Welcome everyone. I’m Christopher DeFilippis and this is DeFlip Side.
It is a far, far geekier trek I make than I have ever made before. A far more awesome roadside attraction that I go to than I have ever known.
Or so I recently found myself paraphrasing Admiral James T. Kirk from the final scene of The Wrath of Khan, as I embarked on a pilgrimage to the nerdiest place in America’s heartland.
A few weeks ago, I took a cross-country road trip with friends. Before we left, I discovered that we’d be taking Interstate 80 through Iowa. My nerd alert went off. I had once read about a small Iowa town that had bestowed a very peculiar honor upon itself…
And that’s what found me in Iowa, a few weeks later, conveniently behind the wheel in time to detour off the main highway into the town of Riverside, the future birthplace of James T. Kirk. And for those of you who have never heard of this, it really is a real thing. Really.
Star Trek played up Kirk’s deep Midwestern roots, making his ancestors early American settlers. What better way to give Star Trek cred as a space western than to have Kirk come from a long line of Old West frontiersmen? And in their 1968 book The Making of Star Trek, authors Gene Roddenberry and Stephen E. Whitfield further cemented that connection, saying that Kirk was from a small town in Iowa.
Fast forward to 1985. Upon reading The Making of Star Trek, an enterprising Riverside city council member moved that the town declare itself as the official future birthplace of James Kirk. The motion passed unanimously, gained Roddenberry’s blessing, and a new Trek mecca was born.
This is yet another unique example of dedicated fandom shaping Trek canon. Kirk’s Iowa roots became official a year later in this amusing scene from 1986’s Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, when Dr. Gillian Taylor confronts Kirk over beer and pizza.
So imagine my thrill as I pulled onto Riverside’s main drag to be greeted by the U.S.S. Riverside, a replica Constitution Class ship that gets called into parade service during Riverside’s yearly TrekFest—a fan celebration that draws notable Star Trek guests. As it turned out, I had missed the 2014 TrekFest by only a few days.
And not only that; the Riverside Visitor Center/Star Trek Museum/souvenir shop was also closed. As I stared into the windows at the silent displays, I felt like Clark Griswold arriving at a shuttered Wally World.
But I was undeterred. These things weren’t why I had come all the way to Riverside. I drove further into town in search of the main attraction—which isn’t exactly front and center.
After some wandering I finally found it, on the furthest edge of Main Street, hidden behind a tiny, abandoned hair salon: a large stone monument with the etched proclamation, “Riverside Iowa. Future Birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk, March 22, 2228.” And punctuating the date: a tiny red silhouette of the Enterprise in flight. A small bench faces the obelisk so that pilgrims may sit before it in quiet contemplation of the greatness that’s to come.
Needless to say, I had my friends take a picture of me standing next to it. None of them are Star Trek fans, and they had been rolling their eyes ever since I revealed my geeky plot. And I did feel a little guilty taking them 20 miles off course to indulge in my nerdist hajj.
But as Kirk says, the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many. And since then, they’ve said that visiting the birth marker was a highlight of the trip. So it just goes to show that no one is immune to the charms of James T. Kirk.
But one glaring thing struck me about the monument. For all its pomp, it gets Kirk’s birth year wrong. Kirk was born in 2233, not 2228. I didn’t tell my friends about that part, though. There’s a limit to the amount of teasing I can take.
The discrepancy is probably due to fuzzy show canon that has been solidified since 1985. But it’s in keeping with the Original Series penchant for erroneous stone monuments dedicated to Kirk, namely Gary Mitchell’s “James R. Kirk” tombstone in “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” I’ve even mentally retconned the mistake as one last act of revenge from Mitchell, who—just before Kirk smooshed him with that giant boulder—reached back in time and changed it, in a last-ditch effort to smear Kirk’s legacy. I haven’t told my friends about that either.
With pilgrimage completed, we piled back into the car and departed the fantastic fictional landmark for points more mundane.
And yet I can’t help wondering about the town I leave behind. There are always… possibilities, Spock said. And if Riverside is, indeed, future life born of Science Fictional myth, I must return to this place again—preferably, in both 2228 and 2233, just to play it safe.