Life On The Magic Bus
Chapter 8, Part 3: Across America At Random
The trip begins
Artwork is observed
Destination Sign: Gondor
It was 5:35 in the morning and all of the humans involved in the “Great Random Route Trip To GenCon” were standing on the beach looking out at the Pacific Ocean, the city of San Francisco behind them.
“Now remember, everyone, the exact routes we take from points whatever to whatever are purely up to you, except when there is no more than one choice or when a stopping point is off the interstate.” Phil Lacewood, kilt clad as always, paused to sip his tea. Doc picked up where Phil left off.
“Stopping time is 5:00 pm each day at whatever spot is randomly chosen. Starting times after today will always be 7:00 am, so we are doing 10 hour days. Each leg of the trip will have 3 points where you need to get a geek item. These are being set up now by our dedicated advance team, who left yesterday at 6:00 pm. Nobody knows exactly what the geeky items are, but their general locations will be well marked on your daily maps and the exact location will have a sign.”
“Everyone has a cell phone or other internet connection, so stay in touch.”, Phil said. “If you have trouble or find something cool we should know about, let everyone know. Okay, we’ve got sun up coming in about 5 minutes, so grab a couple more donuts and climb in your rigs. When the whistle blows, we’re off! Have fun and we’ll see you all at stop #1!”
There were 15 vehicles involved in the race, ranging from the Magic Bus to Phil’s heavily modified Saab wagon to a 1959 Cadillac Coupe DeVille to a Volkswagen bug. All of then held at least 2 people.
The drivers climbed into them and and a few minutes later, a young college student who had been paid $50 to start the race blew a very loud whistle. The race was on.
On the Magic Bus, Doc and Spike were in the cab and everyone else was either in the living room or still in bed. Both men had donuts and a hot drink. Their present route had them driving city streets until they got to the Bay Bridge. Along the way, they pointed out spots that they had visited in years gone by.
“There’s the Doggie Diner we ate at when Mary was pregnant with the twins”, Spike pointed out. “I think she ate more hot dogs on that trip than the previous year.”
Doc chuckled. “Yeah, pregnancy cravings will do that. When Grace was pregnant with Sam, we could not keep enough ice cream in the house for a while there. Then she switched over to thin sliced hard salami.”
They passed old game stores and restaurants and book stores, each one eliciting a memory or two. Eventually, they came to the bridge and not long after that, turned off onto city streets in the East Bay.
Somewhere about 90 minutes into the trip, as they were nearing Vallejo, Winker stepped into the cab.
“I’m taking breakfast orders. What will you two have?”
Spike went with a bowl of Cap’n Crunch and Doc opted for a steak & eggs breakfast burrito. Winker left and 15 minutes later a SmartBot arrived with their meals.
About 20 minutes later, while driving along a country road near Fairfield, they got a text from one of their fellow drivers saying there was a “field full of interesting artwork” up ahead. A few minutes later, Doc pulled up and everyone got off the Bus to have a look.
“Everything is made out of cans”, Sasha said as she went into the field for a better look.
True enough, each of the 6 statues was built entirely out of cans that had previously held food or drink. The largest was 15 feet tall and was a man in the middle of a golf swing. A 12 foot tall woman stood nearby in an ice skating pose. Three 7 foot tall kids playing baseball were about 50 feet away and the whole tableau was finished by a 6 foot long dog leaping to catch a Frisbee.
“ Very sporty”, Grace observed. “I wonder if it was done for the Sacramento Winter Olympics back in 1994?”
Doc was busy taking pictures. He was certain this was not on any Roadside attractions lists, and Roadside Attractions Monthly paid a hundred bucks for finding new stuff.
After a few more minutes, everyone got back into their vehicles and took off. Spike left the cab to go hang out in the living room and was soon replaced by Lulu. She and Doc chatted about various things until they were a few miles outside Dixon, where the first geeky items were. Doc popped open the door at the stop, which was right under a large hand painted sign about 60 feet off a short dead end side road. Lulu jumped out and grabbed one of the 6 inch plush 4 sided dice. As she got back on the Bus, everyone in the living room area cheered.
A bit later, after they had crossed into Sacramento via the I Street Bridge, Doc made a turn down an alley, leaving the 14 other cars behind. He knew that they were all planning on going out Auburn Boulevard until they got to Roseville. But Doc had been listening to the radio and knew that there was an accident on I-80, which would move traffic off to nearby surface streets. He would take a route down a slightly more distant street and avoid the slowdown.
Once the texts about slowing down started coming in, doc waited about 5 minutes, then texted everyone the route to use. He got back many texts, most of which went much like Phil’s text of “Thanks, you cunning bastard”. With a comfortable lead now his, Doc got back on Auburn Blvd and drove as fast as traffic would allow.
All things being equal, the drive from San Francisco to Reno, Nevada, usually takes about 4 hours or so. It had taken out intrepid races 6 hours, which included the stop at Donner Summit to get geeky item #2, a bottle of Jolt! Cola. All cars were now parked in the lot at the Peppermill Casino & Resort, where they would hit the buffet for the last joint lunch of the trip. After today, the rule was “grab lunch where ya can grab it!”.
An hour later, they were on the freeway heading to the next point where they could get off onto side roads. Doc chose to go north of the interstate for two reasons: a long straight stretch of gravel road and a nearly forgotten piece of roadside attraction history.
The First Cat Ranch West Of The Mississippi was, as it turned out, the only cat ranch anywhere. It seems that in the spring of 1897, a couple named Elom and Gussie Hork decided to settle down outside ?????, Nevada and “raise fancy cats to sell back East”. To feed the cats, they raised chickens. Unfortunately, the winter of 1898-1899 was pretty harsh and over the course of a month, bears and coyotes got all of the chickens. Deprived of food, the cats got…unruly. In May of 1869, the local sheriff came out to check on the ranch “cos them two wasn’t right in the head”. He found no trace of the Horks or the cats. The whole self guided tour took less than 15 minutes and cost nothing. Even Grace admitted that the little cat sized corrals and barns were kinda cute looking.
Geeky stop #3 was just west of Winnemucca and the item was an assortment of of convention t-shirts, please take only one. Doc chose an Origins 2001 shirt, mostly because that con had been in Sacramento and he and Spike had first discussed selling their company then.
At just before 5:00 PM, the last car in the race rolled into the Wendover Campground and RV Park in Wendover, Nevada. Conveniently located next to a casino, the racers all agreed that more buffet and some gambling might be in order. The day’s winner for the race were Chuck & Peter Hildreth, who had made great, if bone jarring, time across Nevada in a 1965 Ford Pickup belonging to Chuck. The Magic Bus came in third.
After a few hours of eating, drinking and general merrymaking, everyone went back to their campsites and got some sleep in preparation for Day #2.