Summer Solstice, With Flames and Old Cars

Kage Baker felt Summer was the season for fancy paint jobs on cars. She was an enormous fan and dedicated connoisseuse.

She especially adored the flames that are painted on to peel back from the engines of cars – beautiful pale flames, twisting and delicate as scarves. Ghost flames, in pale icy blues and whites, were her favourites. She said they made it look like the car was running on a nuclear generator.

She also liked cars painted like the old mansions and row houses in San Francisco: the Painted Lady effect, with layers and shapes like dragon scales. On a vintage car like a Devaux Coupe or a Durant, she said it made them look like elegant hallucinations. She also liked the very modern paramagnetic or chameleon colour-changing paints – they made even the dullest Toyota or Ford look fascinating. She’d hang out the car windows like a werewolf in mid change, red hair flying and screams of delight echoing as she tracked some car through a full spectrum change.

Car shows were an all day event for us. Pismo Beach held a couple of good ones every year, and Kage paced through the entire field in a trance of wonder. Usually with a green silk parasol over her head. I favoured pith helmets, with memsahib scarves fluttering.

I now own a PT Cruiser because it has bones like a 1939 Ford: Kage loved that. It’s black and silver – only because Kage’s innate love of pirates came to the fore, and she couldn’t bear to paint flames on it. It was her own Black Pearl.

Last weekend was Father’s Day, and car shows were rampant. It’s one of those weekends when gorgeous, fancy, unlikely cars are everywhere on the roads – because their proud owners are on their way to shows. Kage and I spent a lot of Fridays on the California roads ourselves, en route to various events – part of the fun of the road was seeing all those insanely preserved and decorated cars, right out in public with nasty little Toyotas and wanna-be nouveau royals like Lexuses.

And they will be out there now for the rest of the summer. Today is the Solstice, and for 3 months now every hot white road will lead to the Summer Country. The ghostly cities off I-5 will shine more brightly; the half-glimpsed strangers in passing expensive cars will be more gorgeous. It’s the season of beautiful cars, in California.

We were often on the road on Fridays and Mondays especially, when the exquisite Phantoms were out there (often literally), in convoys and sets and occasional singletons. Kage always claimed that when they zoomed by, she could catch the scents of champagne and gin and tonic: she figured they probably ran on those summer beverages. She also claimed that any one of them could be a faerie vehicle, since – in these modern times – that was how the Fair Folk travelled: in perfectly preserved antique cars, themselves adorned with silk scarves and perfect faint tans, and sunglasses as black and opaque and prism-reflecting as pools in deep caves …

You can find glimpses of them in her stories “Her Father’s Eyes” and “The Summer People”, as well as a few little hints here and there. She told stories about them at Faire, when it was late at night and we were gathered relaxing in the dark Innyard, wondering at just who the pale wanderers might be who drifted past our gates out of range of the flickering lanterns. She said they haunted I-5 for speed, and Highway 1 for privacy – Highway 1 has almost no lights or telephones, and no cell service either; it falls off the edge of the continent every other year or so. And when it does, beautiful old cars appear on the disconnected stretches of pavement, visiting between the gated canyons that open off the road at intervals. The drivers never look aside, their perfect pale noses in the air.

Friendlier fay haunt the roads, too. Some friends of ours were once rescued by an artichoke farmer when their car died somewhere around Santa Cruz on its way to Los Angeles. He drove a perfectly restored 1930’s truck, of course. The way they described him, he must have been a descendant of good old Farmer Maggot, except he sent them on their way with a trunk full of artichokes instead of mushrooms. And they could never find him again.

Another group of friends once ended up stranded in a walnut grove somewhere off the I-5, where the transmission of their car fell out into the ocean of leaves. They followed music – Santana, to be precise – to a tidy little house in the middle of the grove; where they found some nice people who drove them (in a nice old truck) to someplace with lights and human beings where they could get a tow truck and a mechanic. But they didn’t find the house again by daylight …

Today is the first day of Summer. It’s the season for bright pale flames and dancing in the streets; for journeying, and festivals, and meeting the Good People in the perfumed woods at night. This is the longest day and shortest night of the year – technically, we’re now falling into darkness, but it’s a long and deliciously dizzying process. No one will notice until the year reaches equilibrium again on the Equinox. Right now, it’s time to play forever. Summer, while you’re in it, never ends.

And so – a happy Solstice to you all, Dear Readers!




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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