Bird herb

Could this be the last Bird in town? It felt like it for Herb Benham, who was having trouble finding other scooters downtown.

That was quick or seems to have been. Six months and it seemed like Bird had flown the coop.

Yesterday, I looked for a Bird, one of those electric scooters, in order to ride from McMurtrey home after a swim. It seemed odd — normally there are everywhere downtown — but this time I could only scare up two, both near H and 19th, 100 yards away from Jin Sushi.

I scanned the barcode and rode the Bird eight blocks home and locked it to the small liquidambar in front of the house. A couple of hours later, I got a text from Stacey at the newspaper: “We are hearing that Bird scooter has pulled out Bakersfield. Do you see any scooters available on your app? Did you see any in the neighborhood?”

I told her I had ridden a Bird that morning, but when I had looked for one, they seemed as rare as an ivory-billed woodpecker. After the conversation, I walked outside. The Bird was still leaning against the tree.

It seems Bird is molting but not ready to abandon Bakersfield, at least according to the news side of things.

I’m glad because I'm not ready for Bird to pull the plug. The scooters are handy. I’ve ridden to the bank, the pool and to Ed, the auto body guy on Sumner.

They’re fun too. I feel like I’ve regained some youthful flair. The wind has been whistling through my brown locks had I had brown locks.

People look at you differently when you’re on a Bird. They nod and smile as if to say, “I didn’t think you were a Bird kind of guy, but it appears that you are.”

Bird gave the town sort of a cool vibe. When people came to visit, Bird was something you could point to and say, “Whatever else you think about Bakersfield, we have Bird.”

It was like getting a Trader Joe’s. We arrived in the world of cool shopping. Santa Monica may have a Trader Joe’s but so do we.

Locals responded with open arms to Bird. Some by riding them and others by stealing and vandalizing them. The stories Birds might tell if they could talk.

If Bird is leaving, it made me think of the new airport and the William Thomas Terminal that was finished in 2006. We had this bright shiny new terminal and there was a sense that Bakersfield had arrived. That we could do anything and go anywhere.

We have this great airport, we just can’t go anywhere unless you want to run from one end to the other with a pair of wings strapped to your back and hope you can catch an updraft and not land in the middle of Amazon’s new fulfillment center.

I’m exaggerating. I know it’s not that bad. I love Phoenix. You can run a marathon inside the terminal and never see a Lo-Lo's Chicken and Waffles twice.

Bakersfield has this great potential but it’s always been a fits-and-starts sort of town. Maybe that’s part of our charm. We’re the perennial underdog and rarely suffer from an unattractive case of overconfidence.

It reminds me of “The Best of Times.” (Most things do, particularly of the scene when Robin Williams assesses his high school football career: “I’m not a has-been, I’m a never-was. I aspire to be a has-been.”)

We are hopeful, optimistic (part of our charm, too), looking for the next “will be.” Maybe Bird stays but if it doesn’t, rumor has it that Lime, one of the other electric scooter companies, is planning to drop off some scooters here.

I have a special interest in Lime. I’m almost like a first-round investor in the company. When I heard Bird was coming to town, I accidentally downloaded the Lime app rather than Bird and charged $40 on my credit card, for which I was too dense to figure out how to get a refund.

That $40 has been sitting in cyberspace waiting to be used.

I’m not alone. Maybe alone in having a $40 credit, but not alone in waiting with open arms. This is part of the new economy and even if wasn’t, it’s new. New, useful and fun.

Herb Benham is a columnist for the Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at or (661) 395-7279.

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