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Monday, December 5, 2016

Kern County and Bakersfield, California - April 2010, Part 2

UpTake Travel Gem

JULY 2,2010 - UPDATED CONTENT BELOW (Scroll down)

Previously on The World on Wheels: Bakersfield, we ate some great tacos, drank an awesome margarita, listened to some country music, and took in some stock car racing.

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The next day, we get ready for some baseball. Today, we’re taking in a game of the Bakersfield Blaze who are hosting the Lancaster Jethawks. The Blaze are the single A minor league affiliate of the Texas Rangers, while the Jethawks are with the Houston Astros.

It’s a Sunday, so that means a day game. A stiff breeze greets us as we get to the parking lot of Sam Lynn Stadium in Bakersfield. I like the wheelchair seats here because they are elevated platforms in the first row of this small stadium. It’s rare that wheelchairs get to sit in the front row anywhere.

We set up on the platform, buy some hot dogs and beer and wait for the game to begin. The wind is blowing stronger, so Letty has us move back a few feet where we can use a stairwell as a wind-break.

The game begins, and the wind gets worse; kicking up clouds of dust. Soon, our hair is dusty and there is grit in our teeth. Our beers are polluted with that Bakersfield dirt.

The Blaze get out to a quick lead. The announcer asks people to avoid a tented pavilion down the right-field foul line for safety reasons. Advertising banners are being blown off of the outfield wall.

In the second inning, the Jethawks pitcher steps off of the mound and starts rubbing his eyes. The two team managers come out and ask the umpires to delay the game. They do and now we’re in a wind delay. Since it’s only a delay, we have no recourse…your tickets are still good for today only. We wait and luckily one of the team execs comes by and says they’ll wait a half hour and make a final decision. We can live with that.

Howling winds buffet the stadium and the fans. Finally, the umpires relent and suspend the game. In baseball, there are no refunds…your tickets for a cancelled game can be used for another game later in the season. We will hope for better weather tomorrow but it’s too windy to put the tarps on the field and a short but heavy rainstorm hits that night, drenching the field. Tomorrow’s game will be cancelled too. Oh well, we’ll hold on to our stubs and come back in a couple of months.

UPDATE: June 2010

Since we still had tickets to a Blaze game, we went back up to Bakersfield last weekend to catch the game. It would have been cheaper just to eat the tickets but anything for an excuse to go to Bakersfield… yes, we are nerdy like that and, yes, we do like Bakersfield but this weekend would probably be the last weekend we could go before it got unbearably hot.

It was a pretty uneventful drive over the Grapevine and we pulled into Huichos for lunch and then headed to Dewar’s for dessert at the newer location on Hageman Road. The server was a delight but the lady that rang up our bill seemed to want to get into an argument for some reason. Sensing a little hostility there, I just kept my mouth shut and paid the bill. Great ice cream, though.

Again, we stayed at our home-away-from home, the Springhill Suites by Marriott just off Rosedale Highway. I was on the verge of being sick so I took a nap while Letty went out to the pool. Dinner was at Benji’s, a Basque restaurant near the hotel. We love Basque restaurants and Benji’s gets my vote for the best salad I’ve ever had. Their pickled tongue is also good, second only to Centro Basco in Chino. Overall, it gets my vote over Woolgrower’s as the better of the Basque restaurants we’ve ate at in Bakersfield. The only other one we’ve been to is the Basque Café which is no longer in business.

On to the game. We got blown out by a dust storm in April but today the weather is fantastic. Due to the batters facing directly into the sunset because of the field alignment, night games start at 7:45pm this time of the year. We get great seats right behind home plate in the first row.

Sam Lynn Stadium…home of the Blaze…is old and in dire need of a rehabilitation but it is also so down-home friendly and comfortable that I can overlook that. We sit in the middle of a small group of friendly season ticket holders who are more than happy to chat about all things baseball and Bakersfield. Like the usual Bakersfield residents, they are kind of amazed that someone would actually visit their city for a getaway but most acknowledge that they live in a hidden gem of a town.

The Blaze give the lead away early to Visalia via a solo home run.

After the first inning, just like in April, Letty is chosen to be the sweetheart of the game and is given flowers by the mascot, Heater, and is announced over the PA system. No, I didn’t pay anyone off…just a happy coincidence.

The Blaze tie the game and take the lead. After nine good innings, they take the game with a score of 5-4.

Breakfast the next morning was at the 24th Street Café in downtown. It has a good reputation for a breakfast place and the food is very good, but the service was slow and they really try to shoehorn people into the smallest tables that they can. Later, I would get sick on something…I think the chorizo I had for breakfast here…and would spend the rest of the day in bed when we got home.

Overall, a fun and very quick getaway to one of our favorite places. Bye Bakersfield…you are far too hot for me now, we’ll meet again in the fall.

We go back to the hotel where we take a swim and then a shower to get all the dirt off of us. Luckily, our hotel has an indoor pool so we don’t have to go outside. The day is ended with a dinner at Frugatti’s, an Italian place on the eastern side of town. It’s good but expensive and the service a bit slow.

Bakersfield is world-renown for its Basque restaurants. The Basque people (from a region that straddles the border of France and Italy) were shepherds and many migrated to this region. It’s hard work and requires hearty food to keep up. There are at least half a dozen Basque restaurants still operating in town and the culture is still a big part of the city’s identity.

We’ve been to the Basque Café (now closed) and Benji’s. My wife made me promise to try a new restaurant this trip so we head to Woolgrowers located in the old, rundown section of town east of the current downtown. For around $12, we get a meal that starts off with a bowl of hot, vegetable soup followed by a bowl of salad accompanied by a plate of marinated tomatoes and onions. Next come the beans, bread, and salsa. Tim likes to dip his bread in the salsa. The entrées arrive…a New York steak for me, a beef dip for Tim, and a garlic-infused lamb sandwich for Letty with some great French fries on the side. You can also get just the "set up,", everything but the entree and fries, for about $8.  It is all very good and very filling but I’ll give the edge to Benji’s, who is just ever-so-slightly better than Woolgrowers.

On the road to our next destination, it’s about 45 minutes west of town, the Tule Elk Reserve.  Tule elk are smaller elk that are native to the area. They are endangered so a reserve was set aside for them here, where they can be protected and breed to replace diminishing populations within the state.

It costs $8 to park here. There are clean restrooms, picnic tables, and a wheelchair accessible elevated viewing platform.

We went up the platform and it took us awhile, but we finally saw some antlers poking up through the grass about a half-mile away. It took some binoculars to see that much. There’s also a pond in front of the platform and many birds to watch flitting around from black phoebes to golden eagles.

Next, some time is spent driving around the nearby hills, looking at wildflowers which are in their peak season in mid April and then it’s back to town to find the game has been cancelled.

A stop at Dewar's is in order.  This 102 year-old ice cream parlor packs 'em in with their sundaes, shakes, and ice creams.  My wife swears by the pink peppermint and chip ice cream.  They also make great candies.  I especially like the caramel chews, which I call "Dewar's Chewers." 

The old shop is small and tight. Even normal people in this day and age have trouble fitting on the small stools at the counter. The few tables are squeezed in very tight and are not easy to get a wheelchair in. There is another, newer location on the north end of town at Hageman Road and Calloway Drive that is much more roomy and accessible and another at the corner of Rosedale Highway and Calloway Drive, on the west side of town, is scheduled to open in January 2012.

The original shop is at California and Eye Street.  Bakersfield has some quirks, and that street name..."Eye" one of them.  The downtown streets are in a grid, mostly with numbers (1st Street, 2nd Street, 3rd Street) running east and west, while the letters (A Street, B Street, C Street) run north and south.  Eye Street is in between H Street and J Street.

Another quirk is with business names.

"Curl up and Dye" is a salon.  The lot next to Too Fat Sandwiches has a sign on the wall saying "Parking for Too Fat Customers."

With no baseball to watch, it’s back to downtown Bakersfield and the “Arts District.” There are many bars and nightspots here. Fishlips is a good place to watch some hard rock acts, the restored Fox Theater features big names, and the new Brimstone in the old Padre Hotel is drawing a crowd. The granddaddy of them all is Guthries Alley Cat.

Famous as a dive bar, it’s gotten so much popularity and attention that I’d have to call it a former dive bar. Drinks are good, the resident dog can be friendly…if its owner tells it to be, and the locals are nice. A lot of history on the walls and a pool table in the back. Something about it, however, doesn’t call to me so while it’s nice to see what the fuss is all about, I’ll stick to my regular watering hole…

...Mexicali. We want to go back to what we know so it’s down 18th Street to this friendly little DARK bar. It’s funny, we’ve been maybe 5 or 6 time over the last five years…we walk in and everybody remembers us (probably remember Tim more) and say hi, ask us what we’ve been up to and so forth. Great drinks, really friendly bartenders, servers, and patrons. Great bar. Wish they had better food, but Huicho’s is only a block away.

Copyright 2010 – Darryl Musick

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