Kage Baker, enthusiastic traveller though she was, was ever in fear of something going wrong on the I-5. That road is so long, so frequently empty, passes through so much utter nothingness and active weirdness – breaking down anywhere else is a piece of cake. Or a fried pie from a conveniently located gas station snack store.
On the 5, you are more likely to be contemplating a meal of unidentifiable road kill. Kage used to speculate on whether or not one could make an acceptable Brunswick stew out of flat, sun-jerked squirrel and the pounds of vegetable that fell off trucks – it’s not at all uncommon to pass ex-squirrels so fresh their tails are still waving jauntily in the back wash from passing cars, plus tomatoes, potatoes, onions, carrots and pistachio nuts: all in the space of a mile or so.
I saw just this familiar display on my way up to the Bay area last Monday. Fortified as I was with chocolate-covered raisins and Sour Cream Pringles , I was able to resist.
It’s the views along that Road to Weirdness, Kage said, that make the perilous trips really worth it. There is such a plenitide of strange sights along the way! Classic cars in long, silent convoys along the road: those were one of Kage’s favourites; she said the Fey rode in them. I followed a pod of eight Model A;s in shining factory condition for miles and miles at one point: two by two in the paired lanes, thus preventing the present from sneaking up on them from behind; we had to tootle along in their wake and wonder where they were all going. They peeled off near Patterson’s Landing, and disappeared into the yellow hills.
Another pod of cars was sleek modern white vans. All the windows were darkened. All the front seats had pairs of guys in identical polo shirts and dark glasses. I always think I am passing some Black Ops on a field trip when I encounter one of these. It’s tremendously creepy when they turn their heads in unison to look at you as they pass … I lost them somewhere near the anonymous, electric-fenced, mysterious-vapour-emitting plant on Fink Road.
I also passed a place where a single haybale was sitting by the road. Hanging on the fence beside it was a ribboned flower wreath; next to it was an aluminum beer keg – American Sankey heads, I think. I figure the whole thing was a migrating seed pod for a Renaissance Faire. Soon a fiddler would appear on the bale, then a quartet of Morris Men and a couple of gypsies. And by it’s too late to stop the infestation; you’ll need tractors and men with ferrets to roust them out.
Still, nowhere in all this bizarre splendour did my valiant Cruiser so much as falter. Even when the autocidal tree branch yanked off my fender and grille in Novato! No, all delays were reserved for my trip home yestreday.
Leaving from Santa Clara, I was determined to take the 5 home, rather than the closer and more inhabited Highway 101 – I wanted to avoid those bottlenecks that occur on the curves of 101, and I wanted to be alone.Kage was much on my mind, after all that time at a Convention … and the I-5 is a great place to be alone. Wonderful Neassa – who was my entourage all weekend, and very good at it she was – gave me precise direction on how to find the roads to the I-5.
So, I promptly turned the wrong way at the very first intersection and soon found I was headed to San Jose. I drove around in huge circles for about an hour before I suddenly remembered a piece of advise Kage had given me. We were on our way to meet her surgeon, in the last summer of her life; she gestured at the hills to the East and said: “Listen, if you ever have to do this by yourself, keep your eye on your compass and remember: the golden hills to the East are the way out.”
Naturally, I laughed – assuming I would always have the exquisite machinery in Kage’s head to guide me. Well, I was wrong, wasn’t I? But that fairy-tale advice finally surfaced in my brain yestreday. And that was what finally got me out of the Celtic knot of roads that embroider the edges of San Francisco Bay. I was crying when I finally zoomed down onto the 580, through the well-loved hills of Livermore; crying for relief, and joy, and missing Kage so much more than my poor shattered chrome grill.
Remember: the golden hills to the East are the way out.
I’m so sorry for your distress, Kathleen.
But this – ” . . . keep your eye on your compass and remember: the golden hills to the East are the way out.” That’s the beginning of your next short story.
Would have liked to come and visited with you but alas it was not to be oweing to the whim of a soon to be 9 yr old. Glad you made it home.
I like the advice
Thank you, Tom. Thank you a lot!
Mike – far be it from me to interfere with the Imperial Daughter!
I suspect that the beribboned wreath was a rembrance of someone lost in a crash at the spot. As for the keg…maybe a commentary on the cause of the crash? No clue regarding the bale of hay.
I really don’t like the 5, and I won’t drive it unless I have no other choice. Not that I’m over-fond of the 99, either, but that is mostly because familiarity breeds contempt, I suspect. I’ve been traveling 99 since the age of six weeks, according to family lore, and I currently live just down the street from the portion of it that runs through my town, so it’s a bit difficult to avoid.
Elaine – possibly it was a memorial, but it didn’t look like a funeral wreath. It looked exactly like the kind of intended-to-be-worn on the head wreath with brightly dyed flowers and a long trailing tail of ribbons that have been sold at Renaissance Faires since time immemorial. Which is what struck me as odd.
I myself find the 99 intimidating, and actually enjoy the 5. I suppose it all depends on what you’re used to! Quite by accident, I have a lot of good – if hair-raising – memories along I-5.
Thanks for a great trip report. I’m glad to hear that Kage’s words from Beyond fetched you out of the SF area maze.
Even from Beyond, Margaret, Kage has a Way With Words.
You’ve done it again – I laughed so hard the cats fled in fear, at the Ren Faire seed, and pictures of men in tractors with ferrets to get rid of the Morris Men and flower wreaths that have taken hold along an unclaimed spot on the 5, and then felt my heart clench picturing your driving in circles remembering Kage. You paint such poignant pictures. Paint on, Kathleen!
Thanks, Jane. I’m still at the fingerpainting stage, but that first one will be up on the teacher’s display board come October!