Kage Baker loved having had adventures.
There was very little she liked more than having a good story to tell, and all our many adventures were eventually turned into stories. She told them at family dinners to make the nieces gasp and giggle. Others became vignettes in novels and stories; because, as Kage was fond of pointing out, Truth is not only stranger than Fiction, it’s a lot more amusing.
Our adventures on I-5 were an especially rich source of stories to tell. They were so rich, in fact, that one or two or three were initially rejected by editors as too absurd (Ha!). Also, they eventually left Kage with a deep and abiding dread of what could happen to us on that Highway Through The Twilight Zone. Luckily, an Orange Julius or a giant Foster’s Freeze chocolate malt usually settled her nerves.
Because, you see, she didn’t like having adventures. She liked them after they were done: when she’d found a clean bathroom and a cocktail with a glass rose on the swizzle stick, and an appreciative audience to hear the tale. Many’s the time I remember, as we staggered through some absurd disaster, her repeating through clenched teeth: “Well, this’ll make a great story … a great, great story …”
My plan last night was to leave Berkeley very early – or very late, depending on how you look at it – and drive through the cool night to make it to Los Angeles in time for a 10 AM doctor’s appointment. I like driving, and I like driving at night; and a run between the Bay and the Basin is simply fraught with nostalgia for me – I’ve spent so many Sunday nights racing hilariously through the Central Valley, crazy from a weekend at Faire. I can get home in any condition, through just about any disaster. I have.
Good thing, too. Armed with my usual snacks – Mentos and iced tea – I had the cruise control set at a Highway Patrol-safe 73 mph and was totally in the groove. Most of the traffic was trucks, most of which can be passed easily; you just watch them for sudden tire failures and amusing contents (a tanker full of a gazillion gallons of Circle K Polar Pop mix; another labelled “Live Trout”) and sail on singing to heart’s favourites like Oak, Ash and Thorn and Roberts & Barrand.
Then my transmission hiccoughed. I drive a stick shift, preferring the manual to the automatic; so when you pop out of 5th gear it’s a hands-on problem. I clutched, put it back, and went on. Then it did it again – and again. I’ve driven too many gradually dissolving cars to ignore a sign like this, so I reduced speed – which was handy when, around Panoche Road, I lost my 5th gear completely.
Well! Worse things can happen. They have. Electrical problems can be much, much more debilitating. All I had to do was plan how to avoid burning out what was left of my transmission, get over the Grapevine, and make it to Los Angeles in time.
I’ve driven over the Grapevine in so many different kinds of trouble … with hideously ill passengers. On flat tires and with strobing epileptic headlights. Towing VW vans twice the size of my car. Going uphill at 12 MPH because my fuel filter was clogged. Through flash floods pushing us gently across the lanes; through brush fires with Kage hanging out the window yelling in excitement at the flames, risking setting her hair on fire while I sped through like a maniac … around trucks with loads of steel pipes falling like jack straws, and chemical toilets bursting on the pavement like giant stink bombs.
As long as I could keep my speed up to 55 and stay in 4th gear, I knew I’d make it. And I did. It was very exciting, requiring a certain amount of cold concentration and anticipating the speeds of vehicles ahead of you – because if you lose momentum on the upward grade of the Grapevine, you will never, never get it back, and you will end up crawling over the crest like a wounded snail. But I dodged the labouring trucks, and the un-labelled black tour busses with mysterious darkened windows (Gummint men, obviously) and the civilians out too freaking late to pay attention to the traffic. I missed the car crash/brush fire just north of Lake Casistas because it was on the North-Bound side and I was on the South-bound: I just slid on past and into the welcome actinic glare of the Los Angeles Basin.
So I made it home in time to get to the doctor’s – where they had messed up my appointment, and set me up on a day when the doctor was not in. Whoopee! A wild drive through the night for absolutely nothing! But I made it. There am I happy.
And I got a re-schedule for Wednesday, and my transmission is under guarantee at AAMCO. And I have had another adventure despite my advancing age, and lived to tell the tale!
Kage would have hated to be there. But she’d have so enjoyed telling everyone about it.
And I can dig that.