AER Star Telegram November 1999


Updated: Friday, Nov. 12, 1999 at 10:36 CST

Galaxy Gear: Enterprising group of Klingon fans take the trek
By Shirley Jinkins
Star-Telegram Staff Writer

The scruffy Klingon warrior stood at parade rest, his batleth (weapon) at his side as a night chill began to settle over the bleak parking-lot landscape in west Fort Worth. His name was Salek, "actually a Vulcan name," he admitted with a shuffle of his black-clad feet. "I've idolized Mr. Spock for a long time, but to go from that to the Klingons is quite a change." Nevertheless, Salek (in the real world, George Whitaker of Arlington) seemed at home with his fellows, K'arla, M'atma, young K'vlar and his mother, K'bubbles.

Yes, K'bubbles.

"Bubbles has always been my nickname," said Pat Burke of Grandview with a grin more akin to a Starfleet cadet than a Klingon woman. At home, she cheerfully fashions padded Klingon weapons for practices and exhibitions, and she can't wait for a trip to a convention in Houston later this month to see her idol, General Martok from `Star Trek: Deep Space Nine' .

Her tow-headed son, Alan Burke, 12, nursed a sore finger from batleth practice and described the neat Imperial Klingon uniform he has at home. His Klingon name is K'vlar.

What must his `Star Wars' -loving pals at school think of his secret Klingon life?

"They don't know about it," he shrugged.

Or maybe they do.

"I couldn't change after an event, and I wore my uniform to his Christian private school to pick him up one day, and now all the kids have started calling me `the alien mom,' " Burke said.

These Klingons, and several others, sparred on a recent evening during their once-a-week batleth practice, but the atmosphere was more congenial than confrontational. From the looks of these Imperial Klingons, they'd be the alien race most likely to show up at a Willie Nelson concert.

"We have fun, it's a family thing," Burke said.

Whitaker agreed, pointing out his wife, Donna, and their two children in their battered "Klingon green" Volkswagen van, circa 1970.

Their I.K.V. Melota ship (it's actually a chapter) is part of a gruesomely named fan organization called the Klingon Assault Group.

If it all seems, well, strange, the Klingons don't mind.

"In the real world, I'm a computer dweeb," said Whitaker, aka Salek. "By nature, we're a little eccentric."

His Klingon persona is no secret to Whitaker's associates, he said, particularly because of his long, salt-and-pepper hair and sculpted whiskers.

"At work, they've gotten used to it," he said. "They're also used to seeing my [batleth] wounds on Wednesdays."

Carla Teter of Fort Worth (K'arla) is current commander, er, president of the group, which numbers 110 members. Less than four years ago, she helped found the group with five initial Klingons.

Now, Klingons meet locally to spar, bowl, eat, wrap Christmas gifts for charity at Borders Books in Fort Worth, visit children's hospitals, even conduct blood drives.

"Our ship is the flagship of the quadrant," said Tom Teter, Carla's husband who wore a Klingon T-shirt reading "Survive and succeed." His Klingon name is M'atma.

The membership includes everyone from "executives to street people," Tom Teter said. A few even know the language, Klingonese, developed over the 20 years since the first `Star Trek' movie popularized Klingon culture. Klingons all over the world can communicate with each other (and share their main art form, poetry) on the Internet at hundreds of sites.

"We're really safe to be around," Tom Teter continued, admitting that Klingons actually prefer a steak dinner to a fight any day. "We're really good guys. We only have two rules -- have fun and don't dishonor the ship."

The steak dinner, incidentally, is a main feature of their monthly general crew meeting tonight at 7 p.m. at Ryan's Family Steak House in Fort Worth. They'll come decked out in full-dress forehead ridges and chain mail.

Non-Klingons are often tempted to ask "why," they said.

"I think I like them because of their honor," Burke said of her Klingon fetish. "And their attitudes. They succeed. But it's the honor, mostly. They're honorable warriors."

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