Bakersfield Revisited

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Good morning from Whiskey Creek, where the peace, tranquility and domestic bliss of our little mountain retreat has been shattered by the arrival last Thursday of the dreaded C-PAP (continuous positive airway pressure) Machine to address the recently diagnosed acute sleep apnea condition of the pack’s alpha-dog, whose even-tempered warmth and universal joviality have been monstrously transformed by six nights of tortured, fitful sleep. Particularly harmed has been beta-dog, his mate, who has taken the brunt of the full-on ill-tempered ugliness of the man behind the mask. (In defense of alpha, albeit a meager one, he has come to take for granted sleeping unencumbered by a modern-day adaptation of a middle-ages torture device, having fallen off to slumber approximately twenty-three thousand, seven-hundred and twenty-five nights in a row without it. Let us hope that in the days and weeks that follow alpha will be able to learn to live with andaccept his new C-PAP existence, and that his pack-mates will find it in their hearts to forgive him.

This being the second Thursday of the month, you expected to log on and find a Welcome column from George Martin. Were it only so. George has been very busy this past week celebrating both his 49th wedding anniversary, as well as his birthday, and was granted a month off. In penance, I suppose, yours truly has been tapped to fill in for our friend, an assignment that, believe me, none of us look forward to owing to the fact that after spending his entire adult life writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, George Martin has attained preeminence among our stable of Welcomers. (Warning—If my column seems a little disjointed this morning it’s because I’m composing it using a dictation ap on my I-Phone as I drive up Highway 99; I’m ninety minutes from Jamestown, which should be plenty of time to tell my story, which, if you don’t mind, I’ll tell backwards.)

A few minutes ago, right around 5:00 a.m., I stopped at the McDonalds just across from the Best Western where I spent a C-PAP-free night of blissful sleep to grab a large coffee and an egg-sausage-and-cheese McMuffin. (I’ve stayed away from these wonderful little treats, stayed away from fast-food altogether, for the past three months and am carrying around nine pounds less to show for it. A long, pre-dawn drive, however, seems a fitting excuse to indulge myself.) So while standing in line I said good morning to the small, athletically built woman next to me. She was dressed in blue jeans, work boots and a heavy plaid jackey.

“You have no idea just how f___ing good this morning really is,” she effused.

“Why’s that?”

I’ll tell you why—today I am exactly one hundred days away from my retirement. One hundred days more and I’m a free woman.”

“Congratulations,” I said and shook her hand. “Either you really, really don’t like your job or you’ve got something spectacular planned for your retirement.”

“Well, neither, really. Don’t know what I’m gonna do after retiring. And I don’t hate my job…I just hate the world class p____’s I work with.”

“What do you do,” I asked.

“I work at a golf course, a big one, maintaining carts and checking them out and back in to golfers. It’s a good job and it’s mainly outdoors in a good, healthy environment and I love it. But the kids I work with…complete lazy jerk-offs who have figured out that they can sit on their butts and watch me do all the work, drive me up the wall. And my boss, an even bigger jerk-off, let’s ‘em get away with it because…”

“Because what,” I ask.

“Because,” she leans toward me and lowers her voice, “because I’m a woman. That’s the reason. Because I’m a woman and I can keep those carts runnin’ better than any man out there and that p_____ them off. They can’t stand it. You see what I’m sayin’?”

“I do, I do see.”

“So, here’s what I’m thinkin. Maybe in a hundred days, when I retire, I’ll take up golfing. I think I could get pretty damned good at it. Seen enough people doin’ it in twelve years. And I’ll tell you what…if I do take up golfing, I’ll be going right back out there, only this time instead of taking care of the carts, I’ll be ridin’ around in ‘em. Wonder how them jerk-offs are gonna enjoy that,” she said with a satisfied smile.

So the lady golf cart mechanic and I sat down together and munched our egg-sausage-and-cheeses and shared our respective retirement dreams and aspirations.

And the night before, at Joseph’s Fine Italian Cuisine, my dining companions, Larry Plegeley and Kelvin Gregory and I, did pretty much the same. Kelvin has a year and a half left in the tank and Larry’s been retired for about seven years. With a little prompting…Larry’s a modest guy…he told us about his post career life, which, not especially surprising, is not dissimilar to that of his career-long pursuits. Larry took an advanced degree from the University of Oklahoma in meteorology and oceanography, used his education to become a commissioned officer in the U.S. Navy, served in active duty for nine years, then spent another thirty in the Naval Reserves, during which time he worked as a research scientist in the private sector.

“So,” he said, with just a trace of self-consciousness, that’s what I’m doing in my retirement?”

“Being a research scientist,” Asked Kelvin?

“Yeah, I guess you could say that.”

“For who,” I asked.

“Ah, for me. I do it for me. What I do is that each year I launch a weather balloon. This year I sent one up with the biggest instrument package yet…altimeter, GPS, camera, weather monitoring gear, even a device that measures the amount of radiation from the sun that’s sneaking through the atmosphere. Very ambitious. Would have yielded some very useful data.”

“Would have,” Kelvin asked, “what happened.”

“Lost it at sixteen thousand feet,” Larry said with a nonchalance that was unmistakably genuine. “Poof, just disappeared. But if there’s one thing you learn messing around with high altitude balloons is that, hey, you win some and you loose some.”

Larry went on to tell us about his other passion, which is bluegrass. He told us that soon after he’d retired six years before, he found himself in a big hurt. He didn’t know what he’d do…his career had been pretty much his entire life.

“But then,” he said, “my wife and I were invited by some friends to go down to Bakersfield for a bluegrass festival…”

“SuperGrass,” I asked?

“Right, SuperGrass, and it literally changed my life. Before any time at all I’d pulled out an old guitar I bought in the Far East in the ‘70’s, dusted it off, put on new strings and started learning chords. I found a tiny, not very good bluegrass jam in Monterey, where I live, and then a bigger, better one in Morgan Hill, and that’s where I’ve been going ever since. Finding bluegrass sort of opened me up to possibilities, all kinds. Not long after that I started my balloon launch program.”

“The Morgan Hill jam is where you met Tim Edes,” I asked?

“Right, and let me tell you guys something. A word to the wise…if Tim ever calls you, have your wife tell him you’re not at home. A call from him last year and the next thing I know I’m an area vice president for the CBA. Then he calls me last week, and here I am in Bakersfield transitioning into my new job.”

“Yes indeed,” beams Kelvin, “ain’t life grand?”

And if anyone beamed brighter than Kelvin yesterday, it was Craig Wilson, who just two hours before had introduced Larry Phelgley to the Doubletree Hotel management team as his and Kelvin’s replacement as the buck-stops-here guy for the GREAT 48. Craig and Kelvin, who’ve done a hugely successful job in growing the Bakersfield event, are most definitely not walking away from it; rather, they’re stepping back just a bit.

So, we had a very productive and positive de-briefing with the Doubletree people and have begun negotiations for 48 ’14. I left Whiskey Creek last morning at 8:15 and it’s right at 8:12 today as I turn left onto Jamestown Road and head toward Whiskey Creek two miles up the road. Twenty-four hours well spent.

Happy Valentines Day.

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