We natives often refer to our southern California town as “The Bake” or “Bako.” Strangers from all across the country have been known to make snide remarks when we say where we’re from. “I’m sorry.” or “I’ve just wanted to get through there so never stopped.” A woman volunteer at the Visitors’ Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, recalled going through Bakersfield heat once and taking off her nylon stockings in the car while waiting for her husband.
I’m astounded when I stop to realize that I’ve lived in Bakersfield for 40 years. Forty. Years. I’d never heard of this place until a job opportunity came along. But I’d heard of California, seen movies and television shows that depicted a carefree beach or Hollywood life. Could Bakersfield be that far away from all this glamour? I dug out my Atlas and saw that Bakersfield was about an inch from the beach, and also an inch away from Los Angeles and from the Mojave Desert. What could be more perfect?
On an August day, after a week-long drive from Michigan for Bakersfield, my family left Las Vegas early, while the temperature was tolerable. At a gas station in the town of Mojave, I stepped out of my air-conditioned four-door sedan into a searing heat that left me gasping. The temperature had soared to 112°. What was it about desert that I hadn’t understood?
But Bakersfield became Home. Forty years of living: raising my girls, teaching school, continuing my education, playing hard, and contributing to the community. I made dear friends who mean the world to me and whose friendship has changed the course of my life.
Sure, I could have accomplished those things anywhere, but where I landed shaped how they were done. Being in Bakersfield allowed opportunities and experiences, put obstacles and smooth paths and people in front of me, fashioned the person I became. That inch-away dot on the map gave me chances to explore and learn and grow.
Bakersfield is a community where people care about each other, giving of their time and resources to help folks in need. Witness the Bakersfield Relay for Life, which for several years now has raised over a million dollars for the American Cancer Society. Watch the spontaneous creation of a fund for donations to help a family that has lost their home to a fire or has incurred extensive medical expenses. Bakersfieldians are good-hearted.
When my mom moved to Bakersfield from Detroit, she marveled, “The people are so friendly. Everybody speaks when you meet them on the street. And there’s no snow!”
|River Walk Park Rubber Ducky Run|
Things have changed a lot since 1973 when the City Limits sign out on Highway 58 showed the population at 50,000. Today, it reads 350,000. In the southwest, northwest, and northeast regions of town, where open fields once lay, whole neighborhoods, parks, shopping complexes, and business districts have shot up. New roads and highways traverse the city. Returning ex-pats recognize few familiar spots when they come back to town.Yes, the unbearable summer temperatures are still one of Bakersfield’s claims to fame. In reference to that phenomenon, I lovingly say, “They don’t call it ‘The Bake’ for nothing.” It’s my HomeTown.
~ xoA ~