Early Birthday Weekend

It’s been a tradition since the early years of our courtship for Aaron and I to celebrate our respective birthdays on the weekend nearest to the date. Aaron’s worked nights/evenings for the last 15 years or so, which makes birthday dinner problematic. Since my birthday is on a Wednesday this year (hint, hint), we opted to celebrate this past Saturday.

Our plans initially revolved around going to see the Star Trek exhibit at the Detroit Science Center, but later expanded to include dinner in Ann Arbor. The short version of the day: The weather was positively BEAUTIFUL; the Star Trek exhibit was fairly detailed and involved, and it definitely catered to the Trekkie/Trekker; dinner was at the Chinese/Vietnamese restaurant on S. University, and was delicious; we continued to be Starbucks whores, even in another town; and we topped off the evening by sharing some mochi ice cream.

The long version of the day (with photos) is after the jump…

Aaron at the Indian restaurantWe started our day (after presents, of course) at Masala Cuisine of India, our new favorite Indian restaurant in Toledo. The food on the buffet is just a little different than the other two buffets in town; I still can’t put my finger on it. The staff is accommodating and friendly, and they already recognize us as “regulars.” We both ate too much at the buffet — but isn’t that what buffets are for?

After lunch, we headed north to Detroit, for the main event: Star Trek: The Exhibition.

USS Enterprise, NCC 1701-A

From the Detroit Science Center website:

This interactive exhibit lets fans explore the ‘Star Trek’ universe hands-on with attractions, sets,
costumes and props from 5 TV series and 10 feature films.

This multi-city touring exhibition contains the world’s most comprehensive collection of authentic Star Trek ships, set re-creations, costumes and props from 5 television series and 10 films over the last 40+ years.

This unparalleled experience enables the public to step inside the Star Trek universe and become active participants in the legacy that has captivated our imagination for generations. Whether it is sitting on a recreation of the original U.S.S. Enterprise bridge or traveling through space on motion simulators, STAR TREK THE EXHIBITION fully immerses visitors in the legendary television adventure that has become synonymous with scientific innovation and ingenuity.

Highlights of STAR TREK THE EXHIBITION include:

  • A detailed recreation of the bridge from the USS Enterprise NCC-1701 as featured in the original Star Trek television series. Visitors can stand on the Enterprise bridge and have their photo taken.
  • Re-creations of original sets from Star Trek: The Next Generation, including Captain Picard’s quarters and command chair.
  • A full-scale recreation of the Transporter Room from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Alas, photography was strictly prohibited, and would have gotten us ejected from the exhibit that we paid almost $20 each to get into, so all I photographed was the giant Enterprise-A model in the Science Center lobby (above). Had I been so inclined, I could have drug the designated exhibition photographer in to take a photo of us leaping through the Guardian of Forever, which we then could have purchased for some astronomical price at the exhibition exit.

The exhibition featured elements from all of the (live-action) Star Trek series, with some hard science and history thrown in for fun. (Thankfully, there was only a token representation from Enterprise — or, as I like to call it, “the fake Star Trek.”) We got to see actual uniforms/costumes worn by the actors in each series, as well as displays of props like tricorders, communicators, phasers, etc. There were also full sets of the Original Series bridge, Captain Picard’s quarters, and the Next Gen transporter room.

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When we got to the Enterprise bridge set, I was disappointed/elated to note that the stations were set up incorrectly. Granted, they had to work within the physical space they had, so the entrance to the bridge wasn’t quite placed correctly. There was no excuse for the incorrect placement of the Science station viewer at the Engineering station, though. At least they got the label for “Science Station – Mr. Spock” correct, even if they screwed up the equipment that should have been there.

(Yes, I did reference my Star Fleet Technical Manual as I wrote this to confirm.)


We also got to get “transported” in the Next Gen transporter room, by a “Starfleet” volunteer who really, REALLY loved her job as transporter chief. (Camera one, camera two, just like you’d imagine. Cheesy but fun.) She also showed us some things on the Enterprise-D schematic in the corridor that we hadn’t seen at first glance.

We knew to look for the rat and the duck and the airplane, and the two or three unisex bathrooms for a ship of hundreds. We didn’t know to look for the hamster wheel in Engineering. AWESOME. We spent as much (if not more) time studying the cutaway as we did admiring anything else in the exhibit.

The last room included a timeline of Star Trek; of course, I skipped the first panel about Enterprise. It was a blast being in there and overhearing geek dads explain the early movies to their kids (“Why did they go back to find HUMPBACK WHALES?”) and explain characters/actors they weren’t familiar with (“Remember that kind of heavier actress [Kirstie Alley] in that one movie you saw? That’s her, as Saavik.” “Really? Wow! She’s so skinny there!”). Once we got past Generations, though, I was the one who was no good with the trivia on the timeline (“Um, I don’t remember Kirk’s dog dying.” “That was in Generations.” “OK, that explains the Priceline-looking Shatner in the still, then…”).

We spent about an hour in the exhibition, which we felt was enough time to be worth our money. Definitely worth the drive. If you’re a fan of Trek, definitely track down this traveling exhibit and check it out at a science center near you.

Model of EndeavorThe rest of the Detroit Science Center was pretty awesome in its own right, and beat the pants off of COSI in Toledo. They had a sizable area devoted to space exploration, plus a walkable model of the Mackinac Bridge, along with video of a suspension bridge gone horribly wrong.

We spent some quality time playing with the “musical” instruments (I use the term loosely because they were all horribly out of tune from misuse by rambunctious kids, if they were ever actually in tune to start with). I always enjoy the stuff about waves and particles, segueing into magnetism and force and that sort of thing. The interactive displays were fairly sturdy, and were even fun for grown-ups — and when we got to the electricity part, we got to see how much more energy-efficient a florescent or low-energy bulb is than a standard tungsten bulb, by hand-cranking a generator to make each one light up. Fun!

(True to form, I also found the typo. I found two typos in the Star Trek exhibit, but couldn’t document them.)

After we’d decided we were done with the science center, we headed back to the car. We were parked in a lot surrounded by museums; somehow, we hadn’t realized that Detroit had a museum district. It was actually quite clean and pleasant and safe, and we’d definitely go back to see some of the other museums.

Bun with Hot and Sour SoupThe second-most awesome part of our early-birthday excursion was going to Saigon Garden in Ann Arbor. Our local Vietnamese restaurant closed, so we haven’t had pho or bun in months.

The summer rolls we shared for an appetizer were gigantic and delicious. They looked so delicious, in fact, that a complete stranger approached us and asked us if they were good, then ordered some for herself and her youngin’.

My bowl of bun (vermicelli rice noodles with marinated pork, sprouts, cucumber, and other deliciousness) was much bigger than what I was used to getting at our old haunt in town. Delicious. Made me remember why we used to eat Vietnamese so often.

[Side note: The photo of my dinner was also practice for our upcoming vacation; I purchased a new lens, and want to be sure I’m fairly proficient with it before we go. Since food will be a big part of our trip, I wanted to practice taking snapshots of our food. The wide angle (18mm) gets in a good deal of the table, although photo nerds will notice a good deal of distortion.]

The weather was absolutely perfect for a walk around Ann Arbor. We got to see the tag-team street preachers thumping their bibles and getting ignored by everyone who’s been inured to their babble. We hit Barnes & Noble, confirmed that Steve & Barry’s must have closed everywhere, browsed Star Vintage, and got our Starbucks on. Of course.

Starbucks at State and Liberty

Last time we were in town, we stopped into the Starbucks on the other side of town, on S University. The Starbucks at State and Liberty is positively huge, with multiple "comfy chairs" and a basement seating area.

[This photo was another vacation practice shot — need to make sure we can take self-portraits and still see what’s in the background, for reference. “See that blurry tree? That’s Japan, I promise!”]

After coffee and iPhone time in Starbucks, we were winding down. We’d contemplated “birthday ice cream,” but I was ambivalent, and had just about decided against it… until we walked past a bubble tea restaurant that also advertised mochi ice cream. We got 3 huge pieces for $2.50: green tea, red bean, and mango. Fantastic! The place was so busy that there were literally no seats to be had; we got to take our mochi outside and eat in the beautiful open air.

It’s hard to see from the photo, but most of the clientele is of the Asian persuasion. That’s how we can usually tell if an establishment is good: if the majority of the patrons are of the region that the food is from.

After dessert, it was really time to go. As we left Ann Arbor, we decided that we really need to make more trips up there this spring and summer. We used to make a pilgrimage at least once a year, back in college, but these days we’ve just been going up for the Art Fairs. And that’s not “doing Ann Arbor.” There are so many restaurants we want to try, and there are always new stores (or stores we haven’t been in yet), and we’re finally to a size where we could actually buy kitschy clothes from the vintage shop(s).

All told, my early birthday weekend was one of the best days I’ve had in a while.

(Thanks for a happy early birthday, honey. I love you.)