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HERB BENHAM: Being me has never been better

I met a friend for a Friday lunch at Luigi’s. Nothing like a Friday lunch. The week’s work is done, should be done or, if it isn’t done, may never be done and Friday lunch, which can trend long, is a way to celebrate.

Friday lunch at Luigi’s is a quintessential Bakersfield experience. Akin to Saturday dinner at Uricchio’s. Similar to the post-church Sunday breakfast at Hodel’s.

Given that it was a lovely spring day, on the front side of this recent blast of heat, we sat outside on the shaded back patio. Restaurants are good for people watching and we hadn’t done much people watching recently and now the gates are opening and the flood of humanity is flowing by us with all of its interest and color.

My friend and I were doing the same dining dance. Paying attention to each other while simultaneously nodding hello to the people we knew and for those we did not, wondering where to place them in the town fabric.

There was a table of spirited women in their late 30s and early 40s, I’m guessing on the ages, but suffice to say they were younger than we were, and looked as if they were celebrating a birthday, anniversary, impending engagement or something festive. Good cheer and Friday joy emanated from the table like waves from a welcoming ocean.

One of the women who was facing my direction, smiled and waved. Like most of her seatmates, she was happy to be alive.

I waved back. Go ahead and make my day. Wait, she already had.

“Had” because most of us can live on a friendly gesture, wave or hello. The smallest kindness can carry us through Friday, Saturday, Sunday and deliver us to Monday with human-powered momentum.

I still had it. No doubt about it. Underneath, several dermatological layers underneath, I was the same guy I’d always been. The pilot light was still on, even if the gas burners were not operating at their ultimate BTUs.

Ms. Friendly got up from her table and walked 15 feet to our table.

“Are you Herb Benham?”

I am Herb Benham and I have never been so proud to be Herb Benham and I want the world to know that there is no better person to be in the world right now than Herb Benham and, I can’t say his name enough.

“I am,” I replied.

Ribs on the way, friend in tow, energizing conversation with my newest youngest friend. Could this get any better?

“I went to school with your son, Herbie,” she said.

Herbie? That guy? We’ll talk about him later.

“I teach with a friend of yours in Carlsbad,” she said.

Herb Benham has many friends. Some of them live in Carlsbad. Some don’t. Whether they live in Carlsbad or not, a friend of Herb’s is a friend of Herb’s.

“We were talking the other day in the break room at school and when she found out I was from Bakersfield she asked if I knew Herb Benham,” she said.

Of course. Doesn’t everybody?

“You also surf with her husband,” she said.

My stock, healthy to begin with, was rising by the minute. Yes, I do surf. I am a surfer. I’m a cool daddy-o kind of surfer from the surfing generation.

She mentioned Steve, his wife, Jobi, the teacher, and then introduced herself. I didn’t introduce myself because Herb Benham, and I don’t ever get tired of saying his name, needs no introduction.

“Herbie was one of my best buddies in high school,” she said.

That guy again? A small chip off the old magnificent block? I’m sure he’s doing fine but he’s not on the patio at Luigi’s on a Friday holding court like he owns Friday and the place.

What a pleasant hour packed into 90 seconds. Conversations are about quality not quantity anyway. Soon she returned to her table and Herb Benham to his Herb Benham-ness.

Good Friday, Saturday and Sunday and still riding the wave on Monday.

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