Kage Baker dearly loved the city of San Francisco. She never lived there – in that she never inhabited any structure in the city (except, from time to time, the Cow Palace …) – but she experienced a great deal of her life there. As it were.
It had been an important city to Daddy, in his youth; he took Kage there once when she was 4 or 5, on a trip. Just the two of them; Kage was never sure why, and so I don’t really know why a young husband and father went to that great Babylon By the Bay with his toddler daughter in tow … I only know they had a great time, and Kage spent the rest of her life trying to re-locate landscapes from that trip. She had a remarkable success rate, too, based (I think) on a combination of memorized geographic coordinates and knee-level eidetic memories of assorted building fronts … this is just a guess on my part, though, based on driving by lots of places on impossibly slanted streets, with Kage hanging out the passenger side window yelling, “That’s where Daddy was a car salesman!”
One torrentially raining afternoon, we drove around the hills South of Lombard Street (a very interesting place to go up and down streets, rather like test-driving an Escher print) while Kage looked for a place Daddy had lived. She’d seen a small black and white photo of it once; in a rare instance of locating source material, she actually had it with her. And we found it! At least, we got close – close enough to see the address numbers and know it was, indeed, The Place. Kage was half out the window, rain soaking her hair and running down her braid like a waterfall, as I tried to get the car closer – but the tidal surge of the water rushing downhill by the curb caught us, and literally swept our tiny car halfway down the block … in the rear view mirror, it looked like a definite possibility we were going to be swept right across Lombard and Chestnut and the Marina and straight into the Bay. I was screaming like a banshee by the time I got the car under control and the spectre of Alcatraz diminished behind us.
Kage was exultant.
“We found it, we found it!” she chanted, bouncing up and down in her seat like that 4-year old. “I want a drink to celebrate!”
“You maniac! We nearly ended up in the Bay!” I screamed at her.
“Oh, screw you, we’d have stuck on the lawns down in the Marina,” said Kage imperturbably.
Which was true – there’s a whole wide park there – so I calmed down and we drove out to Cliff House for Irish coffees. They make wonderful ones there.
Even when we not doing anything in the City herself, Kage liked to drive through it. Most of our routes between Pismo Beach and Vallejo, or Los Angeles and Novato, or just here and there on an open-ended jaunt, were designed to at least take us through San Francisco. Kage just liked to breathe the air and bask in the glassy vistas. Well-meaning friends were always giving us shortcuts, unaware that the actual point of our eccentric routes was to swing through the Mission District and end up going east on the Bay Bridge so as to catch the lights of the Embarcadero at just the right time …
Even when we stayed in nearby towns – for Faires, usually – Kage liked to check up on the night life in San Francisco. We seldom got there, and never on a Faire night – we were the walking dead on Saturday nights during Faires – but she liked to see what was happening. For years at the Faire in Novato, one of our troupe members would bring in the Sunday Chronicle every week; Kage would sit under the great buckeye tree, sipping coffee and happily reading the Pink Pages. Those are the Entertainement supplement, giving all the plays and movies and art riots scheduled for the next week.
What Kage loved most about the Pink Pages was their rating system – not stars, not thumbs up or down, but The Little Man cartoons. These were a sketches of a prim little fellow with a bowler hat, whose posture in his theatre seat indicated how good the show was. The poses ranged from an empty seat – too bad to go see – to an ecstatic little man leaping up and down in his seat and about to smoosh his bowler into happy mush. That was Kage’s favourite. An amusing interpretation of it can be found here; I saw it on the excellent BoingBoing site this morning:
I will be in San Francisco next month, from the 9th to the 12th – going to SF in SF, a wonderful monthly series of readings hosted by the splendid Terry Bisson. You can find out all about it here: http://www.sfinsf.org/, including the important fact that all proceeds go to the Variety Children’s Charity. And you may take my word for it, Dear Readers, that it is a splendid event. With a bar.
I’ll also be going to the anniversary party of the esteemed Tachyon Press, with whose noble publisher – Jacob Weisman, may his tribe increase! – I just concluded a phone call regarding his release of Kage’s silent movie reviews. Jacob hopes to debut the volume at the September 13th party. Sooo … I had better go and work on the 500 word forward I just promised Jacob. By tomorrow.
The Little Man is definitely jumping up and down now!