthdays. I used to, when I was younger. Like everyone else, I suppose, because hey, who doesn’t like cake and ice cream and presents when they’re a kid, right? Unfortunately, though, somewhere along the line, birthdays stopped seeming like achievements unlocked and started feeling like grim ticks of an ebony clock that can’t be rewound. I’ve dreaded them since at least my mid-30s. Maybe earlier.

It isn’t aging per se that bothers me, as people often assume when I start brooding about this. You won’t find me standing in the bathroom mirror, counting wrinkles and gray hairs. (On the contrary, I’d be delighted to have gray, silver, or even white hair, so long as I had a full head of it. I really hate being bald.) No, what gets to me isn’t the accumulation of years so much as what I’ve done — or more accurately, not done — with them.

I’ve blogged about this before, of course, approaching the problem from different angles, trying to find the clearest way of articulating a feeling that’s probably very common, but isn’t so easy to express. At least, it’s not so easy for me. The sad truth is that my adult life sat on the launch pad for a lot longer than it should have, and even now I have days when it feels like I still haven’t cleared the tower. And the real bitch of it is that I’ve got nobody to blame for it but myself. While my friends were establishing themselves in the world and charging toward the landmarks that our society uses to gauge success, I…  dithered. Wracked with indecision, insecurity, and probably a walloping good case of undiagnosed depression, I told myself I had plenty of time. I realized too late that that wasn’t true… that not only had I reached middle age without doing the ordinary things — marriage, babies, a mortgage — I hadn’t gotten around to any of the other things I wanted to do either. And despite what we tell ourselves these days about 50 being the new 30, opportunities not taken oftentimes really are lost for good.

(It probably doesn’t help that my birthday falls right on the cusp of the changing seasons, when the kids are headed back to school and the quality of the air and the sunlight is changing as Indian summer fades into autumn. It’s hard to avoid that sense of time running out when the Halloween decorations are starting to appear even though you’re still wearing shorts and driving with the top down in the afternoons.)

But you know, something interesting happened with my birthday last year. I didn’t blog about it at the time — no surprise, considering how rarely I manage to blog about anything substantive any more — but my 45th birthday was actually kind of… pleasant. I took the day off from work — the whole week, actually — and I got some excellent presents and I had a nice steak dinner with my parents and Anne. I had 170 people publicly wish me “happy birthday” on my Facebook timeline, and I also received a number of personal messages as well, all of which were very much appreciated. I even got a couple of old-fashioned cards in the mail.

More importantly, though, I (mostly) managed to avoid the smothering depression that usually afflicts me around this time of the year. As I reflected on my latest voyage around the sun, I had to admit — difficult as it was! — that I’d had a pretty good year. I’d maintained the healthier weight and lifestyle I was forced into back in 2012; I’d observed my nine-year anniversary at a job I originally figured wouldn’t last six months; I’d attended no less than four big nerd conventions right here in my own hometown, meeting a lot of childhood heroes in the process; and I’d even managed to lay to rest a couple of ghosts that had haunted my memories for far too long. (You’ll forgive me if I don’t elaborate on that last point; even with my exhibitionist tendencies, there are a few things I prefer to keep inside my own head.) So yeah, not too bad a year, nothing to feel especially depressed about.

And now this birthday coming up, Number 46, looks to be even better, because I intend to celebrate it in The World’s End pub in Edinburgh, Scotland. Because birthdays are always like the end of the world. Get it?

Yes, it’s true, this whole entry has (mostly) been a really roundabout way of announcing that Anne and I are setting off on an adventure. We’ve talked about going to Scotland for years, she inspired by her all-time favorites novels, the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, and me because I’ve been a fan of the cult movie Highlander and its spin-off television series since I was in college. And of course, one of the things I’ve always most wanted to do with my life is travel. See the world, explore new places (new to me, at least), shake off the dust of this small town… all that George Bailey stuff. Not so very long ago, I was feeling a genuine sense of despair because I was increasingly certain that it just wasn’t going to happen, that my only two previous international trips (to England and Germany) were the only ones I was ever going to get. I know that’s more than a lot of people manage, but the thought that I’d already filled my dance card without realizing it, that my dream of being a world traveler was just over, was unbearable to me. At some point in the past year, though, Anne and I looked at each other and said, “We need to either quit talking about going to Scotland, or actually go to Scotland.” And so here we are actually going. And for a change, I’m not facing the approach of my birthday with regret and sadness. Because I’m doing one of those things I’ve long wanted to do. I’m crossing an item off the bucket list. And good lord, it is a good feeling…





I’m Not Dead


In case anyone was wondering, based on the mountain of tumbleweeds that’s gathered in this space.

Blame the usual suspects: The assembly line at work has been running at double-speed, my summertime calendar is always overly crowded, my commute sucks, I have too little free time (or at least too little energy to put that time to use in a productive way)… you’ve heard it all before. And it’s all true. But lately I’ve been wondering if the real problem isn’t something more… internal. I’m worried that I’ve… lost my mojo.

I know, I know…  you just heard that phrase in Austin Powers’ voice and you probably couldn’t help but chuckle. But I’m serious here. I don’t know how else to describe what’s going on lately. I’ve got something like 20 unfinished entries saved in my Drafts folder from this calendar year alone, but I can’t seem to summon the motivation to finish any of them, even the ones on topics that have been recurring hobbyhorses over the years, things I ought to be passionate about.

I don’t know. Maybe this blog has run its course and it’s time to find something else to do. Something else to write. Blogging in general isn’t what it used to be, and I sometimes wonder if I’ve overstayed my welcome. This has been such a rewarding activity for me over the years, a platform from which to share the things that excite me and sadden me, to gripe about the nonsense that frustrates me and the injustices that enrage me… but I’m really struggling with it right now. I feel like Simple Tricks hasn’t ever really come back to life since that long, unplanned hiatus in 2013, and I fight with a tremendous sense of futility every time I open up the dashboard and stare at the empty white space with its monstrous blinking cursor. I start to think about all the other things I could be doing, and probably ought to be doing, and suddenly I find myself quite unable to string three words together. I’ve self-identified as a writer for over 30 years now, since the bloody tenth grade, but these days… I feel like I don’t know how to do it anymore. And I can’t tell you how frustrating — how frightening — that is. It’s not hyperbole to compare it to impotence. Seriously. It’s exactly that same kind of sucker punch to the very core of one’s self-image and self-esteem, with all the horror and humiliation that goes along with it.

Yes, that’s it exactly. I feel like I can’t get it up for blogging anymore.

This isn’t a farewell announcement, by the way. I’m not shutting the place down, not yet. But I am wondering what I’ve got to do to reinvigorate this whole project… or if it’s worth the effort. A number of people of said to me lately that I ought to be using my talent to write a novel. Has this blog been preventing me from doing that? Maybe that’s why I’m having such a difficult time working on this: because somewhere deep inside, I feel like it’s a distraction from my “real” writing. Again, I don’t know… just thinking out loud, I guess.



Apropos of the previous entry, here’s a fun little video that explores the origin and evolving usage of the word “dude”:

Just as an aside, the word has a rather personal connotation for me: Back in the theater days, my fellow ushers and I took to calling ourselves “The Dudes,” a self-aggrandizing nickname we still use when we refer to each other, and when we send out the invitations to our annual “Dudes reunion dinner” around Christmas time.

And of course the video leaves out the most famous modern-day incarnation of dudeness, The Dude himself:

the-dudeBut there might have been some licensing issues there. I still thought it was a pretty interesting little tidbit.

Via Boing Boing, naturally.


What Did You Do with Your Saturday?

You know, the whole thing actually started as a joke.

Several years back, a good friend of mine was badly stressed while making arrangements for his upcoming wedding. Knowing of his affection for the film The Big Lebowski, and remembering something I’d run across in my wanderings across the endless InterWebs, I went to the Church of the Latter-Day Dude and got myself ordained as a Dudeist priest. I then sent him a message that said, essentially, “You can relax, all your planning troubles are over… I can marry you!” We both got a laugh out of it, and that was that.

Except it wasn’t. Some time later, I told this story to some other friends of mine, Geoff and Anastasia, and the next time Anne and I got together with them, they had a question for me. They wanted to know if that Dudeist thing was for real… if I could — if  I would  — perform their upcoming wedding? I was honored, flattered, and more than a little freaked out by their request. But I went ahead and made a couple phone calls, just to confirm that the State of Utah would recognize an online ordination from a tongue-in-cheek “religion” inspired by an oddball movie. And then just to be sure, I took out a more-legitimate sounding second ordination with something called the American Marriage Ministries. And then this happened:

Wedding-79_editAnd that, I thought, was that.

Except it wasn’t.

Two days before this past New Year’s Eve, Anne’s sister-in-law contacted me to ask if I’d be willing to do another wedding. Her sister wanted to tie the knot before the end of the year, and they didn’t know who else they could get on such short notice. I never did find out what the hurry was; something to do with taxes maybe. But hey, they offered to pay me for my trouble, and I was off work anyhow, so, in the middle of the afternoon on New Year’s Eve, I drove to a stranger’s house with my ordination certificates and a printed-out script and I married a second couple. Made some decent money doing it, too.

This past Saturday, I performed my third wedding, a favor for my good friend Mike Gillilan, a guy I met 26 years(!) ago, back in those infamous movie-theater days. We held it in a public park at the base of the magnificent Wasatch Mountains, with just a few family members and friends about. The sun was high and intense, but a bit of a breeze rolling up the side of the mountain carried away the worst of the heat, and I didn’t even stumble over the script this time. I just joined Mike and his bride Caroline in matrimony as easy as driving to the 7-Eleven for a Slurpee.

And then I went to a Willie Nelson concert.

Life takes you to some unexpected places sometimes, doesn’t it?


Shatner’s First Exotic Ride

You know, that fancy Rivet tricycle isn’t the first exotic vehicle that’s been associated with William Shatner. There’s also the little beauty that appears in this photo:

star-trek_shatner-space-carAn Internet evergreen, that photo seems to cross my radar every six months or so. (Truth be told, I’ve been waiting for an excuse to post it myself.) I have no idea what the story behind it is, whether it was a publicity still for Star Trek, or for the car itself, or if maybe it was just an amusing snapshot somebody grabbed one day that later escaped into the wild. Any of those options seem reasonable, since Shatner is in costume as Captain Kirk, and the car — a one-of-a-kind show vehicle that was originally titled the Autorama Special, and later renamed the Reactor — appeared in a 1967 Trek episode called “Bread and Circuses.”

The Reactor actually has a pretty interesting history, if you’re into this sort of thing. Built in 1965 by a Southern California hot-rodder named Gene Winfield, the two-seater boasts a lightweight aluminum body; a front-wheel drive train powered by a Chevy Corvair engine; electronically operated doors, hood, and roof bubble; and height-adjustable suspension… all features that were well ahead of their time. In addition to Star Trek, the Reactor was also featured in an episode of Bewitched and twice showed up on Adam West’s Batman series as Eartha Kitt’s Catwoman car.

Winfield enjoyed a long association with Hollywood, thanks in large part to the notoriety he gained from the Reactor. He would go on to build or play a hand in the design of many film and television vehicles, including the full-size mock-up of the Galileo shuttlecraft, again for Star Trek; the modified Sunbeam Tiger driven by Don Adams as the title character in Get Smart; and a plastic-bodied vehicle called the Piranha, which was prominently featured in The Man from UNCLE. Winfield’s creations in the ’80s included the 6000 SUX from Robocop; the flying version of the time-traveling Back to the Future DeLorean; the sleek “starcar” seen in both CGI and physical form in The Last Starfighter; and some 25 vehicles for Blade Runner, most notably the police “Spinner” that whisks Harrison Ford around the dystopian Los Angeles of the year 2019.

As for the Reactor, the commission job that put Winfield on the map, it still exists. Gene reacquired it in 1999 — I haven’t been able to learn where it was in the decades between its TV heyday and then — and restored it. It now resides at his shop, Winfield Rod & Custom, in Mojave, California. Yes, Gene is still building cars at the age of 87… another fine example of not fading away with age!