There's a pretty big difference between a sleigh pulled by eight tiny reindeer and 6,000 motorcyclists roaring down 21st Street. But here in Bakersfield, they get toys delivered just the same.
For the 29th year, riders of nearly any and all things motorized will convene at Beach Park to take part in what is undoubtedly one of Bakersfield's eardrum-rattling holiday traditions: The Bakersfield Toy Run.
Departing at 10 a.m. sharp, motorcycles, hot rods, classic cars and ATVs of all shapes and sizes will roll down their familiar route toward the fairgrounds -- 21st Street to Chester Avenue to Belle Terrace to South P -- all in the name of helping families in need.
Riders who wish to take part in the ride are required to bring one non-perishable food item and one new unwrapped toy valued at $20 or more. But other than that?
"All you have to do is show up," said Don Oldaker, volunteer president of the Bakersfield Toy Run for the last 10 years.
All of the items collected will be donated to the Salvation Army, which will then be distributed exclusively throughout Kern County. Last year, Oldaker estimated over two tons of food was collected, as well as more than 12,600 toys. And he expects to do even better this year.
"This is probably one of the most rewarding things that I do," Oldaker said, "and it keeps getting bigger every year."
A bit of an understatement, considering that when this toy run began, it started off as a simple ride with 35 to 40 motorcycles and has now swelled to a healthy 5,000 to 6,000 riders. It's also graduated from a simple motorcycle run to something more along the lines of a full-blown parade, complete with its own volunteer police escort.
"Every year 21st is lined with people; a lot of Chester is lined with people," Oldaker said. "People decorate their motorcycles, people decorate their cars -- expect to see a lot of Santa hats and a lot of elf hats."
After the riders travel the approximately 45-minute route, most gather at the fairgrounds to round out their day with an afternoon of food, live music, a little bit of shopping, and a decent amount of ogling all of the festively decorated vehicles.
Walk-ins are welcome at the fairgrounds, for the same donation of one non-perishable food item, and toy equaling $20.
"There's also no rule that says you can't bring two," Oldaker added. "We need toys of all different kinds -- if there's one group that is underserved, it's the 13- to 18-year-old group. It's a little tougher to think of something to get for someone in the teenage area, because, for the most part, they're not interested in toys. But they are interested in soccer balls, footballs, softballs -- things that they can still play with and use."
Aside from seeing motorcycles and cars more bedazzled than Christmas trees, one of the most memorable experiences of the Bakersfield Toy Run is the sound, which Oldaker likened to a mechanical horde of "swarming bees." But the only thing higher than the decibel level of this favorite Bakersfield tradition? The generosity and enthusiasm of everyone involved.
"We have, even withstanding difficult economic times, a lot of people in this town with big hearts," Oldaker said. "And it shows every year on the second Sunday of December. And I think it's safe to say, as long as there's a Bakersfield, there's going to be a Bakersfield toy run."