Kage Baker was a great admirer of the surreal. I always suspected it was how she actually saw the world, at least out of one eye. Due to intermittent strabismus, she only ever saw out of one eye at a time. Both eyes worked, but since they seldom looked at the same place at the same time, her brain blocked one eye’s vision – usually the left one. When her left eye was looking straight ahead, it meant she was having a rare attack of binocularity. Or a migraine.
Riding The Bus may have been that rare atmosphere where it didn’t matter. Very strange scenes happened there.
I remember … walking back along the aisle after having discouraged some sociopath from opening his take-out dinner of kimchee. As I lurched from seat to seat, I found our one shawm player (brilliant and irreplaceable Darin) just fitting a noose around his neck: the other end was tied to the luggage rack.
ME: What the hell are you doing?
D (in apparent sincerity): My David Munrow imitation …
I remember … that Tim, the head of St. Blaise (the Cryers) brought his cat on The Bus one Friday. I’ve forgotten why, but Terry Collier was not pleased. Especially as he discovered it about 20 minutes out, at the base of the Grapevine.
Terry: And I suppose he’s gonna hold it in for the next 400 miles?
Tim: I swear to you, angels will come and take away his shit.
Maybe they did. I do remember the cat preferred Blackpoint, and lived at the Ben Johnson Stage for years afterward. Lots of animals traveled with us, often one way. Usually it was unhappy kittens in baskets, or uncomfortably lively rats. (Protip, kids – animals rarely make good props.) One Sunday, though, a lady Labrador retriever patiently brought her dozen puppies down to the Bus stop, one after the other. At least 6 of them came home to LA with us that night. Petstore Pandemonium!
I remember … Athene Mihilakis and Cheryl Gilnor standing in the aisle, giving the classic safety lecture on airline oxygen as we pulled out of LA, using someone’s gold brocade belt pouch for a mask. Five people spread out over two seats, all frantically sewing pearls on Athene’s sleeves: by the time we hit Blackpoint, it looked like it had been beaded by a spider on LSD. An improvised live action version of The Wizard of Oz, starring Scott Dodd as Dorothy and Athene as Glenda:
Scott: If all I had to do was click the damned shoes together, why did you make me go through all this?
Athene: Well, Dorothy, it gets pretty boring for us here in Oz …
I remember …the immortal Kevin Brown giving a dubious recap of the speeches of FDR, using an empty Coke can as a radio echo chamber (Today ….ssss – the forces of Imperial Japan … ssss – attacked my wife Eleanor …). Kevin recounting the adventures of the fiendish Angus McCreech and the Great Babby Drive. Kevin singing obscene versions of the Cowardly Lion’s songs from Oz (Oz was a perennial favourite with us). Kevin describing the cold, dark, swirling, shark-infested waters below the Richmond Bridge every damned time we crossed it: to a chorus of outraged yells and death threats from everyone else on board.
Costume Mistress Chris Zaida coaxing David Springhorn to wake up by dancing a sock-bunny on her hand across his nose.
Numerous people sitting on bananas, pies, freshly starched ruffs, bodhrans, fiddles, Orange Juliuses and – once and memorably – a McDonald’s bag with a hamster in it.
Morris Men playing hacky sack between the 18-wheelers thundering in and out of the Santa Nella truck stop. Me having to explain this behaviour to the 18-wheeler-drivers.
Getting shot in the head with a rubber band helicopter toy by Luisa (OMG the Queen!) Puig in a Burger King.
Watching Sandy Grinn steal a portrait of Colonel Sanders from a KFC in Castro Valley.
Some people almost died; a couple almost got born. Marriages were arranged, dissolved, sometimes consummated. Kage saw all this. And more. In, I think, several alternate dimensions. These people and their antics, their faces, their voices raised in songs both profane and exquisite, their youth, live forever in her mind. She did amazing things with some of them.
Tomorrow: where the stories started.