Thursday, November 16, 2006


Earlier this week, I was talking with my Grandma who grew up in LA. When I mentioned that I was coming out to Bakersfield she gasped and said 'oh, I used to love the drive through Bakersfield, looking out at the beautiful rivers and farms'. I sort of chuckled and told her that it's not exactly what it used to be.

I woke up in my hotel room and looked out the window at a grayish brown sky, the smog in the air was thick. I understand that many towns have their fair share of crapholeishness and I can get work around the decrepit looking Mexican restaurants, the neon clad nudie bars, the rows upon rows of dirty fast food joints. It's the people that really tear at my gut. Everyone seems unhappy, frowning and numb. Most women have a child or two in toe, are waddling down streets under their extra weight with unkempt hair and plastic shopping bags from Food Co. The men seem snarly and serious, wearing baggy clothes and gold chains around their neck. This is a generalization of course, but one that's got me thinking.

Today as I was driving past rusted warehouses and train tracks, I came to Panorama Drive, what must once have been a beautiful vista overlooking a fertile valley. I had to pull my car over to the side of the road to really take in the scene. Stretched out before me was a sea of sandy earth, cut into grids by grey roads with dotted lines of telephone poles and cagey electricity towers running in every direction. There were four big industrial plants visible with large cylindrical drums pumping dark smoke into the air. The landscape blurred into the murky brown smog that hovered over the valley, obscuring whatever land mass lay on the other side.

The thing that really got me was that on Panorama drive there are parking overlooks and a large park where people were out jogging and walking their dogs. The grass in the park was burnt by the sun and the few palm trees planted there were covered in graffiti. I wonder what Col. Thomas Baker would have thought to see his once spawning river banks and plentiful agricultural valley turned into an industrial wasteland.

Later on in the afternoon, as I was desperately searching for a place to grab some lunch I came across a really odd cluster of subdivisions. The sign read "Bakersfield, The Way Life Should Be" and all around were new developments of enormous houses with ornate columns and glassed-in pools. Is this where the executives who run the Halliburton Plant and the Chevron-Texaco Production Facility live? These houses seemed so incredibly out of place here, right across from a large cotton field where migrant workers sweated, working against the blinding mid-day sun and acrid air quality. As the gap between the very rich and the very poor increases, my anxiety surrounding the future of the American working class rises. I wonder, what can I do to make it better?

1 comment:

Rob said...

Take pictures.