Last Spring when I had to fly last minute to Pensacola because my littlest was in the hospital, you could say it was a pretty rough week. Everything turned out OK in the end, but of course we didn’t know that then. And after three days of tubes and tests and needles and tears… I had to get out and drive a bit.
Never having been to Pensacola, my thoughts naturally turned to sampling the local fare. Google suggested a pizza place not too far away called The Elbow Room. I drove past twice because it’s so nondescript, but I eventually found it. I’m so glad I did.
Inside I was greeted with a cozy interior bathed in red light and covered with Star Trek memorabilia. There were full size stand up cut-outs of Kirk and Spock, spaceship models, even an old metal lunch box much like the one I carried to Elementary school. And there was a vintage juke box blasting old blues and soul standards. Just because.
Needless to say I felt strangely at ease as I ordered a pizza and a beer.
It wasn’t long before an older guy sauntered up, carrying his oxygen tank with him. He introduced himself as Jim, the former owner.
Now, two things became instantly clear. 1) He may have been the former owner, but he was still very much there and still took great pride in his place. And 2) he had never met a stranger in his life. I felt like old friends immediately.
He was sad to hear about my daughter’s problems. He asked if he could help, and I knew he meant it. I assured him that a quiet spot to enjoy my pizza was all I needed. He seemed happy to hear that.
But when Jim found out I was a Star Trek fan, his face lit up like a kid at Christmas. He jumped right into quizzing me on trivia.
His first question was Captain Kirk’s middle name. Tiberius, of course. His smile widened when he realized I knew my stuff and the questions got harder. He stumped me a couple times and I stumped him a couple. It was a wonderful way for two old fans to escape from our troubles.
When I eventually had to leave, they wouldn’t take my money. Not a penny, and frankly was offended at the thought. They said for me to go back and take care of my family, that was all the payment they wanted.
I had tears in my eyes as I pulled out of the parking lot. I wondered how I had gotten so lucky to find this magical place right when I needed it most. Mostly I was already trying to figure out when I could get back down for more pizza and trivia.
Sadly, it turns out, I waited too long. I got the news today that Jim passed peacefully in his sleep last night.
I suppose it just caught me off guard today, but I can’t remember being anymore heart broken.
I suppose it’s not ironic that I’m at a Star Trek convention this weekend, Starbase Indy, here in Indianapolis. I’m surrounded by hundreds of good friends who love Star Trek and all it stands for. I only wish it helped my pangs of regret that I never got back down to see Jim.
So, Jim, hear me out. I know there is a lot of talk of what happens after we die, and a lot of conflicting opinions on the matter. But I know in my heart that you’re out in space right now, exploring new worlds and going where you have never gone before.
So enjoy that last great voyage, buddy. Punch a Klingon, play chess with a Vulcan, and kiss a green skinned alien lady for me. Maybe I’ll see you out there some day myself and we can share some Romulan ale and tell stories from the old days. I’d like that a lot.
But most of all, know that I have been, and always shall be, your friend.