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Saturday, Apr 13 2013 07:49 PM

Bakersfield's Amazing Race attracts colorful crowd

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    The big winners in Saturday's costume contest portion of the Bakersfield Amzaing Race was Team Valley Fever including Shauna Massie, left, Gary Massie, Joseph Crisostomo, and Stephanie Crisostomo, right.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Megan Morris, left, Rebecca Thompson, Gabby Guzman, and Miranda Rodriguez, right, get off to a good start during Saturday's Bakersfield Amazing Race downtown as a fundraiser for Stewards Inc.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Even Uncle Sam came out for the Bakersfield Amazing Race along with many other costume contest contestants during the family friendly race/obstacle course downtown.

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By JOHN COX, Californian staff writer jcox@bakersfield.com

There are people in Bakersfield who, for a chance at winning $1,000, will run from one side of downtown to the next, repeatedly breaking laws against jaywalking while inconspicuously dressed in the silliest costumes they can dream up.

On an uncomfortably warm afternoon they will sprawl out on asphalt to pore over grade-school word puzzles. Then they will hit up complete strangers with what sound like nonsensical questions before darting into the nearest business to beg the use of a computer.

If that sounds like a lot to do for a measly grand, don't judge too harshly. It's all for a good cause.

On Saturday, more than 50 four-person teams demonstrated uncommon perseverance and a strong sense of adventure by competing in the city's inaugural Bakersfield Amazing Race.

The hours-long event -- part scavenger hunt, part obstacle course -- was hatched as a fundraiser for Stewards Inc., a nonprofit that helps residents of Bakersfield Rescue Mission budget their money.

The best thing about the event, said organizer Andrae Gonzales, who spent the last three months planning the race, is how it forced people to interact with a part of town they might have overlooked.

"They're getting to know Bakersfield -- downtown Bakersfield -- in a whole new way," Gonzales said.

One team calling itself Two Cute Guys with Awesome Moms and Wu-Tang Clan was off to a promising start shortly after Mayor Harvey Hall blew the opening whistle at noon at Stewards' offices on H Street.

Team co-mom Teri Sweeny, 44, quickly recognized a piece of artwork on the clue sheet.

"That's Georgia O'Keeffe!" the Rosedale North Elementary School teacher called out as she and her friend and teammate Rhonda Showfler trotted down H Street trying to catch up with their respective sons, Frontier High ninth-graders Nick Sweeny and Kyle Sturm.

But who was the artist behind the picture of two mirror-image gunslingers? Best ask an expert.

Unfortunately, their expert, the co-owner of The Foundry art gallery on 19th Street, was no expert at all.

"I own a gallery. It doesn't mean I know anything about art," quipped Ty Sweet.

But helpful he was as Sweet used his computer to hunt for answers on the gunslinger artwork.

"I think that's Elvis," he piped up.

Indeed -- it was the king of rock 'n' roll himself, as rendered by pop artist Andy Warhol. Another clue down.

Over the next four hours Two Cutes ran themselves ragged hunting down the 11 locations where they were obliged to take photos of themselves and, in some cases, perform odd feats of dexterity.

Upstairs at the Bakersfield Art Center on Eye Street, young Sweeny and Sturm had to work together to make a paint brush slide down a pair strings and land it in a bucket below. Easier said than done.

At one point, Teri Sweeny whipped out her cellphone and called her husband at home to have him look up the original cast of the 1969 version of the film "The Italian Job."

She had half a moment to reflect as they hurried to an antique store on 19th Street. A fan of the reality TV show "The Amazing Race," she jumped at the opportunity to sign up for a local version, televised or not.

Besides, how else does such an opportunity come along?

"Fifteen-year-old boys don't want to do anything with their moms," she said.

The boys had separate motives.

"You know how many Hot Pockets you can buy with $1,000? And beef jerky!" Sturm said as his 15-year-old friend and teammate egged him on.

Alas, by the time Two Cutes finished their checklist and arrived at the appointed rendezvous, On the Rocks Bar & Grill on 18th Street, awards had already been given out. It was after 4 p.m., and all but four teams had already finished the race.

The winning team, Talk Nerdy to Me, had completed the course in just under two hours.

Team spokeswoman Corrine Coats, a 29-year-old teacher at Bakersfield High, wasn't going to disclose the winning strategy to a reporter. But she caved: They solved all the puzzles before going anywhere, thereby avoiding unnecessary travel.

That doesn't mean there wasn't a lot of travel as they crisscrossed downtown. They went as far north as the AMF Westchester Lanes on 30th Street and as far south as San Joaquin Community Hospital Ice Center Facility on the other side of 14th Street.

"It was exhausting for sure," Coats said.

At least the Two Cutes managed to maintain their dignity.

"We thought about cheating and picking up the car, but didn't," Teri Sweeny said.

The team entered On the Rocks just as other teams were leaving.

It hardly mattered to Showfler, a 50-year-old project manager at Bakersfield design and construction firm S.C. Anderson Inc.

"We made it," she announced.

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