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Times have changed. Joe passed away in 1982, but not before receiving an award for 40 years of accident-free service when he retired from the Espee. The Daly City yards are mostly long gone. So is the Southern Pacific, eventually merged into its onetime competitor, the Union Pacific.

I don't even know if the trains go through there anymore.

The reason Robert and I were visiting was to show Ellison the Packard. He had purchased a different one, but it had proven not worth restoring, so Robert offered him the big limo instead. However, as it turned out later, the limo couldn’t make the tight turn into Ellison’s garage. However, I happened to have a restored 1947 standard-wheelbase Custom Eight that was just what he wanted, so I sold it to him. But that is another story.

Ellison generously offered us coffee in his 1940s chrome and red Formica breakfast area, which hangs out over a cliff, and has big plate glass windows and neon lighting that took us back to the coffee shops of our youth. He then showed us where he worked. It was the control bridge of a Flash Gordon space ship all done in bare sheetmetal and rivets, with Art Deco embellishments. Remarkably, he still used an old Underwood typewriter, though.

We then moved on to his “spirit room” which was small, round, domed and had little multi-colored lights embedded in the walls and ceiling. He used it to shut out interference from the mundane reality around him, because his own realm-the one he writes about with such brilliance-is much bigger and more intriguing than the one we see.

Ellison did not seem to be a car guy, so I initially wondered why he wanted a classic Packard. But then when I saw his home, I knew the answer. He bought a garage door opener with remotes. Turns out that to him, the old Custom Eight was a time machine. He could get into it, start it, smell the coolant, gasoline vapor and hot oil that wafted into old cars and be back in 1947.

He could easily conjure up men in doublebreasted suits with acres of lapel and huge padded shoulders. He could envision fedoras, and neckties that looked like slices of pizza. And he could see women with tiny silly hats perched nearly on their foreheads at crazy angles and netting over their faces.

 

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