Community Voices

Thursday, Sep 19 2013 11:00 PM

PHILIP BERLING: The Bakersfield of ancient times — A river ran through it

I stood on the banks of the mighty Kern River one morning and got a face full of dust. The "aquatic" life I spied in those waves of sand included several ground squirrels, two jackrabbits and a small covey of quail.

Any mobster dumped in our river wearing concrete overshoes would most certainly die -- of starvation, eventually, if boredom and heat prostration didn't get him first.

Of course, in ancient times (the 1990s) an actual river did run through Bakersfield. This was during what scientists might call the Precambrian; but we remember it fondly as the "Pre-Calloway Era."

Back then it was contended that a whole other part of the city existed north of the river -- but this was difficult to verify. The only route on the west side across that obstacle was thin, old Coffee Road, but this seemed perpetually blocked by trains.

To experience the wonders north of the river you either had to beat a path back downtown or be born up there. The latter seemed to be the more convenient route.

Nowadays, wonderful spans of bridges cross the river at so many places that it's hard to appreciate our former geographical schizophrenia. There's a free flow of commerce, culture and just enough genetic material -- I'm guessing -- to keep the folks on each side of the river from evolving into separate species.

Despite these bridges that now span the dusty Kern (and even the teleportation-like miracle of the Westside Parkway) there still remain several geophysical anomalies of Bakersfield to boggle the new arrival's mind.

For instance, why is it that every other street in town, after it runs for a few miles, seems to require an entirely new name? Old River becomes Calloway, Gosford becomes Coffee, Snow becomes Norris. And if you take Olive Drive back east, it returns to being Decatur Street.

And these are just the major streets.Who knows what trouble those unattended side streets are getting into? Can some poor tourista ignoramus make a turn at the intersection of Stockdale-Brundage-Wible-Oak without feeling that they've just slipped into an old Twilight Zone episode?

And don't even get me started on the mysterious translocation of actual physical objects within the Bakersfield Vortex. I have photographic proof that the Beale Clock Tower used to stand in the middle of Chester Avenue. It has since rematerialized in front of the Kern County Museum. The "official" explanation is some bunk involving the 1952 earthquake -- but don't you believe it. It's the Vortex, I tell you.

Need further proof? I personally saw and photographed the old "Bakersfield" sign spanning Union Avenue back in 1995. And where is it now? Miles away, right off Buck Owens Boulevard, next to the Crystal Palace.

The fact that Buck Owens Boulevard used to be called Pierce Road no longer fazes me at all. I've lived here too long and plan on ending my days in Bakersfield. Probably couldn't find my way out of town anyway.

Philip Berling is retired and lives with his wife, Zoila, in Bakersfield. Community Voices is an expanded commentary of 650 to 700 words.

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