Kage Baker loved Sunday drives.
When we were little, she adored going out for anything at all with Daddy or one of the many, many Uncles. If she couldn’t call shotgun, she at least got a window seat and made up stories about the inexplicable world rolling by outside. Strange creatures and entities would gallop, pace and fly alongside the car, telling her the tales of their peculiar lives and adventures. Some of them followed her all the way to the end of her life, and she shared most of their biographies with me along the way.
It never mattered that she (and a variety of younger siblings) might end up waiting in the car while Daddy bought paint, canvas and frames. Or while an impecunious Uncle pitched a little woo to some plump cocktail waitress while the kids waited in the car. The rewards might be only a roll of Lifesavers to be shared out among the crowd (Kage had perpetual dibs on the red ones), or an ice cream cone, or a Coke (never ice cream and soda, though, because floats made Anne throw up). Kage was always perfectly happy running down the battery listening to 50’s rock on the radio.
When we grew up, she and I contrived extravagant car picnics on our Sunday drives: delicatessen sandwiches, imported sodas and beers, noodle kugel and Chinese food. Jam tarts. All the ice cream cones we could eat.
By definition, Sunday drives were leisurely day trips; we usually had to be home for work on Monday, after all. But the day was still ours, and a holiday. There was almost nothing Kage liked better than to take off on a Sunday morning, armed with carefully selected inspirational music and some story ideas, and see how far we could get before we had to turn for home.
How far along the road, how far into the stories, how far through the music – it didn’t matter. It was all movement, all progress. Something would rise up fiery-winged from the friction of tires against road and word against word. There might be a meal and a few beers along the way, which would only improve our metaphysical traction along the highway to Ideas.
To improve our literal traction, I was pretty abstemious: one drink, maybe two, and at least an hour’s stop to metabolize before I got behind the wheel again. But Kage would often get very merry and relaxed indeed. It took an astonishing amount of alcohol to incapacitate her. She didn’t slur, or wobble, or repeat anecdotes ad nauseum; indeed, concerning nausea, she rarely even puked. With Kage, booze actually fed the fires of creation – up to the point of alcohol poisoning, she could wax poetic for hours.
Simply driving on Sunday, though, did not qualify as a Sunday drive. For up to 30 weekends a year, we’d be driving home on Sunday nights – from various Faires, with friends, family, extraordinary amounts of dust and hay and filthy clothes, and a parrot in a cage. Those were mad dashes and endurance runs; the idea was to get home before all the available drivers fell asleep or the car blew up. And we made it, usually. But aside from Kage telling me stories to keep me awake – at least, as long as she could keep her mouth moving – they bore no resemblance to the civilized glory of the Sunday drives. We were legging it for the border as fast we could go, through those Sunday nights, hoping the horses wouldn’t die in the traces.
No, the Sunday drives only happened in the off-seasons. We stayed clean. We ate in restaurants with cloth napkins and at least 2 forks – Kage’s minimum requirements for civilization. We bought souvenirs; Kage adored souvenirs, and would buy damn near anything to commemorate a pretty highway or an especially comfortable roadside bathroom.
The other thing we did on those drives was talk about the stories. Sunday drives were a major setting for brain-storming sessions. Sometimes we’d go out just to see if an idea could be conjured up as we sped along – Kage would just feel she needed to write, and so she had to find a plot. We’d drive until we found one showing us some leg at the side of the road, and then we’d take it home with us. Mendoza first appeared alongside I-5, in a simmering, seething copper sunset. Gard, the Dark Lord, ambushed us on Mulholland Drive at night, where Kage was most strangely inspired by eating almond chicken in the dark with a wooden spoon.
I’m not sure any more where Ermenwyr came from – he seems to have been around forever – but if any of Kage’s ideas would be found dropping trou at the side of Highway 1, it would be him … And God, I miss that. I always felt her characters were in the back seat, making smart ass remarks as Kage fulfilled her duty as their amanuensis. Nobody talks in the back seat now but Harry. And while I love him dearly and he’s nearly as rude as Ermenwyr, it’s not the same.
Only the writing comes close. So I’ll head back to that now, Dear Readers. My agent Linn wants to see a rewrite of a story I sent her last month, so it behooves me to fire up the hacking clunker of my brain, head North into the empty lands, and see how far I can get: before Sunday ends.
“Something would rise up fiery-winged from the friction of tires against road and word against word.” Ohhh, yes indeed. Whatever else happened to us, there was something about a long drive together that was restorative for Mary Lynn and me.
Song parodies were something we did a lot. Her musical education wasn’t great, so the idea of scansion in text and melody was something she worked hard to feel. We hammered and sawed while the miles ticked by. Eventually we had a few good ones.
It was always a surprise to Mary Lynn that I could be perfectly happy to do nothing more than roll down the road with her, enjoying the sights and smells and sounds and her company. The trips were not as epic or, ahem, driven as your Sunday night retreats from Faire, or the weird psychodelia along 5 you’ve described. But they were happy things. I’m glad you and Kage had similar strange and sweet times together.
0n Sunday drives, I’m usually the one being driven instead of the one doing the driving because I have no depth perception and my mind tends to wander, making me a sort of female Mister Magoo. One thing that intrigues me as I roll along in the passenger seat is The Mystery of the Solitary Shoe.
There is (surprisingly frequently) a single shoe to be seen lying forlornely on the side of the road. The shoe is almost always an adult size and appears to be brand new, or nearly so. It is often (but not always) a white sneaker. Occasionally it is a work boot or even a sandal, but white sneakers predominate. The Shoe turns up equally frequently beside busy highways and on quiet country lanes. It is never accompanied by any item that hints as to why it came to be there, like an empty liquor bottle or an article of clothing that would suggest an episode of frantic, alcohol-induced disrobing.
My husband dismisses The Shoe as the work of “kids,” but I suspect something more intriguing, like alien abduction or a very timid form of gang initiation in which the would-be gang member has to chuck one of his new sneakers out of a moving vehicle in order to prove his mettle.
Whatever is behind it, The Shoe keeps turning up.
Phantom shoes, yeah – they’re everywhere. I usually notice the little ones – which I imagine are from bored toddlers tossing things out the window. And in urban areas, of course, we have the nesting pairs hanging from the power lines.