You Can Take A Road Trip On A Cinder Cone, Too

Kage Baker liked a nice adventure on the road. By that, she meant a pleasant trip on a good road, with pretty views and frequent clean bathrooms; she liked to reach her ultimate destination in a timely fashion, and find it even nicer than she had anticipated.

She did not like trolls under bridges, sinkholes, plagues of locusts or other insects, feral cows, free-range evangelists or other untoward additions to the planned itinerary. She disliked mercurial weather unless her vehicle or room was weather-tight. She abhorred automotive eccentricities of any sort.

Of course, driving frequently on I-5, we couldn’t always avoid wandering hordes. On the other hand, years of experience gives you foresight – you don’t stop at gas stations with holes shot through their signs, or eat anywhere with “Road Kill” in its name. On the other other hand, sometimes all your fuzzy dice come up snake eyes. And yeah – 3 hands is utterly appropriate in such moments.

We left LA on time and in high spirits, Michael and I. We passed through the Grapevine at a good speed and with no difficulties, and began our long run up the Central Valley. The Valley, by  the way, is much greener than it has been in years; crops are flourishing, there are still wildflowers and verdant edges everywhere. The starlings are thick under the bridges, and the ravens and hawks are hunting everywhere. There are foals and calves. There are brimming reservoirs and aqueducts. It’s lovely and full of life.

However … somewhere past Buttonwillow, the back popped off my phone. This turned out to have been caused by the sudden unnatural swelling of its lithium battery – which Michael, in horror and commendable foresight, yanked out and consigned to the back seat lest it blow up in my pocket. This left us phoneless – not a big problem, except that we had promised regular calls to Kimberly on our progress North, and there are no pay phones left in the wild. Anywhere.

The A/C, which had just been topped up with refrigerant, failed to cool down. We resorted to 4/80 air conditioning: roll down all 4 windows and drive 80 miles per hour. This made the transmission act up again, however, so that every time it got too hot – which was whenever we slowed down and pulled off for gas – we suddenly had no 1st, 3rd or 5th gears.

When we got to San Francisco Airport – where we were due to stay at the Airport Marriott – we discovered that I had forgotten the directions, and that the Airport Marriott was actually some miles behind us to the South, in San Mateo. We drove back. We missed the exit, so we took the next one and went back North on surface streets … but you can’t get there from anywhere else in San Mateo. The streets on either side of the freeway do not connect – in order to get from the East side to the West side, you need to get on Highway 101 and get off an exactly the right off-ramp: one that dead ends in the parking lot of your hotel.

Otherwise, you dead end everywhere else. No streets run straight. Most vanish entirely after a few blocks. No one in gas stations will give you directions – really, they refused to tell us how to reach our hotel. I presume they were waiting for nightfall, in order to eat us. Ha! We found the one sensible clerk in San Mateo, and finally got a phone number for the hotel – then Michael heroically held the battery in my phone in place while he called the Marriott and finally figured out where they were.

We  finally made it to the hotel. We dragged our gear upstairs, where we found that Kimberly had packed us a bag of snacks that included almond M&Ms, Hershey’s Kisses, dried apricots, turkey jerky and graham crackers. Oh, frabjous day! Our lives were not only saved, but made worthwhile.

Then my laptop refused to work … but Michael figured out the problem, so that I am even now typing on it, Dear Readers. Neassa has arrived – scatheless, thank all the gods of going – and we have had a yummy dinner. We have secured our badges and my schedule. All members of the party are now disposed languidly around the room in postures of contentment.

I, for one, do not intend to leave this damned hotel until Monday afternoon, lest I fall through an inter-dimensional rift.

It’s not safe out there.  I think I’ll take the 101 home.

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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2 Responses to You Can Take A Road Trip On A Cinder Cone, Too

  1. Chris S says:

    I have encountered that Marriott and the particular ironly is that there are some great thrift stores serendipitously placed in the general vicinity but you can never find the hotel again if you do go out. Stay put!


  2. Jane says:

    Memorial Day Monday-yeah, I’d bet on the 101 being a better ride. But all the cars in CA will be on the road somewhere. Hope you get a new battery before you hit the road. Oh, and the fruit stands will be packed with cherries and apricots and plums! yum. Safe journey!


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