Treknobabble is a continuing series of columns written by uber-Trekkie Reed Farrington in anticipation of the upcoming J.J. Abrams Star Trek movie.
It had been a long while since I had undertaken a solo journey across the border in America in search of Star Trek merchandise. With the new Star Trek movie coming out in just over a month’s time, I had been reading about the wealth of new memorabilia that brand name sponsors had planned. I had read that the Playmates figures, the gold standard for Star Trek merchandise, would not be available for another couple of weeks, but I hoped to pick up the Toys ‘R’ Us exclusive â€œKhaaan!â€ Admiral Kirk figure and the Kellogg’s cereal with the light-up comm badges. As a secondary mission, I would look for any type of advertising for the new Star Trek movie. Using the Internet, I had been trying to contact other Trekkies who lived in the Buffalo area in order to find out if a trip would be worthwhile.
When I was younger, I would spend an entire shopping day across the border going from store to store. I would skip meals in order to save time (and money). Having developed a recent foot problem, I wasn’t sure I could endure the same sort of ordeal at my current age. If Star Trek merchandise was scarce, I could easily be discouraged and decide to cut my journey short. I made the decision. But I rationalized that I needed to get some fresh air and walk around for exercise. With Star Trek as my inspiration, I boldly went.
Crossing the border is always a nervous situation for me. It’s pretty easy to confuse me. I’m pretty sure I’m the type of person who would confess to a murder even when I was innocent. The border crossing for automobiles has always confused me. There’s a stop sign in front of the booths. I think the stop sign is meant to keep the waiting car from approaching too closely. But if there are no cars, is it still necessary to stop before approaching the booth? Normally, there’s a line-up to all of the booths, so I never have to make the decision of whether or not to stop, because I pretty much have to. Today, there are no line-ups. To be on the safe side, I stop. A full stop. Not a rolling stop. And then I drive up to the booth.
â€œHello,â€ I casually say in a lower tone than I normally use as I hand over my passport.
â€œPurpose of trip,â€ asks the fit, middle-aged man, spoken not as a question, but more like a command.
â€œShopping,â€ I say confidently. â€œI’m looking for Star Trek toys.â€
He doesn’t act surprised or suspicious. I’m not sure if this is a good sign or not.
I always stumble on this question, because a computer programmer can have different titles.
I say, â€œSoftware engineer,â€ but I’m thinking maybe a better answer would have been â€œVideogame programmer.â€
â€œSo you’re taking a day off today?â€ he asks because it’s just before noon on a Tuesday.
â€œOh, I’m currently unemployed,â€ I answer, thinking maybe I should have said this originally to the occupation question.
He accepts my response, but I’m thinking he’s going to try to trip me up now. I’ve never been strip-searched, but I guess there’s a first-time for everything. He walks out of the booth and approaches the back of my Rav4. I can’t remember if I have the rear cover open to expose the trunk area. (It is open.)
â€œAre you bringing anything over?â€
He walks back to the booth.
â€œSo, where are you going exactly?â€
â€œWell, there are several Target stores along Niagara Falls Boulevard and a Toys ‘R’ Us,â€ I respond without hesitation and with confidence. I’m pretty proud of myself at this point.
And then he smiles, and his posture relaxes. â€œHmmâ€¦ Is this a new tactic?â€ I think to myself. These border guards don’t usually get conversational with me.
â€œStar Wars, was it?â€
â€œAh, no. Star Trek,â€ I politely correct him.
â€œI have a nephew who collects those toys. He’s been looking forâ€¦â€ He gestures with his hands, palms down, and pointing towards each other. â€œFrom the last movie.â€
I play along even though I’m not sure he knows the difference between Star Wars and Star Trek. â€œRevenge of the Sith,â€ I say, nodding my head.
â€œYou would know about these things because you’re a collector. These figures connect together and they fight each other. Have you heard of them?â€
I don’t know what he’s talking about, but I stupidly answer, â€œYeah, I think I have.â€
â€œCrap, he’s trapped me,â€ I think to myself. He’s going to ask me where he can find these things!
He hands me back my passport. â€œHave a good day.â€
So I spend the next eight hours checking out every Tops, Target, Walmart, Fye and Toys ‘R’ Us store I encounter. I won’t bore you with a detailed itinerary. There are a few other stops like a Gap clothing store and a Borders bookstore. At Borders, I stumble upon a Borders Exclusive Indiana Jones DVD box set with a fedora replica! And it’s on sale for 40% off. I’m not sure if the quality of the fedora would be that great. (I had been disappointed at the quality of the extras like the blind-fold in the Showgirls special box set. Hey, it had only cost $5.) This contains all of the Indiana Jones movies and I had not seen the latest, yet. I buy it. (Later, I find the fedora is made of sturdy wool felt. I’m happy with it. As for the cost, I knew the currency exchange rate was not favorable for Canadians. When I later looked at my credit card account, I was charged $92 CDN. Not quite the bargain in retrospect.) Though less dangerous for sure, I’ve always seen my habit of searching for Star Trek stuff to be analogous to an Indiana Jones search for treasure. So the irony of getting this Indiana Jones DVD box set while searching for Star Trek stuff is not lost on me.
I had known that a favorite store of mine, Media Play, had gone bankrupt years ago. But I was not prepared to find that all the Kay Bee aka KB Toys stores had closed up shop. They were great places to find discounted toys. (I only found out upon my return that the entire company had gone completely bankrupt last month. Obama should have bailed them out! Imagine a world without toys.)
I’m surprised that none of the US stores had Star Trek Scene It or the Tyco Star Trek radio controlled toys. Rarely does Canada have any Star Trek stuff that the US doesn’t. So if there are any Americans reading this who are looking for the aforementioned merchandise, then please come and visit any of our Zellers stores. Sadly, I have no affiliation with Zellers. Oh, and come get your Star Trek Easter chocolate Defiants.
So what Star Trek goodies do I buy? I’m a bit disappointed in not finding any Star Trek merchandise that I hadn’t read about. I don’t find the Kellogg’s cereal with the light-up comm badges. I find the Admiral Kirk figure, but it’s the last one and the packaging is in really bad shape. The Toys ‘R’ Us woman offers me a 10% discount and I accept it. At Fye, I purchase a deeply discounted Commander William Riker with Command Chair in a badly damaged package. At various Tops Supermarkets, I buy the following Kellogg’s products: Corn Pops cereal, Keebler FudgeShoppe Fudge Stripes, Pop-Tarts S’mores, and Pop-Tarts Chocolate Banana Split. The first two items have a Star Trek wristband flash drive promotion, and the Pop-Tarts offer a Star Trek movie ticket. None of these offers are available to Canadian residents. So why do I buy these perishable items? Because they have the words â€œStar Trekâ€ on them!
(I wanted to take a brief aside to talk about the Pop-Tarts. We have Pop-Tarts in Canada, but the Americans have a larger variety of flavors as well as â€œhealthyâ€ Pop-Tarts. I’ve never noticed microwave instructions for Pop-Tarts before. These ones that I bought suggest setting the high temperature for 3 seconds. As far as I can tell, my 720W microwave can’t do anything in 3 seconds. Oh, I guess 720W is pretty low nowadays.)
The â€œX-Men Origins: Wolverineâ€ movie comes out in theatres a week before Star Trek, yet toys for that movie are out weeks earlier. I don’t see any Wolverine promotions on grocery products, so I guess I shouldn’t complain too much. Since I am trying to cut back on my Star Trek purchases, I guess I should be happy with the limited items I did find.
So now it’s time for the voyage home. Even though I’m a cheapskate, I’m always honest when it comes to declaring purchases at customs. I couldn’t lie to save my life so I’ve had to adopt the â€œhonesty is the best policyâ€ philosophy. The return conversation is rather routine, so there’s no need to recount it here. The Canadian border guy did ask to see my receipts. I had several grocery store receipts, and I was thinking that he might wonder why I didn’t just buy all my groceries at one grocery store. On previous trips, I think some of the border guards have wondered how a guy could spend a whole day shopping. Anyway, the border guard lets me go without having to pay Canadian taxes. Nice!
As I drive home, I wonder if there are other film franchises with devotees who would go to the trouble to drive across a border and spend a whole day looking for items related to the franchise. I know that Star Wars and all the superhero franchises have way more merchandise than Star Trek and it would be absolutely crazy to try and collect everything related to those franchises. But I suppose craziness is relative.
Jay often asks me why I don’t just have a few high-priced value Star Trek items rather than a bunch of worthless, space-taking trinkets and items such as the Pop-Tarts, I suppose. It all comes back to the search and the high one gets in finding something. It’s about the adventure. Cue John Williams’ Indiana Jones theme.
When I get home, I see a television news blurb about what border crossing guards are now doing that might cause further delays. I never do find out from the news what they are doing, but I don’t really care since my experience was pleasant enough. I expect I’ll be making more return treks.