Baketown: The Desolation of Smog

This sign used to greet visitors to California's fertile valley. I'm pretty sure it's since been replaced with one that says, "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here."

This sign used to greet visitors to California’s fertile valley. I’m pretty sure it’s since been replaced with one that says, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”

“Hey, you don’t know me but you don’t like me … Say you careless how I feel … ‘Cause how many of you that sit and judge me … Ever walked the streets of Bakersfield” – Buck Owens, country music entertainer, restaurant entrepreneur and co-host of the Redneck Variety Hour (or Hee Haw as it was known in most parts)

There are two things that I have held a silly grudge towards my mother about for pretty much my whole life. Both, in retrospect, were arguably unavoidable for logistical reasons, but I like having a scape goat to fall back on when pressed to explain my shortcomings in life.

While some people may claim to have been “born under a bad sign”, I myself was born during the Nixon Administration. I mean, really, how much worse can it get? I will forever associate my birth and the early years of my childhood development with that filthy, crooked jerk of a President. If my vehemently Conservative father ever asks me why I tend to lean a tad bit to the left in my political views, I will instantly throw out the Nixon card.

“It’s your fault! I was blissfully happy, hanging out in God’s ethereal goo, and you and mom had to go have sex! You know how birthing a baby into high-negativity surroundings causes undue stress in the baby? What do you think the Nixon era was all about???”

Yes, Nixon sucked donkey balls, but in all reality, I’m much angrier with them about being born in Bakersfield, California. My dad, on the other hand, was given the opulent luxury of entering the world in Hollywood, CA. Ooo la la!

Bakersfield is where dreams and ambition go to commit suicide. Nestled deep within the ashy armpit of California, a thick blanket of soot can be seen above the city at all times. In fact, when writer J.R.R. Tolkien began envisioning the dark empire of Sauron the Great, I’ve heard tell that he had been driving up Interstate 5 and his car blew a rod somewhere around Oildale. He was so moved by the thick blackness of the sky, that he considered the addition of a “Mordor: A Progressive Community” sign at the Black Gate.

True story. I think.

800px-KernRiverFromBluffI’ve always seen it as the hellhole of the west coast. The town grew in the desert north of Los Angeles as a result of the oil boom in the early 20th century. The town is built on oil. Anywhere you look, you will see oil wells… pumping their black tar gold to no end. The Kern River Oil Field is in the running for the Ugliest Place on Earth Award, if there is such a thing. Oil wells dot the scorched earth for as far as the eye can see, like thousands of steel horses, slowly dipping their heads up and down. There is no grass here… no trees… no birds… no joy… no children laughing…just a depressing, barren wasteland of rigs and pipes.

Bako’s other industry was agriculture, which always struck me as odd seeing as how the air and water around Kern County was absolutely horrible. The town was a magnet for border hoppers and migrant farm workers. That being said, I will admit the city did have some magnificent Mexican food.

Baks is also the birthplace of the Bakersfield Sound, which is just a fancy name for Buck Owen’s brand of country music. Buck eventually retired there and built a big fancy restaurant-eum called the Crystal Palace. The man went as far as moving the big yellow “Bakersfield” arch that had long stood over Union Avenue to the entrance of his honky-tonk music hall. Somehow, Buck saw the good in the city, enough to put it on the map anyway. I never did.

Another band spawned in the streets of Bako was Korn. They came to be in the early 90’s (although they quickly disavowed their valley roots and claimed to be from Riverside). I’ll talk more about those guys later.

To be honest, I don’t remember too much about my early years in the town. I know that I was born at Memorial Hospital on one bright and smoggy August morning. My father did something in the Air Force with computers. My mom was a nurse, but by my birth, she had decided to stay at home. We left Bakersfield around my fourth birthday, and set out on the five day pilgrimage to the holy land of Northwest Florida. It was there on the Redneck Riviera that I spent my childhood and teen years, in tiny Crestview.

I’d come back to Bakersfield later on in life, not by choice but by parental force. But this isn’t that story.


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