Kage Baker was a professional passenger. Partly this was because she couldn’t drive. Partly it was because she paid attention to the scenery. In fact, she paid so much attention to the scenery that it was a highly moral decision on her part to not learn to drive: it doubtless saved countless lives.
Besides, all that staring out the windows (all of them, all the time) led to Ideas. She was an acute observer of details, and perfected the art of really seeing oddities we would pass on the road. Then she’d tell me about them. Then she’d speculate on what they were, or meant, or did when no one was looking. Stories were born of this.
I-5 was a fertile source of these ideas, because it is one weird road. Even though she hadn’t driven it, when she died, for more than 20 years, it had stayed in her mind as a source. Now I am driving it, and I remember everything we saw – I remember how to look, and how to notice, and I guess at what Kage would have noticed. Not as much (because I am driving the car) but enough to entertain myself.
Today I made the drive alone. My usual companions of nephew and parrot stayed in Los Angeles, so I had nothing to amuse myself but what I could see. And what I could imagine reporting to Kage.
For instance, the trees around Lost Hills appear to have been painted orange. Elsewhere the fall foliage has turned gold and scarlet; the willow trees are silver-gilt, the cottonwoods bright yellow. But in Lost Hills – they are freaking orange. I don’t stop in Lost Hills due to conflicts with its moral atmosphere – one dark night returning from a Renaissance Faire, I found a hare’s head impaled on a gas pump handle … the orange trees make one wonder agsain: What is leaching out of the ground there?
Just north of Kettleman City, a row of seven bulls was walking along the highway, nose to tail, placid as a line of cows. They were, however, extravagantly bulls, which was especially obvious in the rear view mirror. What made it odd was that they were all filing past a standing fan in a field – an ordinary, living room fan. The wind was rotating the fans in a blur: at least, I think it was the wind. Maybe it was plugged into a tumbleweed.
I saw a field evidently planted in Russian thistle- rows of tumbleweeds, all growing in tidy furrows deliberately ploughed into the earth. Who grows tumbleweeds? Why?
I saw a field of harvested cotton, with a wall of several huge bales neatly lined up at the side: all burning. They were each larger than my car, and burning merrily in total solitude. I suspect the shepherds from over on Highway 1 were involved …
Near Gustine, someone is putting up Burma Shave-style signs in their orchards. They extol the health benefits of eating citrus fruit.
Someone had TP’d the freeway overpass at Highway 41. That’s a heck of a lot of toilet paper. The kids around there clearly do not have enough to do.
I saw a tanker truck that claimed to be full of coffee (the second one I have seen, by the way): not coffee beans but actual, hot coffee. I saw another that claimed to full of barbecue sauce. I passed a cattle truck – frequent sights on I-5, but this one had its back open and was clearly stacked roof high with … eggs. Cardboard flats of eggs. Genetic engineering must be making great strides.
The soundtrack to this excursion beyond the Fields We Know was the Beatles’ White Album. Not to everyone’s taste, I know; a friend of mine, Mr. Scrymgeour (not the Minister of Magic; the real one) quite hates them. But the White Album is different, Scotty, it really is – it starts out normal but then segues through demonic rock and roll into dementia of the purest ray serene. It does things to my ductless glands and punts my brain off at a tangent 90 degrees from everything else. Really, man – it’s drugs from the gods.
Is it wise, is it proper? Is it even good music? I don’t know. I only know that while I was listening to it and seeing odd things by the road – I was 20 years old again, singing in banshee harmony with Kage Baker, and that highway was the Road of Dreams.
Tomorrow: decorating the Parlour