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HERB BENHAM: Going full steam ahead

Watermelon Herb

It's that time of year again to enjoy cold, fresh watermelon.

I heard that Jerry Stanners, former CEO of The Bakersfield Californian and self-described turnaround artist, has died.

I met Jerry in the lobby of the building downtown, and my first impression was that he knew the value of a shoe shine. You could see your reflection in his black Wingtips down to the worry lines and the unmet expectations.

Jerry was no nonsense.

"My earliest memory of Stanners is seeing him chuck a whiteboard eraser at some poor sap who walked into his meeting a minute late," recalled a friend who also worked at the paper.

That was back when you could do that, get your point across and have people arrive 10 minutes early for the next sales meeting.

Jerry loved basketball and never saw a shot he didn't like. No matter far away he was and how unlikely the chances were of a successful outcome. He had a set shot, common back then, but not so much now. Jerry wasn't a jumper, he was an anti-jumper. When he jumped, he went down rather than up.

Jerry reminded me of a honey badger on and off the court. He moved quickly, gave the impression he knew where he was going and if you wanted to stop him, good luck.

Not with shoes that shiny and hair that rarely moved, no matter how much turbulence there may have been.

•••

Good thing about this time of year? How about watermelons? Cold, sweet watermelons. This seems like a banner year for watermelons as it was for cherries. (Congratulations Steve Murray, you make me want to become a farmer.)

I'm two for two with watermelons. Usually, there is a mush ball in there somewhere, but not this year. I bought mine at Costco, but I'm thinking they don't have the corner on good watermelons.

•••

Note from Shafter's finest, Dolly Hei, on the column about the slow death of our fridge, which necessitated buying a new one.

"When I was a little girl, an ice truck regularly trolled our dirt road, providing cooling chunks to all the houses on both sides. The bed of the truck was filled with stacked blocks of beautiful, bubble-filled ice, with straw between the layers, leather curtains at the sides and an open tailgate.

"The husky delivery man would look for the placard that hung in front windows to know how many pounds of ice to deliver to each house. He used sturdy tongs to select a chunk from the stacks, and wore a leather flap on one shoulder where he balanced his cold load until he reached each icebox on his route, delivering the frozen water to keep our food cold.

"He was a nice fellow who would often use his pick to break chunks from a block, handing pieces out to the gaggle of kids who followed him. A treat on a hot day in El Monte, California, circa 1940.

"My family moved to Visalia in 1943 when I was 11 and those days ended forever, but the 7½ years we spent there live large in memory. I feel lucky to have started out in such an era."

•••

Oklahoma, whose rolling green hillsides we passed through on our cross-country trip this spring, is a gift that keeps giving; in this case, sunshine and good will.

We received a courtesy notice from PikePass in Oklahoma City.

We'd been in the wrong lane when pulling up to the gates of the toll booth where most law-abiding citizens pay and thus were unable to pay the $5. In some states, less amiable than Oklahoma, nonpayment would trigger a warrant for your arrest and probably end in a high-speed chase and a ball of flames.

Not Oklahoma. They sent a "courtesy notice" that stated in bold letters "This is not a bill," followed by "We value your business and thanks again for choosing the Oklahoma Turnpike System."

The pleasure was ours, and we owe you one.

•••

A friend recently bought an e-bike, one of those electric assist road bikes and he's never been happier. When the rider falters, the bike kicks in and so there is no hill you can't tackle. We saw him over the weekend riding up Breckenridge with a big smile on his face being chased by his riding partner who looked miserable because he was not riding an e-bike.

Here is my concern (in addition to the bikes not being cheap), I'm afraid if I get on an e-bike, I may like it so much I may never ride another regular bike again.

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