Talk about incongruence.
Here was Mars, the Angry Red Planet, hanging there in the silent void of space, eerily, eternally mute. And here were Gary and Cheryl Longwith in their living room, trying (and mostly failing) to follow the Netflix docudrama on Earth's planetary neighbor, practically deafened by the roar of automobile engines racing down the street behind their house.
Someone had a right to be angry, and it wasn't Mars.
The Longwiths of Laurelglen are in good company. Good, plentiful company. Street racing, a whack-a-mole problem for cities like Bakersfield since the first convergence of cars and teens, is back and louder than ever.
"The racing is constant but it's especially bad on the weekend," Cheryl Longwith said. "If we're in our living room watching a movie, we can't hear the movie. It just happened when we were watching 'Mars.' It rattles the whole house. It's making us want to move."
When the Longwiths moved to Laurelglen just this past January, into a house that backs up to six-lane Gosford Road, she said, "we had no idea this was going on."
This is what's going on. People in their teens, 20s and early 30s have been congregating in the parking lot of the Kohl's department store on Gosford, just north of Harris Road, doing what people in that age range often do. A slow weekday night crowd might see 20 or 30 cars, but on summer nights, police say they've seen upwards of 1,000.
Many of them drive with ear-splitting velocity down one of several wide, straight, long boulevards in the area, especially Gosford and White Lane. Some nights the roar is clearly audible for miles around.
The greater threat, of course, is traffic safety. Some of the city's most horrific accidents have occurred on Gosford, including the Sept. 13 death of a motorcyclist performing a wheelie who was struck and killed by an SUV making a U-turn.
What is the Bakersfield Police Department doing?
Trying, says Sgt. Nathan McCauley, a BPD spokesman.
"We give vehicles citations for reckless driving, speeding, exhibition of speed, and it just chases the problem somewhere else. We put up signage, barriers and speed bumps — but that only does so much. It's a combination of setting up enforcement operations and working with the property owners."
He urged residents and business owners alike to call the BPD and report street racing near their neighborhoods.
Kohl's manager Laura Harrington referred my questions about possible problems in the store's parking lot to a company spokesman; that person did not return my call. I called Castle & Cooke Inc., which owns the Kohl's shopping center, but missed connections with Laura Whitaker, who manages the company's commercial division. Darlene Mohlke, whose purview extends only to the company's residential development operations, noted that she, too, has dealt with the sounds of street racing in her neighborhood as well — near Ming Avenue and Grand Lakes Boulevard, four miles north of the Kohl's epicenter. "It boggles my mind," she said.
Many minds have been boggled by the ongoing problem.
"It's every night, every single night," said Susan Houghton, a Bakersfield native who recently returned with her husband to his hometown after a 20-year absence to this — nightly drag racing.
"Yeah, welcome back," she said sarcastically.
"People have had it. I can't understand why they don't set up a sting. They do DUI checkpoints, which are needed and wonderful, but why can't they do this? It can't be a lack of money. They have Measure N money" from the recently instituted half-cent sales tax, Houghton said.
Yeah, sergeant, what about that Measure N funding, which voters were led to believe would go primarily to public safety?
"Measure N is helping us with a lot of things but it's not an instantaneous thing," McCauley said. "Rolling out a new group of officers is a year to year-and-a-half process. It's not an instant fix. We have 27 people set to graduate next year and another group coming in behind them."
In the meantime, he said, BPD just doesn't have the bodies to devote a detail to full-time street-racing management. "It would be nice to have a car that's totally dedicated to this issue," McCauley said, but it's not possible at present.
There's little to dissuade busted drivers from doing their legal penance and showing up again next Saturday night.
"These are misdemeanors, so it's not like they're locked away," McCauley said. "They're just out there again, playing 'Fast and Furious' in their mom's Honda. Some of them have the kind of modified cars seen in car shows and then you have others reckless driving in the family Subaru."
Car culture kids and their street racing friends typically line up meeting times and places via social media. They often establish backups plans as well.
"'If we get broken up, we'll all go over to WinCo,'" McCauley said, quoting a typical set of instructions. And officers' response: "You broke them up so you might as well follow them to the next place."
Cheryl Longwell is sympathetic to the plight of bored teens; she had friends in high school who did the same sort of thing. But the cars of that era were typically not so explosively loud. Throw in her proximity of house to street and the problem is almost unbearable.
"My husband set up a decibel meter in the backyard, and it was up in the 90s, sometimes the 100s," she said. "Gosford has turned into a six-lane freeway. You try to barbecue in your backyard, but you can't be out there and have a conversation. It's constant traffic, all hours."
She suggested programming alternating traffic signals that prevent drivers from attaining high, prolonged speeds, setting up red light cameras, building a high soundwall along Gosford of a type similar to 24th Street's, and establishing a random, heavy police presence.
"If they don't do something," she said, "this area is just going to dry up and go away."
The social media app/website NextDoor has been teeming for months with complaints and observations about street racing.
Wrote David Trillo, who lives in Silver Creek: "The problem seems to have two contributing factors: 1) Today's personal race cars are so over-the-top insane. I predict that the 2023 Dodge Challenger will be the first street legal car to break the sound barrier. 2) They once were unique. Now, everybody has 'em ..."
Houghton wrote a letter about the issue, dated Nov. 4, to Mayor Karen Goh and the Bakersfield City Council. She wrote, in part:
"It also appears from the (NextDoor) posts, that the Bakersfield Police Department has been notified — repeatedly. Given that this is occurring almost every night now and it is in the very same area, I am struggling to understand why a proactive response or sting type of set up hasn't occurred?
"We all understand being short staffed. We all understand the focus on homelessness. But you've got a good group of Bakersfield residents who are awakened, disturbed and frustrated over this almost every night. Do we need to wait for an innocent bystander to be killed before action is taken?"
And how did that earnest letter play downtown?
"I haven't received an answer," Houghton said.