Kage Baker liked Adventure.
Not having adventures, mind you; that made her uncomfortable and suspicious. What Kage liked was knowing about adventures, hearing the details, tracking down the motives and results and High Weirdness associated with them – all real adventures have weird bits – and really getting all the dish. She liked recounting adventures, especially when her own research had expanded the background.
What she liked was telling the story, you see. She didn’t pass on gossip, although she loved hearing it; but she simply adored being the one to pass on a good tale. She’d absolutely vibrate with anxiety, wanting to be the one who told something cool to someone else – she’d ask me, “Let me tell it, okay? Okay?”
And what the hell, she did it better than anyone else I knew. But sometimes, Adventure happens even to she who wishes only to tell stories.
Our first trip to Catalina was meant to be what Kage regarded as a nice, tame adventure. A little easy sea voyage, a holiday town full of hotels and restaurants with cloth napkins. Sunlight and white sand. And so as to make it the more interesting (Kage said), she decided we’d just head over and take potluck on the hotel. After all, the brochures showed the place was literally paved with ‘em!
What we did not anticipate was what happened in Avalon on summer weekends: the population increases 100-fold, at least. One must have reservations for everything. As twilight began to darken the quaint buildings of Crescent Avenue, we began flitting like moths from doorway to doorway of the lighted hotels … and by the time the moon was rising, we knew we were screwed.
There were no rooms in Avalon. None. The last boat had left for the night, and it had been packed like it was leaving Saigon anyway and we had not made reservations back. We even went to the police department and asked if we could sleep in the jail – the cops (who must have encountered this problem a million times before) laughed inordinately and said No, but gave us a list of the hotels who would let a limited number of the stranded (i.e., idiots like us) spend the night in their lobbies … but by the time we got to them, those places had filled even the couches in the lounge.
We had but one recourse. There was a small, private camp ground out beyond the Casino, on the site of the old St. Catharine Hotel on Descanso Beach. Though we had no gear, we could at least spend the night somewhere we could lie down, with access to a bathroom. So we hied us to Descanso Beach, armed with a 6-pack of ale and a large bottle of Vicks 44 cough syrup.
And there we set up a meagre little camp among the ruined walls of the St. Catharine. It had once been the premier hotel on the island, a glowing white beauty with vast lawns sweeping down to the beach. But during WWII it was commandeered as a training camp by the OSS (we learned later) which experience had left it so raddled that it was torn down in the 1960’s. The lawns had gone to oats and bunch grass, the oaks and eucalyptus and palms were vast untrimmed tangles. There were NO amenities – but for $10.00, we could find a corner and sleep.
Why did we think that this was sensible? Why did no one older try to stop us? All I can say is that Avalon was pretty blase about moronic tourists, and we thought we were competent young adults. The romance of it was rather tempting, and we were annoyed at the police for laughing at us; and alcohol was somewhat involved … anyway, we found a hollow under the remains of a wall, sheltered by trees, and more or less burrowed into the leaves.
We drank everything we had, and lay there watching the stars through the branches and listening to the rigging on the sailboats in the bay chime and ring. There was distant dance music. A few other folks eventually retired to tents around us – we seriously discussed robbing one tent for a blanket, but the owners came back before we worked up the nerve. Kage told me stories about a group of travelling show people in a gypsy wagon and their unlikely adventures with border guards, local militias and the itinerant arts and crafts business. It got cold, but we got numb. And eventually, we fell asleep.
We woke just as the sun rose over the mainland of California, 26 miles across the sea to the east. The sky and the sea were half a hundred shades of pearl and pink. Gulls were crying above the masts swaying in the dawn wind, and out in the bay there were dolphins leaping through the first bars of sunlight. There was no one awake but us. We were the only seeing eyes on the Island.
“This is the Isle of Apples,” said Kage. “And I want waffles. Let’s go find some.”
“How do you know there’ll be any?” I protested.
“Because this morning, we can do anything,” said Kage with utter certainty. “The Island has claimed us.”
We dusted off the oak leaves, and walked down through the silent town, and found waffles.