Gabby and Sandy and I lived in Bakersfield for three months in the late summer and early fall of 1973. We – the United Farm Workers – had just gone through a summer like no other summer. Many thousands of grape workers went on strike from Coachella north to Modesto as their employers signed contracts with the Teamsters rather than negotiate with the UFW. Thousands were arrested on picket lines. Two strikers were killed. We were left with very few contracts and very few members.
We were living in Bakersfield and working on the 1000 or so strike-related criminal cases pending in Kern County. We lived in a desperate little wooden house in a desperate neighborhood in a pretty much desperate Bakersfield.
We lived next to this. A hump yard. The smell and sounds of freight trains were with us all day and night. I cringe thinking about our life. Sandy simply left every weekend and fled to Los Angeles for R & R. Gabby and I, and many times our friend Cody who was working for the Union up in La Paz, would walk the streets of Bakersfield.
We walked many hours and many miles. Summer nights, the smell of oil fields and ripe grapes in the air. We compiled lists of the things that we saw that gave us joy, manifestations of old, weird Bakersfield.
I still have that list, and have found photos of almost every single item on that list. Let’s start with the obvious. Who cannot love the two Bakersfield signs?
Fun sun stay play – indeed!
And we loved the music.
We loved the drive-ins:
We loved the giant advertising gimmick sculptures.
If Sambo’s was the ridiculous, the sublime that we loved was Frank Lloyd Wright’s Albin House. We actually finagled our way to be invited to a cocktail party there. Wow is all I can say. I don’t care for everything that Wright said about other architects in the 1950s, but this house – it really works for me.
And we loved the neon, which is the whole point of this post, or at least the nexus between this post and the post on the neon of University Avenue and San Pablo Avenue.
Reading this, you’d think that Bakersfield was an amazing place and that we really loved it there. We were two young men who grew up far, far away from Bakersfield and both of us felt far, far away from home those months there. We were working really hard, we were questioning our future, and licking our wounds. We took joy where we found it in the streets of Bakersfield.
I asked my friend to look the photos over. He remembered Farmer John’s, and we had in fact eaten there in September, 1973, when he visited me. He remembers the Jimmy Dean Pure Pork Sausage. What about the photos?