The journalist had snuck into the city during the daylight—not quite the vampire you would expect. I waited at Rileys Bar in downtown Bakersfield, had a Corona. There was barely any light as a couple of guys sat at the bar talking to the bartender—just the complaining-about-life kind of jabber you would expect. As I sat sipping, I moved from the bar to a table. Others drifted in: faces I recognized from the music scene.
Journalists are always creeping around the secret world of seeking information. They’re not always local journalists either. They can come from anywhere. They’re hungry. They come for the big story. Bakersfield just happens to be ground zero for one of the latest. It’s not about floods or devastation. It’s not a Washington, D.C.-sized scandal of tainted dresses and broken cigars. I’m talking about two dreams: one of two people being together in matrimony. The other of an opposing ideology, that if two people seeking matrimony are of the same sex, that someone might get so sick as to punish the people all round them.
The journalist walked in. She had a stomachache. The bartender poured her a concoction that neither of us could recognize. “Just tell a bartender your symptoms,” she said. I understand: you get what you ask for. She drank it and said she felt better. I wondered if her stomachache were from her fast life of city-hopping, finding stories, busting them out of wi-fi hotel rooms. Gotta have the net. Gotta have that fix.
A band called Norfolk started performing. The young singer—mid-Twenties, smooth voice and singing about life’s troubles made for a perfect shadowy moment, like we were all working on the car of life, getting greasy, sharing the toughness it takes to turn a wrench. Seemed like we were all feeling wrenched. The music was the smooth oil from the underbelly. The journalist said she liked their music. “I like these guys,” she said, bobbing her head. I told her about the singer, how he drives a tortilla truck. Between songs we spoke about the city, the music, the changes, the growth, the transient culture.
The singer’s amp went dead during the fifth song. I expected a guitar to fly, glasses to break, but the atmosphere was subdued. She yawned and left, having to get up early to pursue the county’s dark hallways.
I hung out with one of the musicians. He was the guitar-playing singer. When the next band, The Get Up Get Down hit the stage he said, “I love these guys. They’re like acrobats of sound.” They were. I just sat there and drowned in their sound for a while. I stood up, let it echo through my entire body with their circus-like guitar riffs.
When I left I peeked in the window of an art gallery. I thought the walls were painted a strange color; looked peach. Bricks were too bright of red. Paintings were bunched up on expanses of walls.
I met up again with the journalist the next night. We had dinner in downtown Bakersfield. She was waiting to break a big story. I was hungry for jerk chicken at the Caribbean restaurant we’d wandered in. We shared empanadas, shrimp, each had a mojitos drink while the hot city outside beckoned us to slink around the streets. I peeked at her story on her phone. But I didn’t push. I would read it the next morning, fly through the pages, wonder about people who hate each other and how journalists go about telling such stories.
After we ate we walked past three art galleries and peeked in the windows. The artists seemed of the kind of academic and social networks that investment collectors admire. I talked about the town’s history as we ended up at the Fox Theatre where a Ted Nugent concert was underway. We walked in and I showed her the building, the theatre, the sparkling interior lights that were like starry blinking thoughts above the rock and roll din.
She asked about the Padre Hotel. I told her about Milton Spartacus, Hollywood clientele in its fancy 1930s era, the piano-martini bar now dead, the emptiness of the hulk. “It’s the building with the most character around here,” she said. We both agreed no one should tear it down. “You’re like walking history,” she added.
The next day I got up and read her article: a journalist’s eye view of a Bakersfield storm. It was a little character study, a little slice, the most finite glimpse of a much bigger story that I just can’t link up to here. I’d rather leave it in the shadows. Not to worry, there will be others.
2008 nick belardes