Kage Baker’s favourite season to travel I-5 was the summer. Not only were the days long – reducing the time spent in the dark on that strangest of all roads – but it’s the season for fresh fruit. She could reasonably expect to live on fresh local cherries during any given day’s drive.
When we did have to drive in the dark, which we commonly did during Renaissance Faire season, the air was still sweet with the perfumes of orchards and fields all the way. We would drive through curtains of scent – cherries, melons, corn, peppers, celery – like a labyrinth of perfumed gauze. It made even fast food burgers taste exotic.
By night, though, one saw terribly weird things off to the sides of the road. Of course, you see things by day, too … but they are admittedly slightly more alarming in the dark.
I drove up today, leaving Los Angeles on a mild, sweet morning and gaining about a degree of heat for every fifty miles I went North. But the morning moon was blazoned on the Western sky as I climbed the Grapevine, which was gorgeous – even though by the time I roared down the Grapevine again on to the flats of the central valley, it was 96 degrees (at 10 AM) and the hills were burned as bone-white as the transparent moon.
But the corn is leaping up tall in every other field! Peppers are showing like sparks amid their own rows; tomatoes are everywhere! Really. Everywhere. The trucks that haul them don’t use tarps, and the road has a thin red line of feral, squashed tomatoes for 300 miles. You can’t pull on to the verge without stepping in catsup.
And there is a new transport company loose on the road, that I have never seen before: The California Carrot Express. Its truck is all painted with ginormous winged carrots, frisking about on the panels. Although that’s not what they look like as you approach from a distance. It’s cheerfully phallic, if a bit startling.
But the I-5 had stranger things to offer me than even that today.
Around Buttonwillow, CalTrans has closed the right lane for about 50 miles to dig up half the road. The reason is not clear, but it means the traffic in the one Northbound lane was incredibly thick and making about 20 miles per hour. However … that mean I was driving very slowly behind the Carrot Express truck when I glanced into the roadside field and saw … a chupacabra.
To be more factual: I saw a bone-thin, hairless animal like a coyote with a whippet’s tail – no fur anywhere. And it was dark slate blue. It was just standing there amid last year’s tumbleweeds, panting in an amiable way as it watched the traffic crawl by. What it had to be, of course, was a coyote afflicted with super-mange. At least that’s what it is presumed these bald blue chupacabras really are …
But I saw one! Right there by I-5! It made the jammed traffic totally worth it.
And so I offer it on to you, Dear Readers, as a sort of visual bouquet from I-5. If not the Mother Road (that’s Route 66), it surely is the Crazy Auntie of Roads. At least, it sure was today.