Driven thru perdition

Cover photograph by Jonathan Reilly

The first half of this decade had more than its share of rough patches for me, most of them centered around my parents’ declining health. My father had a stroke in 2011, which sped my mother’s decline into terminal alcoholism. We finally lost them five weeks apart, first Mom and then Dad, in the spring of 2014. Following that were all the minutiae and enormous chores my siblings and I had to deal with, especially the care, maintenance, emptying and eventual sale of our family’s home. We eventually got through it and are in many ways stronger for it, but there was no shortage of sturm and drang involved in getting to this point.

Plus driving: repeated 500 mile round trips in the midst of all that stress and brouhaha.

Thank God for The Thrilling Adventure Hour.

By the time we got to the period leading up to the house’s sale, my husband Andy[^1] and I had listened to our road mix playlists so many times they were stale. He suggested we try some of the serial podcasts our friends were raving about. One of them was The Thrilling Adventure Hour. I was somewhat dubious based on some of the descriptions my friends had offered for the show, but Welcome to Night Vale was hitting one of its particularly creepy points and I wanted to hear something different.

And then the theme song to “Sparks Nevada, Marshall on Mars” began and my jaw dropped. We listened all the way through to “Beyond Belief” and I asked if we had any more episodes.

I think from that point on I sang along to the Sparks Nevada theme song every single time. Frank and Sadie Doyle spoke to my inner Evil Genius mixologist and party host. I goggled inwardly as the sad saga of the Butatino family played out through the Butatino Business sponsorship messages. I whooped every time Amelia Earhart saved history flying through the timestream in her Lockheed Elektra. And I hooted as dimwitted Captain Laserbeam saved the day anyway, thanks to (and in spite of) the Adventurekateers.

We saved up and devoured every episode on our further road trips, even after the sale was closed on the house, for drives south to Gallifrey One, San Jose in 2018 and then Worldcon 76 promotional trips. I was quite sad when we finally hit the final episode, but I was arguably a lot saner. On reflection, one of the reasons is that in so many of the stories, wrapped in all the snark and silliness, love and kindness are the remedy, the lifeline, the strength to persevere through peril and woe. Maybe we all need to hear that message occasionally, especially if it’s wrapped in a lot of very clever camp… with a catchy theme song.

I’ll never be embarrassed to shine my astro spurs, don my robot fists, and join in the chorus:

When there’s varmints need a’ catching
And young ‘uns need a’ saving
On my rocket steed I race across the stars
For I’ve sworn by the burrs of my astro spurs
to right the outlaw wrongs on Mars
(Yes he rights the outlaw wrongs on Mars!)

Oh the hypercattle’s humming
And the Marjun’s savage drumming
Are as beautiful as comet bugs in jars
Oh I’m from Earth!
But I right the outlaw wrongs on Mars
(Yes he rights the outlaw wrongs on Mars!)

On the plains of the red planet I uphold the law
And I do it with a pair of robot fists

Evil extermination I have faced
For my robot rogues they hardly ever miss!
(Hardly ever miss!)

And I reckon I’ll be riding
In the name of truth and justice
For as long as I can count the shooting stars
For I’ve sworn by the burrs of my astro spurs
To right the outlaw wrongs on Mars
(Yes he rights the outlaw wrongs on Mars!)

Maybe, if the planets align, we can sing it together…

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