I don’t know why I feel sorry for somebody when I see them walking over the Oak Street overpass, but I do. I wonder, how did they get there, where will they go next and what will they do when they arrive?

That was me passing judgment until I found myself on the overpass a couple of days ago. I’d dropped our Lexus, a vintage classic, at Raul’s on B Street so he could put in new upholstery. I was walking home from his shop in Oleander to our house downtown, which, given the route I had chosen, necessitated scaling Mount Oak Street Overpass.

This is a good, old-fashioned Bakersfield walk — Oleander to Westchester (downtown). The walk was more direct when it was possible to cut through BHS; however, now the choices include walking east to H or Chester, or on Oak Street and the overpass to the west and have people look at you from inside their warm cars thinking, “I’m glad I’m not him.”

“Him” was happy. “Him” remembered that there is nothing better than a walk without a timeline. “Him” was eager to see the vivid colors and sharp lines of the neighborhood, details that often elude us when we travel in a car.

You don’t experience wind in a car other than as a cautionary tale: “I wonder if this car is going to stay on the road.” On foot, after a rain, wind can be exhilarating.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look up while walking under the giant sycamores that frame Oleander because if a branch from one of those monsters snaps and falls on you, your arty little walk is over and you’ll wish gotten a ride like normal people do.

Awhile back, when I was walking everywhere, I was referred to as Walking Jesus, mainly by myself. Walking Jesus thinks quite highly of Walking Jesus. However, if WJ has a sycamore branch fall on him, he is just another delusional character with outsized expectations.

Oleander could use some paint, something you notice when you’re on foot. Paint is not just an Oleander problem. Bakersfield is tough on paint. Bakersfield eats paint like dogs eat grass.

If somebody walked by our house they’d probably shake their heads and wonder what we were waiting for. We’re waiting for what everybody is waiting for: Somebody to drop stone-cold dead and leave us a windfall so we can paint and put on a new roof.

Deferred maintenance aside, I have fond memories of Oleander. We had our first three kids when we lived on Holtby. We had good neighbors like the Johnsons, Vetters, Boyles, Vests, McCarthys and the Bradburys. When you’re on foot, even though everybody’s gone, you remember your neighbors. You can see them in their houses, standing on their front lawns and pulling into their driveways grateful to be at home after a long day at work.

San Emidio, Sunset and then on to Park, the street parallel and closest to California. There were nine almost perfect adobes, one next to another, I’d never seen. Where have they been? Where have I been other than in a car traveling from somewhere to somewhere else?

The adobes were beautiful, Flat roofs, perfect adobe browns and cream coloreds. It felt like Arizona. It felt like Bakersfield in the teens and '20s.

Three Birds, those electric scooters, were locked to a light post at the corner of Oak and California. I could have used one but WJ does not ride a scooter. He walks in the wind, wind that ruffles his used-to-be hair.

Why did I feel sorry for people on overpasses? They have the best view in town: the mountains shrouded in clouds, the expansive open space to the south of the tracks that extends several football fields long to BHS and then the billboard advertising the law offices of Mickey Fine.

I walked diagonally across Jastro Park, next to the tennis courts, many of them now pickleball courts, by the stage where a homeless person was sleeping and through the football field where WJ dislocated his thumb 50 years ago on a high pass (he held onto the ball because four strong fingers are enough) that came barreling out of the sun.

Friends recently bought a house on 18th Street across from Jastro and are returning to the neighborhood. No matter how nice a house is on the river, a new grandson three blocks away trumps all.

I stopped to pick some small, sweet pecans a block from the house that been loosened by the wind. I wouldn’t have had those riding in a car unless somebody had thrown them through the open window.

Brown oceans of sticker balls lay scattered on the grass and in the gutter in front of our house. No matter how many sticker balls fall, there are an equal amount hanging like prickly Christmas ornaments in the liquidambars. Sticker balls, like sand and the stars, are infinite.

I was happy to see the house. It could use some paint. Paint, just like the rest of them.

Herb Benham is a columnist for the Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at hbenham@bakersfield.com or 661-395-7279.

(3) comments


Herb, great article. bob’s grandfather, Henry J. Brandt built most of those homes along the streets you mentioned. He and his family lived at the corner of Chester Lame on Oleander. I remember many of the names of your neighbors on Holtby.


nice remembrance. grew up in the area.


Nice article Erb. When I was a copper working the Oleander district, I'd love to cruise around looking at the older homes. They have a class and style you don't see in the cookie cutter homes of today.

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