USS Enterprise in Gene Roddenberry's midcentury era office

In my inaugural web column for Atomic Ranch, I’m excited to start diving into the different pop culture phenomena that defined this colorful era that we all love so much. While Jell-O salad and The Beatles will have their time, this post is extra personal, thanks to that introspective feeling one gets when another year goes by.

Last Thursday, in celebration of my [redacted] birthday, I went with some good friends to vintage cocktail bar Now Boarding in Los Angeles for some safety-card cocktails and a chance to gawk at Sayre Ziskin’s brutalist chandeliers. I tend to plan most of my year around which international flight I’ll get to splurge on, so a night near a wall of maps seemed like a fitting way to welcome a literal “new age.”

It also got me thinking about another flight from a different era — a 1947 Pan Am jaunt from Karachi to Istanbul. When one of the engines stopped working, and the plane fell into a downward spiral, the cabin flew into a panic. Except for the 25-year-old third officer, Gene, who not only calmed frightened passengers but, after surviving the crash-landing, ran back into the burning plane to save person after person.

Despite his heroism, he never became a celebrated pilot, and actually left that industry altogether. Instead, anyone who hears the name Gene Roddenberry is guaranteed to think of his monumental contribution to ‘60s pop culture: Star Trek—which celebrates the 50-year anniversary of its NBC debut in September. Forever changed by that fateful flight, Gene had been determined to take us “where no man has gone before,” ushering in an era of Trekkies and science-fiction fanatics.

I grew up mimicking the Vulcan hand symbol and hiding behind the couch from the Salt Monster. And while I never ended up owning a Tribble (which is probably for the best), I did move out to Los Angeles and work in the TV industry for a few fascinating years. Just like Gene’s own career trajectory, I can’t say magazines were the place I expected my career to land, but it has been and continues to be a fascinating and rewarding journey.

Stories like Gene’s remind me what a gift a birthday is. Another opportunity to marvel at new countries, new friendships and new design breakthroughs. Another bit of freedom to be creative.

Another year, another chance to fly.