Local Lifestyle

Saturday, Dec 28 2013 09:00 AM

HERB BENHAM: Selling city to job candidate a job in itself

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Herb Benham

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By HERB BENHAM, Californian columnist hbenham@bakersfield.com

The paper is down an entertainment writer. Matt Munoz, the reporter who held the spot (and still writes a weekly column for the paper) has moved on to work for the Bakersfield Museum of Art. A couple of weeks ago, we entertained a job candidate from Northern California. Jennifer Self, the woman for whom I work, asked if I would join two other reporters and take the candidate to lunch.

"She's good," Jennifer said. "Tell her how great Bakersfield is."

Assistant features editor Stefani Dias, one of the three let's-sell-her Bakersfield committee members (the other was reporter Rachel Cook) made reservations at The Mark for 12:30. The Mark is elegant, and its decor could fit in in any big city. I agreed because journalists feel about free lunches the way South Africa did about Nelson Mandela.

I ordered clam chowder and fried calamari. The chowder was delicious, the calamari good, but garlicky. Given the garlic, I decided the best strategy was to address the job candidate with sidelong glances rather than breathing directly in her direction.

I started saying things like Bakersfield was a great news town and an interesting place to live. I used words like "texture," "character," phrases like a "convergence of cultures and races," "the Golden Empire" and "centrally located." I talked about Okies, Mexicans, Basques, Italians, Punjabis and our American Indian ancestors.

I mentioned oil, ag and Ventura being two hours away and how, under the right circumstances, you could be in Hollywood in an hour fifty and why our downtown was unlike the other downtowns in the valley, having embarked on a comeback after a precipitous loss of retail, and was remaking itself into a small entertainment mecca.

It was the world's longest paragraph and filled with every cliche I could pack in about Bakersfield.

"Then, there is the Kern County Fair," I gushed. "The last of the great county fairs."

Did I really say that? The fair? Where people used to fear for their midway-loving lives before they cleaned it up? The hammer, teacups, giant pigs, jam exhibits and the world's hairiest man?

When I came up for air, Stef and Rachel looked at me like I was deranged. Mercifully, Rachel jumped in and took over. She talked about the Nut Festival, the Greek Food Festival, Whiskey Flat Days, the monster truck rallies, our two beer festivals, Moo Creamery, the Kern County Museum, particularly the giant pump jack that you can operate with the push of a button.

Stef took a slightly more elevated approach.

"We're a growing town that still has a small-town mentality -- in a good sense," she said.

"It's easy to run into people you know, or people who will connect you to the people whom you need to meet. We're supportive of new businesses and endeavors, especially food."

The job candidate listened while she polished off her plate of fried chicken. Her appetite was impressive. She was petite, yet she tore into that fried chicken like a raccoon into a hen house.

She liked to eat. People here like to eat. She'd fit right in.

Three quarters of the way through, when I'd run out of cliches and Rachel had run out of Nut Festivals, I stopped and took stock. What were we doing?

What was I doing?

I am a 59-year-old man begging a 23-year-old to move to Bakersfield and take a job. Where was my self- respect? Whatever was wrong with this conversation couldn't be blamed on the Nut Festival and the giant oil pump at the Kern County Fair.

I went home and took a nap, my part in the recruiting effort completed.

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