It’s All Happening in Bakersfield
We decide to spend the holidays in Southern California this year. Our first stop will be Joshua Tree National Park, where we will camp under the first Christmas Eve full moon since 1977; then we’ll loop through San Diego and L.A. for a few days to see nieces and nephews and shit. We leave mid-day on December 23rd, bound for the Mojave Desert.
Of course no trip from the Bay Area to the Mojave would be complete without a stop in Bakersfield, de facto farming capital of Southern California. It’s kind of unavoidable- especially in winter, when all but a few of the other trans-Sierra through roads are snowed over, and closed until the spring.
We stop for the night at the “historical” Padre Hotel, shining star of Bakersfield’s urban nightlife district. It’s a nice place. And with a $90 credit from Hotels.com, it only costs ten bucks a night. And one of their three restaurants has ribeye. And… they allow dogs, even ones that unleash a face full of bark-flavored harassment upon the wee-hour cleanup crews, after smacking your book out of your hand at 1:45 AM when you’re trying to read yourself into dreamland- an unsubtle hint that a trip to the roofless realm is necessary.
Everyone Knows it’s Windy
Next day we take a hike on the PCT near Tehachapi Pass– best named mountain pass in California. It’s the same spot where the chick from Wild started her epic journey- but we go the other way (southbound).
We hike up to the Alta Energy Wind Center (aka the Mojave Wind Farm)- the second largest terrestrial array of wind turbines (these are to windmills what the motorized car is to the horse and buggy) in the world.
If you drive California Highway 58 over Tehachapi Pass, you can’t miss these things- they’re all over the hills on the west side of the pass- between Tehachapi and Mojave. There’s thousands of them peppering the hilltops. You can’t count them. You can’t ignore them.
The War of the Meatballs
This is why you have to have breakfast in Bakersfield before you climb a mountain in Tehachapi: because if you don’t, then by the time you get down off the mountain and drive the 100 miles to Kramer Junction, deliriously ravenous, you cannot be trusted to order lunch responsibly. Plus, you’ll end up having to settle for Subway (have you been to Kramer Junction?) But your wife will leave you alone to order while she uses the restroom and buys Doritos in the main store of the truck stop. And by the time she joins you in the queue, it’ll be too late.
It’s like going food shopping when you’re wicked baked. Mistakes get made. All decisions are filtered through a kind of madness that has no place in a room containing all the food in the world.
So I ask the dude to rustle me up a meatball sub (which anywhere west of Philly is a roll of heavily-loaded dice as it is).
Regular or footlong?
(Mistake #1:) Uh… footlong.
Would you like double the meatballs?
Umm… how many does it come with normally?
Eight- so the double comes with sixteen. (*I knew you had to be smart to be a…rustler*)
How much extra is it?
(Mistake #2:) Fuck it- yeah, hook it up.
Would you like double the cheese?
(*sighs audibly, powerless to resist*)
Yeah sure (*groans, knowing full well how this ends*).
I’ve never been known for my restraint in situations where the long view is the advisable one.
Three Mistakes and One Parm
You know how you can’t tell how full you are for several minutes after you eat, so the smart move is to eat slowly and take breaks, lest you find out 10 minutes later that you’ve fucked yourself?
(Mistake #3:) Apart from one and a half meatballs given to the Peanut, and one to Katherine, I snarf the whole goddamn sandwich in five minutes- which, despite the fact that I did it, is actually impossible to do. Anyway, I’m not hungry anymore. (more on this later).
By the Time We Make it to Barstow, We’ll Be More Than Halfway to Hell
Forty miles later I am engaged in a battle to the death with a toilet at the Vons supermarket in Barstow, while Katherine food shops for our night of camping at Joshua Tree.
At first the pushback is significant; and in the early stages of the skirmish I am completely boxed in and unable to advance my troops. But eventually there’s an opening in my front lines, and the toilet falls under heavy fire. The firefight is severe and unrelenting; and at its peak, the sound of the bombings can be heard far beyond the boundaries of the contested area.
In the end I emerge victorious, but with heavy losses. My troops are scattered all over the battlefield- the carnage is devastating; though, interestingly, no blood has been shed. Nevertheless, I don’t think the media will want to report on this.
I stand proud, the victor; and pull my pants up; and moments later a flash flood comes sweeping down canyon, un-looked-for, and flushes away all evidence of the conflict.
But I know this war is not over yet. In fact even now the very forces that put this whole conflict in motion are regrouping, reassembling- lining up for the next attack- an attack whose arrival could come at any time, but at any rate is assured. It is a gastrointestinal certainty. But if my side is to prevail in the next rush, it is critical that my generals behind the lines receive at least some advance notice from the outlying lookouts. In the meantime, I am given temporary leave to visit with my family before the fighting resumes.
I rejoin my wife in the produce section.
Go to Part 2