Kage Baker hated busses. She hated most forms of public transport – except dome cars on railways, which are as close to private rail cars as public transport can get – but most of all, she hated busses. They’re big and smelly and too far off the ground; you have to clamber in and leap out. The ratio of seats to interior is absurd, far too much bus shell to the amount of seating actually available. Their routes are absurd and seldom maintained. Worst of all, they’re full of other people and she couldn’t think on them.
Ah, but The Bus – The Faire Bus. That was something else again.
Occasionally, in the 1970’s and 1980’s, the Faire would have lots of money. One of the things the management did at those times was actually pay for select irreplaceable actors to be transported from one end of the state (where they lived) to the other (where they performed). Southern Faire was in April, May and June; Northern in August, September and October. So they rented a Mark IV bus and chartered it between Los Angeles and Novato. During the Southern Faire, it brought 50-odd performers from the North Bay to the Agoura site; during Northern, it left Los Angeles and delivered its peculiar cargo to the Northern site at Blackpoint.
That was on Friday nights. The route was reversed on Sunday night. It meant the actors spent Fridays and Sundays on I-5 in various degrees of hilarity and coma, arriving at their destinations somewhere between 2 in the morning and dawn: depending on what disasters had plagued the ride between start and finish. There were engine failures, flat tires, getting lost in Berkeley and Simi Valley, traffic jams, brush fires, Department of Agriculture check points, medical emergencies, and sometimes misplacing actors at the dinner stops.
For some reason, the Southern Bus – the one that took actors to Northern Faire, y’see – had a slightly better record than the Northern bus (which brought its passengers to Southern Faire.) Lots of the St. Audrey/Cuthbert Parade Guild rode that Northern bus, and I remember times when they came running up to Opening Parade pulling on their costumes, fresh from the bus still smoking in the Parking Lot. We on the Southern Bus usually made it in while it was still deep night, and I often went to sleep watching Orion wheeling across the sky.
Kage and I always rode the Southern bus, living as we did then in Los Angeles. The bus left from an empty lot on Los Feliz, near Griffith Park, as close to 6 PM as we could force the passengers on board. There actually was a boarding list, to try and make sure no one was left behind – like the APQ (the Actress Playing the Queen) or one of the scarce and vital musicians. There was also a Standby List, hoping one of the regulars would fail to show. And there were the satellite cars, who would follow the same route as the bus, and could sometimes be persuaded to take overflow passengers.
While the bus had 50 seats, we usually had about 53 passengers. People cuddled up close, sat on the floor, took turns standing – a few of the younger, smaller ones were put to sleep in the overhead racks. Jan Todd, who eventually grew into a lean and saturnine young god, used to be carefully bedded down up there by Bob and Margie Wright of Court. I remember him as a tiny, cold-eyed little boy in a blanket, scowling and demanding people Shut Up. They did, too; for a while, anyway.
This herd of cats was run by whoever The Office had placed in charge – the Bus Daddy (or Mommy), whose business it was to make sure all the necessary people made it to the Faire. When I started riding The Bus, that was Terry Collier, the dread and ferocious Manager of Main Stage: he was used to getting actors where they needed to be, and suffered no fools. When he retired, the job went – for reasons I have never understood, but I must have pissed off some god – to me.
For Kage, it was a goldmine of inspiration. It was the one bus she loved. It was full of her own people, after all. It rapidly became full of the first of the people in her head, too. Her long habit of storytelling on the road began there.
More on that tomorrow.