Art in the Fast Lane

by Andy Hooper

I have a slightly different perspective on Art Widner than most people do. Whenever I get to visit him in his legendary eight-sided home in Gualala, California, it's usually an afterthought to the real reason for the trip, because my parents have lived in Gualala too for the past four-plus years. When they told me they were moving there, I said, "Great! I know someone who lives there!"

It took me a while to convince them I was telling the truth. There aren't too many people in Gualala, after all, and saying that I knew someone who lived less than two miles from their house seemed pretty hard to believe.

This led, more or less, to one of my best Art Widner stories.

(I'd tell the story of the line-drive off his knee in El Paso, but at least two other writers have addressed it. But a quick point or two: We were playing on an ersatz diamond in the corner of a church parking lot, and the pitcher's lump-of-asphalt was only about 35 feet from the chunk of broken concrete where the batter stood. It's lucky he didn't take the drive off his head -- but had he been just five more feet away, I think he'd have fielded that ball cleanly. And of course Bill Bodden had a good time -- he hit a grand slam off me in the last inning to win the game. I still haven't forgotten, Bill.)

After the 1993 Worldcon in San Francisco, Carrie Root and I drove north along Highway One, for our first visit to my folks' new place in Gualala. Highway One is a real experience, able to induce both awe and nausea. Whenever you see a commercial that features a new car roaring along twisty roads blowing leaves in its path, odds are good that it was filmed on Highway One. Anyway, Carrie is a fine driver, and did what I thought was an excellent job of keeping a good rate of speed while negotiating those switchbacks and tight curves. But people accustomed to driving One are notorious for their ability to fly down those curves like Grand Prix drivers, and every now and then we had to pull over and let other drivers pass.

A little south of the intersection with the Sebastopol road, a little green car -- a Geo? -- moved up on our bumper and stuck there like a limpet. This guy really wanted to go bout ten miles per hour faster than we could, and his frustration was almost palpable. Eventually, Carrie decided she had to let him by, and slid off onto the shoulder. As he flew by, we got a look at the license plate, and knew it had to be Art. Who else could have a plate that proclaimed "YHOS"?

We sped up, and rode Art's bumper as closely as he had ridden ours. Carrie honked the horn. We both gesticulated that he should pull over, and flashed our turn signals until he finally pulled into a passing place. He got out of the car, looking ashen. then we got out, and a delicious look of relief came over his face. "Oh, it's YOU!," he exclaimed. "I was afraid you were some guy that didn't like being passed and was going to beat the daylights out of me! I was just hoping that when he saw I was over seventy, he'd decide it wasn't worth it!" We laughed a lot, and resolved to invite him to dinner (another recurring theme) over at my folks' place. Art agreed, and of course, charmed everyone in attendance. Then we all put on boxing gloves and Gertrude Stein broke my nose.

Now, I don't mean to say that Art is a dangerous driver, or seething with road rage. He just wants to get where he's going. All of his trips appear to be long ones (how many continents have you hit now, Art? Four? Five? Patagonia beckons -- say hi to Mae Strelkov for us!), and a guy has to keep moving to pack a family, a teaching career, ten plus years of fanac, forty years of gafia, and then twenty more years of fanac, into a mere eighty years. Among all the good Art Widner stories, I think it's important to keep track of the best Art Widner story, which is now entering its ninth decade. I hope he'll keep sending us new chapters for years to come.