Road Trips with Colm Meaney
By David McDonnell - June 06, 2014
Colm Meaney put his money down on the bar and bought me a drink. We're Irish. It's what we're supposed to do.
Or, rather, did. (Now, it's hot tea, cold water or sometimes Dr. Pepper for me). But that was long ago. And in Syracuse, New York. I had spent a year there previously (1978-9) at Syracuse University's Newhouse School of Public Communications in grad school and here I was again, back more than a decade later for an SF con. It was unsettling to realize that the dusty, privately-owned apartment building on Marshall Street where I had lived (then surrounded on three sides by student dormitories) had now vanished, torn down and replaced by a fourth bright, shiny college dorm. Bookstores and restaurants I liked were likewise gone. And downtown Syracuse appeared much the same as it had in 1979---metropolitan melancholy.
All in all, it seemed like a good reason to start drinking---even if, technically, I was only part Irish (the rest Scottish, English and German). Meaney and I were also talking there in that downtown hotel bar. Sunday night. The con was over. This had been, I believe, his first convention appearance. It was midpoint on The Next Generation, circa 1990-1. Meaney's character, Transporter Chief O'Brien, had been on hand since "Encounter at Farpoint," but still didn't have a first name (much less a chance of transfer to the not-yet-created Deep Space Nine). We had recently done our very first interview with Meaney (Starlog #155) and writer Mark Altman had provided contact info used to land the actor as a con guest.
"One more for the road!" we decided. Why not? We were about to make the long, four-hour (or so) drive from Syracuse to the New York City area, but don't worry, Mom. We wouldn't be drinking and driving. DreamWerks Conventions organizer Jonathan Harris (not the Lost in Space actor) would be at the wheel. He would drop me off in New Jersey, ferry Meaney (who had flown to Syracuse from Los Angeles but had business in NYC) to Manhattan and then head home himself. Harris' wife Susan had caught an earlier return car trip with in-laws so now it was Trek boys' night out, just the three of us on the Highway to Hell. Road trip!
Here's where it might have come in handy, 20 years later, to have kept a journal (but, no, never did, sorry). I can't tell you what was said, even the topics. Still, we had a blast chatting away the miles, stopping briefly for munchies (fast food served slowly) and, essentially, holding our own quite convivial car-bound mini-con. After an hour, I felt like I'd known Meaney since kindergarten.
Finally, we reached New Jersey. It was long after midnight and I invited Harris and Meaney into my apartment for a bathroom break. They gazed in wonder (or, rather, horror) at my extremely dusty, dozen-odd bookcases stuffed with magazines, comics and hardcovers, the pyramidic piles of paperbacks, towers of elephantine videocassettes. Film posters---what you could see of them---covered the walls: Big Trouble in Little China, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Octopussy. And, of course, action figures: Darth Vader, Dr. McCoy, Batman. Remember! They are not dolls; they are action figures. It was---and still is---a Syracuse University dorm room from Hell.
Jonathan & Susan Harris, Meaney and I reunited for another con, this time in New Orleans, one of my very favorite cities. The food! The bookstores! The music! Road trip! The extra special guest was Carmen Carter, a warm and witty Trek novelist (The Devil's Heart, Dreams of the Raven, The Children of Hamelin; also co-author of Doomsday World). Attendance at this one-day con was sadly low. It was a Super Bowl Sunday and, although the game wasn't being played in New Orleans that year, it still depressed convention turnout. Too bad. At least we got to eat and drink again in the Big Easy. I don't remember much about that event, but I remember we drank. It's what we're supposed to do.
The next time I saw Meaney was at a con in Pennsylvania. My old pal Howard Weinstein, writer of an animated Trek and several nifty Trek novels, was our fellow guest. I was on stage, showing upcoming movie trailers. Harris was busy with convention promoter problems. His family manned the ticket desk. However, Meaney---filming late the night before---had a mid-Saturday afternoon plane arriving from LA. Who could be spared and dispatched to the airport 25 miles away for pick-up duty? Why not...my parents?! Mom & Dad---who lived nearby---were already in attendance at the con and gamely agreed to this impromptu solution. Road trip! So, they raced to the airport, corraled Meaney out of the crowd and chauffeured him to the convention hotel.
I can only imagine what conversation in the car was like.
"So, you've been to Dave's apartment, eh?" (For the purposes of this re-enactment, my parents will be played by Canadian actors.)
"Yes, he has a lot of books," let's say Meaney (as himself) said.
"Perhaps David will get about t' dusting 'em one year or t'other," the other Canadian (who evidently spent time in summer stock in New England) might have mused.
"Or even vacuum." And...scene.
Sometime, somewhere, Meaney talked about the upcoming DS9 and how the producers hoped to beam his character (complete with first name) on board that 1993 Trek spin-off. Recurring on The Next Generation, Meaney wasn't absolutely certain he wanted a regular series berth, not when the movie gigs (which had grown to include The Commitments, Far and Away, The Last of the Mohicans and others) were plentiful. Maybe if Paramount could contractually guarantee for time off to be easily granted if an important film role came up? So, they did---although producers occasionally regretted their obligation to allow his absence (and the deal later changed). That's how Miles Edward O'Brien ended up on DS9.
In the years since then, it has been great fun to see Meaney show up on screen (as in The Road to Wellville or Into the West). He was simply outrageous as Russell Brand's dissolute dad in Get Him to the Greek. I especially liked the offbeat The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill and Came Down a Mountain (with Meaney as an opportunistic pub owner catering to Hugh Grant). These days, Meaney's (in) Hell on Wheels on AMC. That reminds me. Road. Dissolute. Pub. Hell. My throat's getting kind of dusty, eh? Maybe we could drink to that. It's what we're supposed to do.
David McDonnell, "the maitre’d of the science fiction universe," has dished up coverage of pop culture for more than three decades. Beginning his professional career in 1975 with the weekly "Media Report" news column in The Comic Buyers’ Guide, he joined Jim Steranko’s Mediascene Prevue in 1980. After 31 months as Starlog’s Managing Editor (beginning in October 1982), he became that pioneering SF magazine’s longtime Editor (1985-2009). He also served as Editor of its sister publications Comics Scene, Fangoria and Fantasy Worlds. At the same time, he edited numerous licensed movie one-shots (Star Trek and James Bond films, Aliens, Willow, etc.) and three ongoing official magazine series devoted to Trek TV sagas (The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager). He apparently still holds this galaxy’s record for editing more magazine pieces about Star Trek in total than any other individual, human or alien.
Copyright 2014 David McDonnell
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