30 Jun 2021 A collection from the final frontier
By Dwain Hebda
When it comes to his love for “Star Trek,” Mike West is an open book.
Meeting him, he sports a golf shirt with the USS Enterprise — the iconic spaceship of the TV series — embroidered on the chest. Reclining on a sofa in the inner sanctum of his home, where he displays his treasures, he sips from a mug declaring “Kirk-Spock 2020” while his beloved series plays on a big screen television nearby.
All around, items from figurines to toys to magazines to a “Star Trek”-themed Monopoly game catch your eye, which eventually comes to rest on a vintage “Star Trek” pinball machine blinking in the corner. There’s too much to take in at first glance and this isn’t even all of it.
“This is just a small portion,” he said, glancing around the room. “I’ve collected a lot of the action figures that are still packed away in boxes. Any movie that came out, I tried to get all of the stuff I could, because you never knew what was going to be the last movie, or if it was going to be three or four years before they do another one.”
So, does he know how many items the collection holds?
“I have no idea,” he said with a half sigh. “No idea.”
As wide and deep as his collection runs, some things stand out to the mild-mannered DeWitt native and longtime UAMS pharmacology researcher. Among them, some original action figures from his childhood that have survived — well-loved and played with — from his early fascination with the show.
“I was born in 1958 and the show aired from ’66 to ’68. So I was 9 or 10 years old when the original show was on,” he said. “I remember really liking the show and the science fiction and all that kind of stuff.
“In college, I still loved the show. I decorated my dorm room. I had models hanging and the curtains and the bedsheets. I had the whole nine yards. Of course, back then there really wasn’t that much stuff available, you know, merchandising stuff and that kind of thing.”
West said the things that appealed to him about the show were the science of space travel and the logic exuded by his favorite character, Mr. Spock. Spock’s visage is everywhere in this collection, anchored by a drawing of the iconic figure on the fireplace mantel. His daughter Emily, now a Conway architect, drew it in high school.
“She gave it to me as a gift,” West said, beaming. “It’s one of the things in the collection that I really like.”
Having grown into a cultural touchpoint, it’s easy to forget “Star Trek” ran for such a short period. In its wake came various movies and franchise reboots and these are also represented within the collection. But none, West said, ever held the same magical allure as the original.
“Some of the movies, they’re OK,” he said. “I think ‘The Wrath of Kahn,’ the original, was my favorite. But we were all so hungry for ‘Star Trek.’ I remember standing in line to see it. Line out the door. All the hardcore Trekkers are there, they came over in costumes and all that kind of crazy thing.
“Probably ‘The Next Generation’ is my favorite of all the later TV series. I gave them a chance, you know, like ‘Star Trek Voyager.’ ‘Deep Space Nine,’ everybody rants and raves about it and how it was done so well. But it’s like, ‘Yeah, man, but they never went anywhere.’ Not till the latter part, when they started doing their little war thing and they’d leave and there would be a little bit of action. But it was more like a soap opera.”
As open-minded as he was to these new and updated twists, West is less charitable in his assessment of other science fiction fares that followed the seminal TV series, especially “Star Trek’s” arch-enemy franchise.
“I think I saw the original ‘Star Wars’ — I won’t even say the word ‘movie,'” he said coldly. “You will not find a single ‘Star Wars’ thing in here. When I have someone come in here like, ‘Oh, I love your ‘Star Wars’ collection!’ It’s like okay, you’re out. We’re not having that in here.
“In fact, my grandson had a ‘Star Wars’ birthday party for his fifth birthday. I mean, he doesn’t know. So, everybody was like, ‘All right, we’re all going to wear ‘Star Wars’ T-shirts!’ I was like, ‘Well, I’m not. I’m wearing a ‘Star Trek’ t-shirt.’ And I did. So, that explains my commitment.”
West’s collection continues to grow, though it’s to such a point now (when pressed, he places it at well into hundreds of items) that it’s hard to imagine anything he doesn’t have at least one of yet. West said that’s not true, that there are still items here and there on his collector’s bucket list.
“To me, this was the Grail,” he said, noting a themed metal lunchbox on the mantel. “I always wanted a ‘Star Trek’ lunch box with a thermos. It’s pretty hard to come by and it’s pretty expensive. I never could afford it. It was right before the pandemic hit and I thought, ‘I’m going to get me one.’ And then it was, ‘Oh shoot, I shouldn’t have spent that money!’ But I got it, you know.”
He smiles as he looks at it and, in this light, he’s 10 again.
“It’s pretty cool.”