ITEM: Been hanging with Oscar the water man. He handles every emergency that comes up for the local water company in my neck of the woods. My neighbors just above me blew a one-inch water line fitting and were out of town. I call the company, they hook me up with Oscar. Now we’re good pals. I’ve been going all over the place goofing with him while he does all the work. I’m learning a lot about Bakersfield and Tehachapi.
In Acton, I tried to find a used tire for the dump truck. Nothing at five places under a $100 bucks anywhere in Whiteville. Oscar hangs with a different crowd. We stop to get a tractor tire fixed at a barrio shop in a rough area of Bakersfield. It takes up the entire bed of a one ton flatbed. As we roll it off I wonder about a used tire with my dimensions. Oscar speaks rapid fire Spanish. A kid from the back rolls out an almost new truck tire. It’s $20 bucks if I can fix the guys ringing on his fax machine. Done deal.
ITEM: We eat at the most extraordinary places. Just outside of Bakersfield, heading back to Tehachapi, we pull off the highway over a cattle guard and into some trees. There’s thirty trucks or more of working guys parked all over under some giant oak trees next to a small creek. Big tow able barbeques are going. Half steers on a couple being tended by some farm workers. Vats of beans of all sorts. Fresh vegetable salads- all organic. These guys are hep to the pesticides that have been destroying their families for years. I’m the only white guy there. All are staring at me. I get in line. I pay FIVE BUCKS for all I can eat. As I pay, the woman speaks Spanish to me. Oscar translates. She wants to know if I have any requests. I have Oscar ask her if they won’t spit in Santa’s chow. Everyone chilled out. I was offered a seat at a bunch of tables. Kids were running all over calling me Santa in Spanish.
ITEM: Mexican Americans don’t like Obama. I’m not political. I vote Peace and Freedom. I vote in case the mother ship only picks up the voters. Why risk it. They say, ‘NoBama’, when they say his name. They feel he hasn’t done one thing he promised. The main thing their pissed about is all their kids serving in Afghanistan and Iraq not getting proper medical care coming home. Plus, STILL THERE.
ITEM: News flash. The economy isn’t coming back. You need thirty-year jobs to pay off thirty-year loans. Until those things come together, forget the lying news on TV and radio. My pal Sack the Jackknife King says he’s seeing a half-dozen machine shops folding and going to the auctioneers every week instead of every month. The cost to retool? Hey, just try finding parts to start to build ANYTHING, let alone start up some sort of manufacturing. You have to get your material from China. Or anywhere else in the world. Not the USA. We broke three two-inch box wrenches from Harbor Freight trying to break down the boom on the UNIT crane to move it. I finally borrowed some old Craftsmen wrenches and an air hammer to get it done. We put six-foot cheater bars on the Craftsmen made out of six inch pipe and they laughed at us.
ITEM: Oscar takes me to Quail Valley lake. Its about ten miles from my place way back in the mountains. Lots of locked gates. Being the nice guy that I am, I get the combinations from Oscar to open the gates for him and save him getting in and out. Half way up a freshly packed dirt road, I look up to our left and see all these Wind Power trucks parked in a holding yard. Oscar fills me in as we head up into the National Forest. Oscar is Mexican/Indian with a long braided pony tail. Thick set and powerful build. About five or six years younger them me. I’d arm wrestle him but never fight the guy. First off he’s too nice a guy. Second. Mexican guys always throw mean left hooks and I wouldn’t like one of those at all. I fight with my mouth until I can find a car to run around to stay away from an opponent. If you want action out of me I’ll sell you one of my old, “BLAZING COMBATS”. Oh man, just the best!!!! Frank Frazetta does the covers. I have one over my computer framed. It has a Marine with just a helmet and his pants and boots holding a wounded buddy in one arm and firing a Thompson with his other. Ejecting shells are arching out into the muddy water. The Marines grimace says it all. “COME GET SOME!” My other favorite of his is eleven Saber Toothed cats gang jumping a Woolly Mammoth. Hector, the artist that paints adds on fifteen-story buildings, is going to paint it on the side of my Blue barn in trade for my wife Pat advising him on Immigration stuff. She’s retired now but still knows all the laws. Plus, since she Pro Bono’ed half her cases anyhow she loves barter. We used to chickens and eggs all the time. I love that stuff.
ITEM: Once past the Wind Turbine truck staging yard, we start climbing into the forest. Around five-thousand feet, we’re in thick trees and undergrowth and some really cool rock formations. Most of the rocks are volcanic. Big bastards. Some are larger then Oscar’s full-sized crew cab pickup. It’s a Toyota Tacoma like my wife Pat’s, but it’s a lot larger. Oscar told me his was the first year that Toyota went full-sized. I think Pat’s is way nimbler. Plus Sack put a custom flat bed on hers that’s easier for her to load and unload.
We climb to some cutouts for the new Turbine towers bases. Holy shit. Each tower has to have a hole that can hold fifty yards of cement. If not even more. Giant forty foot long cages of one inch rebar laying on the ground on their sides are still six foot tall. We get out and check out the surrounding area in a sweeping vista. The tall mountains in front of us are really getting rugged. Craggy rock formations with big trees growing out of the hundred foot calving stone splits are all over the place. We hop back in and keep moving. It’s five pm, and we have about two hours light left. It’s even shady in some of the dips in the small canyons already. This is where we saw our first three bears. Oh yeah. A Cinnamon sow and two cubs are leisurely strolling across the wide dirt road in front of us heading to go down towards the lake off to our right. The mom is losing her winter coat big time. Huge chunks are coming off in large swaths. Patches of beautiful short glossy hair stick out here and there. She looks to weigh about a hundred and fifty pounds. The cubs look about five months old. They’re born in the den and suck super high-fat milk, so they look really good after eating all the juniper berries covering the giant Juniper trees all around us almost obliterating the rock strata.
I call out to the cubs like the little kid from ‘Old Yeller’. One of the cubs starts to stroll over to my door. No way. Momma huffs and blows into the thick brush. Both cubs take the hole she punched and disappear. Oscar is blown away. “Dude, I’ve worked here for 26 years and those are the first bears I’ve ever seen!” We head on into even thicker forest. Now there’s big pines and really fat mountain oaks shoving the junipers out of the way. Big slabs of multicolored rocks peek out of the gaps of green and brown. Not a half mile up the wide smooth rolling road now climbing constantly, we spot him at the same time. A BIG black bear. He’s easily three times the size of momma bear. He sees us at the same time just up and off the road and he goes right into some thick scrub like a Sherman tank. I’ve driven Sack’s Sherman, so it’s a good metaphor. Oscar and I high five. What an afternoon! We come to some gates that are wide open. I wonder to Oscar if we could get locked in after going past the gates and stuck when a worker locked them not knowing about us. Or even worse. Knowing about us. Oscar shrugged. He informs me he not only has some five-foot handled bolt cutters in his bed, but also a cutting torch and tank. We’re set so we continue up the dirt road.
We end up passing huge cut outs and a giant brand new power substation surrounded by heavy equipment of all types. D-10’s with side blades. Six wheel drive water trucks so tall they have headlights welded on custom bars under their brush guards. Graders. Semi everythings. That was the reason for the new road. Some of the Turbines are two hundred foot tall with seventy five foot long blades. The loud ‘WHOOOMPP’s’ as they spin sound AWESOME! Oscar wonders about thieves. I tell him my kid Tejas puts in security systems with 24-hour infrared tracking by Satellites. They can take your license number no problem. I’m talking about the one in your pocket if you had it out. No lie. Good luck trying to stiff these guys for one bolt. A twenty mile road to get out? Great planning Sherlock. Plus, the GPS tracking gear they install on anything worth taking. We drove past and kept going to the top. We end up not at the real top but close enough. It was starting to get dark so we jumped out to take a quick peek past the safety berm. WOW! We could see all the way to China Lake’s testing base. The one they took Area 51’s stuff to.
Heading back, we slow to take Oscar’s rig out of 4 wheel drive. THREE MORE BEARS!!! Another momma and two cubs. This sow is twice the size of the other mom, but her cubs are only half the size of the other cubs. I start to talk to these cubs and Oscar tells me to shut the hell up. “That bitch can tear our doors right the fuck off!”
ITEM: Coming out near the lake on our way back it’s dim, but some rays of sunlight can still be seen here and there. We’re out of the big mountains and down in a neat valley. The lake looks to be about ten acres. The ends are chock full of ten-foot high reeds. Brush grows all around the side across from us. Some people are fishing. One guy ends up coming over to us. I figured he knew no one was supposed to be trespassing. Oscar is as nice as pie. Not so others on the road. This guy has had a few brews and complains bitterly about a guy named Pat who hassles him all the time. He mentions some problem at the LOVES gas station in town. We check the water pumps and roll. Half way out of the lower hills, we bump into a guy on a quad ATV. Oscar knows him so we yak it up. Oscar had always wanted to see the guy’s place and asks if we can come check it out. Pat calls his wife on his cell. We can hear her say an emphatic, “NO!” Guess they live a mile behind a dormant Volcano for a reason.
ITEM: I gave Oscar a ton of VHS and DVD’s I’m sick of or have three of. Leo has bought me at least fourteen used copies of all the Star Wars movies from Pat’s trips to Salvation Armys and church second hand stores. If you like a town full of second hand stores, Tehachapi is the place to live. They have a church about every fifty yards. As I hand the big box to Oscar before leaving his place, we yakked about Pat telling us his side of the gas station affair against the guy at the lake’s version. We laughed about what a coincidence running into both parties. A voice calling Oscars name makes us turn in the dark towards the gate leading to the dirt road. Into my headlights steps a lost soul. You can see it in her face. She walks like she’s forty and looks eighty. As she steps closer all doubts vanish. Her hair is in knots and her lipstick is around her lips a half inch past her lip lines. Like a macabre clown on meth she wonders if Oscar can give her a lift up the canyon. Oscar lets her know that the Highway Patrol had towed her car at noon from where she rolled it the night before. I think he said it was a Jeep. He also lets her know I’m taking off and would be tickled pink to drive her. Thanks pal.
ITEM: Two corners off of tight dirt roads we suddenly have a llama in my headlights. A tiny little white-haired gal is trying to drive it down the small road to an open gate. Psycho hops right out and starts helping to drive the animal. I use my dump truck as a pusher. Staying away, yet moving it ahead. Once the animal is in the gate, the old lady thanks us. Turns out she has 45 of ‘em in all shapes and colors. Takes care of them all alone. Psycho knew her so they yakked it up for a few minutes. I shut off my truck but left my headlights on. The old woman, “You know that big old Bobcat that’s been around here for years? Well, it’s a female. My big black tom was just a humping the hell out of her the other night outside my kitchen window where I put the cat chow. He looked like a midget screwing a fat lady!” Girl talk. I was still in the truck.
Last Item: I filled out a ‘Welcome to Tehachapi” card at the rental place where we got the 6-ton 4×4 lift to move the steel water tanks. The lady finally calls me and wonders if she can come by to give me her free maps and a lecture on Tehachapi’s past. We had quite the conversation until she asked for my address. I say, “I’m up Sand Canyon Road and then down Umtali!” There’s dead silence on the receiver. Then, a changed voice says, “I live in Bear Valley Springs. I don’t go up that canyon!” CLICK.