Something In Train (I Hope)

Kage Baker loved to travel. Not just to get somewhere, but for the sheer joy of movement. She loved the road, she loved the landscape going by at eye level and in arm’s reach, right outside the window. She was a born passenger.

All she needed to keep her happy in her seat were a good view, good music, and occasional snacks. Everything else to entertain her was generated by the interaction of those few items and her own mind. Maps, if available, constituted a condiment to the feast, but were not necessary. When we got lost, Kage could always get us back on a road to our own dimension by sighting in on prophetic flocks of birds and landmarks.

Most of her travelling was done by car. We couldn’t afford anything else, usually. She would have dearly loved to wander up and down the coast by boat, but we couldn’t afford so much as a dingy and neither of us ever learned how to sail: though I’m sure she would have been good at it. (I’m sure I would have fallen overboard with alarming regularity, too.)

She hated flying. When we absolutely had to, of course, she did it – as long as she had a couple shots of rum and a window seat, all was well. The view out the window wasn’t frightening for her; the actual height at which a plane flies was utterly unreal to Kage. But being able to see the clouds and the land below actually made her feel better about spending several hours in what was, basically, a sub-standard bus …

What she longed to do – and what we only got around to once or twice, briefly – was to travel by train. She’d gone to San Francisco twice as a very small girl – once with both parents, once just with Dad. Both trips lived in her memory as expeditions of glory and delight. Sleeper cars were, to Kage, the veritable pinnacle of luxury; dining cars were incarnations of the Brown Derby and the Cocoanut Grove. And dome cars were on  a par with flying carpets. She used that fascination in the story “Her Father’s Eyes”.

That story was itself conceived on a train. We were taking the train home to Pismo from Los Angeles, because just before Christmas I had been in a car accident and broke several ribs and the car. Consequently, we were journeying back and forth on the Pacific Surfliner; first class, replete with windows and cocktails.  As we passed the various small towns on the Central Coast, Kage speculated on their histories (which she knew, of course) and made up mysteries to enliven their tiny lives … and when we passed lovely, weird little Summerland, Kage mused aloud: “What would the train station be like in a town called Summerland?”

“I don’t know. Make one up,”  said I churlishly. (The sway of a train, while wonderful, loses some pleasure when you have 3 broken ribs.)

And so Kage did. Oak trees, she decided, would overhang it; it would be bare undecorated wood, with iron railings painted black and brass. No taxis, ever; no estate wagons – just long, low, shining limousines and touring cars, with elegant white-faced people driving them. And there a strange little girl would meet a strange little boy, both of them being towed along by negligent parents.

This is where Kage came up with the idea that the modern Fae drive expensive cars and are The Beautiful People – though they still steal children, and pay the occasional tithe to Hell. As far as I know, Summerland did not then and does not now boast a train station. Though it’s in a oak grove if it’s there at all, I bet.

Anyway. Kage loved trains, and never got to ride in them enough to please herself.

The point of all this – or one of them, anyway – is that I have recently been made aware of Amtrak’s intention of starting a Residency Program. (Thank you, Mark Shanks!) It is intended to foster creative people, especially writers, by giving them free train rides to places. Amtrak promises a round trip, 2 to 5 days on the rails, with a berth in a sleeping car plus a desk and a window … they’re hoping for some wonderful copy in return, of course, and in order to ensure that they are requesting applications from writers with a media presence.

I’ve applied. I gave Amtrak my email, my blog URL, my Facebook page; and I actually broke down and joined Twitter. Which I am slowly figuring out how to use – my natural verbosity is against me, here, but I’m trying. I even have two followers already, neither of whom are at all familiar to me; I suspect they are the sort of media remoras who just attach to anything. I myself am following Scientific American, NASA and Stephen Colbert – baby steps there, but I had to start somewhere.

And beginning today – if I did this right – this blog will also post to Twitter. Or notice of it will, or something. I mean, 140 characters? Can you imagine my long-winded perorations as a Tweet?

Anyway, my handle is MaterKathleen. I would appreciate it, Dear Readers, if any of you who notice these things could let me know if notice of my blog actually posts.

And if I get a residency, I shall write and post madly from wherever they send me. And I will try to watch everything I pass through Kage’s eyes.