Kage Baker, as I have often observed, was a born tourist. She was a happy spectator in the world, any and all of it, constantly seeking new things to witness.
She loved to watch things, especially through the windows of a moving vehicle. Somehow, roads moving past a window was her most favoured venue of observation. Kage was fonder than a Labrador retriever of rides in the car; and like a dog in a cartoon, she would hang her head out the window as far as she could to drink in the landscape and wind.
I’ve no idea why she never fell out – her parents apparently relied on the crush of small kids in the family cars to keep Kage in place when she was little. Seat belts didn’t come along until we were in our teen years; and anyway, Kage always unfastened hers when she wanted to lean out and get closer to something. Like a burning hillside beside the road, or a feral cow, or the spray from a seasonal waterfall alongside the narrow cliffside ribbon on Highway 1. As an adult, she usually rode shotgun, and there was really nothing to keep her in place unless I put out a panicked arm and grabbed her braid …
But she so loved traveling in the car: exploring roads and old roads and ex-roads and game trails that might once have been roads. My threatening to refuse to take her anywhere unless she promised to stay inside the car worked often enough to keep her alive. She never actually fell out while the car was moving at speed. It was a near thing a few times, though.
Kage was so enamoured of the atmosphere of The Road that she liked to drive with the windows open, too. Mind you, in our youth we didn’t have cars with adequate (read: any) amenities like air conditioning – it was 4/80 cooling for us, which means roll down all 4 windows and drive 80 miles an hour. This works pretty well, except when it’s raining or there’s a gale blowing or it’s freezing cold. It works pretty well then, too, really – it helps keep you awake. And if your windshield wipers also don’t work real well, then driving at speed will clear the water from the glass better than a squeegee.
This is also handy when your electrical system is so compromised that you can’t turn on too many things at once – like, adding windshield wipers to the load of head lights and radio makes the alternator light pulse on the dashboard like the green heartbeat of Cthulhu. And we had to have the radio on. Kage couldn’t travel without music.
Windows were also very important, obviously. It took a lot of experimenting and research before we bought cars with any sort of window tinting, at least on the front. Kage didn’t want colours compromised or views blurred. You think it doesn’t matter? Oh, you are so wrong, Dear Readers! Kage had hated the primitive blued tinting of the vehicles our parents drove; she didn’t get reconciled until some of the new sunscreen coatings came along in our adulthood. Our first few cars had NO tinting, quite deliberately. And polarization was right out.
Her favourite vehicle of all time was the Dome Car on the Southern Pacific railroad lines between Los Angeles and San Francisco and San Diego. Those were the absolute epitome of comfort, elegance, visibility and technology, for Kage. The sleeper cars on the overnight Coast Starlight came in a close second; but she’d have ridden sitting up the whole way to the Canadian border if she’d been offered the chance in a Dome Car.
The story “Her Father’s Eyes” is, in part, a testimonial to the magic of the Dome Cars. Most of the action takes place on one, and so magical are those carriages that the Fair Folk themselves travel on them. It’s a faerie Lord and Lady and their little changeling boy that the heroine of the story meets as she rides the Dome Cars with her own, mortal parents; it’s her father’s gunslinger eyes, which she has inherited, that allow her to see them for what they are. Part of that story is also baby Kage, riding the night time trains on her way to the mysteries of San Francisco, on a trip that would haunt her for the rest of her life.
Summerland, where the Dome Cars stopped to allow access to the Sidhe, does not, and has never actually had, a train station …
Except, as we passed it one cold December night on the train, it did. Kage described it to me as we passed it: the fresh-painted wooden arches of green and gilt designs, covering the smooth stone benches for waiting passengers; the dark grey slate roof tiles. The arches of oak trees that lined the single line of tracks heading off on private siding into the hills beyond, and the long, shining, expensive automobiles that came to deliver and pick up travelers.
All because she idly wondered, as we passed Summerland that night, “What kind of story happens here?” and I said, ‘Trains stop where there has never been a train station. Who gets on?” And Kage answered, “Faeries.”
Life on the road with Kage. I miss it, Dear Readers. I miss it more than day’s telling.
I rode the Burlington Zephyr from Chicago to Stockton (then overland to Lodi). Those dome cars . . . They led through enchanted lands, to be sure.
That must have been grand.
I lived in Summerland for 3 years…The city was originally settled by carney mystics & crystal ball readers. The original Big Yellow House is there, and is reputed to be haunted. From these & other scary tales, the city was nicknamed “spookville”. It’s a wonderful city (or was before modern expansion set in). Any story in, around, or about Summerland would be wonderful. Glad to know you & Kage felt the vibes.
We loved the place, and went to the Big Yellow House whenever possible. Best pork chops on the coast! The lemon meringue pie was great, too. And the carved eucalyptus panels in the front parlour are just amazing – one of the few memorials to the vanished Central Coast eucalyptus industry, that left a eukie forest on the Point Conception peninsula as the largest eucalyptus stand outside Australia … in case you didn’t know that.
And yeah, it’s haunted. Whatever you choose to think that means, the Big Yellow House is it.