Kage Baker had a mad on at Los Angeles for the last 20 years or so. It was the sort of grudge you can only hold against someone you love, someone whom you feel has let you down. Someone who has become something bad while somehow remaining, inexplicably, themselves.
A lot of it was due to Los Angeles’ determined fling with dystopia in the 1980’s and ’90’s. Everything old was being torn down. Green space was vanishing. Riots came back in fashion. We had to flee our office one day to avoid the fires marching up Western Avenue as the Rodney King protests turned to insanity – we spent 4 days holed up in the Hollywood Hills, trying not to notice our neighbors patrolling the streets with air rifles and Yorkies on leashes (I am serious); watching as the shops we had known since childhood were broken and burned … not fancy shops, either. But when the Hollywood Sears and Roebuck burned, Kage wept as for the death of an old friend. During those awful days, we couldn’t visit Momma, where she was dying of pancreatic cancer. The streets weren’t safe, and she forbade our going out. And when it was all over and life could have been expected to return to normal – Momma died.
That was the end for Kage. She was no longer on speaking terms with the city of our birth, and began to talk yearningly of leaving. And then, of course, just to make things really mythic, our employer downsized and fired everyone. Thus began our long, happy years on the road, in the car, in the oak woods, on the beach … nowhere else we lived pissed Kage off, so it was all grand. She said rude things about LA when we visited, and always ritually washed her hands of it when we would head back North.
And then Kage died. And the City of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels was waiting just beyond the southern horizon, as weird as ever but somehow comforting; a slightly blowsy goddess in deshabille, half the staff let go but still serving tea on the really good china … home again. I haven’t regretted a moment of my return.
Not even this morning, when I decided to drive to UCLA by taking Sunset – a moment of misplaced romanticism immediately swamped in insane traffic. On the good side, though, the traffic was so slow that one had plenty of time to observe the crowds, the cars, the buildings, the art, the movie shoots and construction messes and exotic vegetation – some of all and each of them seem to have dropped in from an alternate Universe, but it was so damned interesting!
It was fun to drive through the neighborhoods where Kage and I were children, teenagers, young women flirting endlessly with idiocy – how such a feckless pair as we were survived, I do not know. The Sunset Strip must have been a nicer place then … not as elegant, I think, but maybe safer. Or maybe we were just protected, like the dappled young of deer, by the fact that we were wandering in our native habitat. Morons we may have been (no, there’s no question, we really were) but we were blissfully invisible and knew all the hidden, secret forest paths …
Turns out I still know some of them. I managed to dodge half a dozen construction sites, tourist busses, crowds of gaping tourists, and all the Angelenos obliviously talking and texting while they drove (and occasionally getting pulled over, ha ha ha, I jeer at you as I drive by!) I remembered the side and back roads that skip one like a stone through the clogged freeways, and most of what I remembered was even still there!
Kage’s memory rode beside me, advising me where and when to turn (South! That means Right! A block ago!). She’s a smokeless flame now, a djinn from a bottle by the side of the Sepulveda Pass – one pearled opaque with decades of sunlight, grown over with the tiny sunflowers that smell of strawberry incense, with a faded ribbon from a Faire costume twined around its neck …