I expected a line trailing out the door and around the corner, but when I got there it was still early in the morning and the video store was quiet.
Back then, I was a college student at NYU and when I saw that James Doohan was going to be signing autographs at a video store on the Upper West Side, I knew I had to go. I’ve been a Star Trek fan since I was about ten, but not just a fan — more like one of those fans. The sort who watched Original Series episodes dozens of times, read books about it and, as a kid, wrote my own very terrible fan fiction. I was not going to miss this opportunity.
I showed up expecting to spend hours (adding a Scotty-style time estimate) just waiting for a glimpse of him, so imagine my surprise when I walked into the store, followed the signs, and came face-to-face with Mr. Doohan himself, sitting at a table. He looked up when I walked in. He smiled and said hello. My heart did a tap dance.
I walked up to his table, and he introduced himself — ha! — and asked my name, so graciously, so friendly. I told him I was also from Canada and we quickly bonded over that, despite being from opposite ends of our home country. He told me about his days doing radio and I soaked it up.
When someone else showed up, looking for their own autograph, I forced myself to do the unselfish thing, and handed him what I’d brought him to sign: a copy of Star Trek: The Official Fan Club magazine with his photo on the cover. It came with a protective brown paper cover that I hadn’t removed and he laughed, asking me why they had a cover on it like it was one of THOSE magazines. Then he made a joke that it was because of his face and I tore the cover off completely. Who needs it? (I did, it turned out, to protect the magazine on its way home, so I kept it.)
But he was quite thrilled that I had a magazine with his face on its cover and signed it quite happily. I bid him farewell, reluctantly, and headed out. (This was before cell phones and selfies, younger readers.)
My dad and his husband live on the Upper West Side, so I went off to have lunch with them, and while we were sitting there, I was struck: I’d forgotten to get something for my friend Kevin! Kevin and I had been roommates in Toronto, and he was my one friend who was as huge of a fan as I was. I couldn’t change the laws of physics, but I could go back to the video store and see what my options were.
This time, there was a line.
When I got close to the front of it, I saw him talking with a little boy—the kid was probably about eight years old. Doohan’s pen ran out of ink, so he tossed it over his shoulder and picked up another one. Then he leaned toward the kid.
“Don’t worry,” he whispered confidentially. “I’m going to pick it up later. I wouldn’t just leave it on the floor.” So sweet!
The kid turned to go, and James Doohan looked up at the line. “Oh look!” he said cheerfully. “It’s Laurie again!” My fellow fans looked at me enviously, and I… well… glowed. There’s no other word for it.
We chatted again when it was my turn, and I got an autograph for Kevin—which I hope I gave to him, because I don’t remember—and again, I reluctantly left.
I’ll never forget that encounter. I think about it again every year on his birthday — he’s a March baby, like me — and remember what a gentleman he was, so gentle and kind and sweet to all of us fans who loved him. He clearly understood the role he’d played in our lives, and valued it. A miracle worker indeed.
Laurie Ulster (she/her) is a freelance writer and a TV producer who somehow survived her very confusing adolescence as the lone female Star Trek fan in middle school. She's a writer/editor and was the Supervising Producer on After Trek.