Yesterday we passed by Bakersfield High, Home of the Drillers. At 8 pm, it was 97 degrees outside. Seems like there ought to be a better name. Home of the Scorchers? Home of the Heat Waves?
Heading Out for Adventure
We are on a road trip once more, a real one that involves more than just driving up to Seattle to see my brother. We took the big car, the “fun car,” the one that holds lots of crap and still likes to go up hills. Her name is Scarlett O’Hara, but we always call her Fun Car. And we did load it up, cramming things under the seats and behind the suitcases. There are so many bottles of water that the car sloshes when we brake hard.
One minor casualty occurred ten minutes from the house. I pulled my favorite sunglasses out of their spot in the car and… tragedy!
But I rather believe that small bad luck leads to a good trip overall, so bon voyage us! Down we swoop through Central California, which is baking or marinating or searing, depending on which chef metaphor you want to use for drought and climate change. Far more dead orchards than I can remember in my youth. Lots of signs blaming the governor for stealing water and dumping it in the ocean. MORE DAMS! scream the signs. As if somehow damming the water further, because the water in the existing dams is low, would solve everything.
Anyway, we managed an uneventful drive without Cheetos. I am trying to go as far as possible without Cheetos.
This is the land of strip malls and criss-crossing freeways. No more bleak golden hills and instead just bleak dusty streets, sans greenery, with a Chinese buffet followed by a taqueria followed by a liquor store, lather, rinse, repeat. If you lived in the surrounding towns, Bakersfield is a big city, I suppose. For people touring, it is really a town to pass through.
If you really want to get a sense of a place, walk around on Sunday morning at 7 am. Farmer’s markets are bustling with the smell of fresh cut flowers and fruit. City streets feel extra-deserted. Try walking through New Orleans, Sunday morning, when the heat begins to rise, and they’re washing down the streets.
I often get up early from the motel to go for a walk while my traveling companion snoozes just a little more. In Bakersfield, I thought I’d be clever and drive to a nearby green space, a park. But that was where all the homeless people were sleeping, and it suddenly seemed bleaker than the strip mall byways. Around the corner, there was a row of cemeteries.
I went back to the motel and just walked up the street, past the dollar stores and Club Cubana. Bars on Sunday morning: especially deserted. The only people walking around either never went to bed or they had to get up early. Men with wiry arms loading trucks and women in uniforms waiting at bus stops to come clean motel rooms. Like the one I’m staying in.
Touring vs. Living
On the other hand, while I can feel smug about a town that I don’t live in, I sometimes wonder whether people feel that way about where I live. There’s not a lot of there there, and I like it. Not many fancy restaurants, just a lot of hills and a sprinkling of mobile home parks and storage facilities. We have our strip malls and our homeless, too.
You can also tell a lot about a place from their cemeteries, and the ones in Bakersfield were neat and full of flowers and decorations on the gravestones. People who cared about their dearly departed. There were a lot of fences around the yards, but there were plants inside the yards, some verdant with palm trees and others verdant with cactus. Different kind of watering in this land that has little water.
So passing through, we see little of what it is like to live there. They’re at the edge of Tehachapis, which was hot even at 9 am the next day, but picaresque. And last night we had the best fish tacos and grilled shrimp salad at a no-name taqueria. In fact, they seem to sell a lot of Birris and Mariscos here, with establishments on every corner (spiced goat? and seafood?)
Perhaps the Bakersfield High School mascot just needs to be a little more picturesque and less related to digging up fossil fuels. I vote for the Mariscos! Through the hills afterward, there were more windmills and far fewer derricks. What about the Bakersfield Windmills?
Today, we have to get all the way past Flastaff to Winslow. Nearly 8 hours by the time we’re done. Not all much to see, but we have Pink Floud cranked up in the Fun Car. And I’ve replaced the sunglasses.
Good to go!