Chaos in Bakersfield (1 Viewer)


May 3, 2008
Northern California
This is a story that happened about a decade ago. Names changed to protect those involved.

I landed in Bakersfield after a regional Rainbow Gathering north of there in the Sequoia National Forest. I'd hitched there with a guy I met in LA named Toaster (again, names changed). It'd been a pretty good week in the woods, just about 100 of us, plenty of fun. Bakersfield wasn't really an intended stop, we just got dropped off there and were going to get together supplies and hop out north up to San Francisco.

At first, it was great. Our first night in town, we found a little art gallery playing Eraserhead for a small donation. We chatted somebody up outside, and that person happened to be the owner of the gallery, a really nice, smooth black guy who says we can go on in, no donation necessary. His name's Theon; Theon pours us wine, and next thing we know it's well into the wee hours of the morning, we've got a spot to sleep in this weird little art gallery, and the wine doesn't seem to be ending. We sleep in all day, wake up to packs of socks. I play music at an Irish session in a coffee shop in town - an Irish session is a regular event where a bunch of people play traditional music together - where people buy me beers and give me money afterward.

After a couple of days of this sort of thing, we meet up with a couple of other travelers, a couple named Scott and Kayla. Spacebags are had, two to be exact. A squat in town is discovered. This squat looks like some sort of haunted house out of a movie, very old-fashioned and with a feeling like it's loaded down with history. Scott and me get along great, but sort of have a tendency to each push the other a little bit further. Drink a little more, get a little wilder, make a little more chaos.

At some point, we're drunk enough that we're trying to cook ramen with wine. Shortly after the cooking starts, there's cops yelling from outside to come out. The only way out is the kitchen window. With the reasoning that they don't know how many of us there are in there, me and Scott come on out while Toaster and Kayla stay behind, betting that the cops don't come in and search the place. The gamble pays off, the cops tear everything out of our pockets and packs and leave it there and drag us off to jail. Apparently, Scott thinks this is prison, because the first thing he does when we're tossed into the holding cell with everybody else is to find the biggest skinhead he can and mouth off to him. The cops give it a minute, because Scott was mouthing off the whole way in, and then drag them both off to their own drunk tanks.

When the sun comes up, I'm still drunk as they let me out, making me sign a release promising I'll come back for court (I won't, they don't expect me to). We go back to the squat, pick up our crap off the ground because our friends apparently weren't cool enough to take the time to grab it, and track down the other two. "Okay," we thought. "Little hitch in the plans, but we're having fun, let's carry it on a bit." This is where shit gets weird.

Next day, we're all hanging out when this ooglish somewhat young group of locals asks us if we want to go check out an awesome abandoned building and also drink a spacebag. "Thank you but we're good, we learned our lesson from the spacebag last night that landed us in jail and got one of us beat up" said none of us.

The spacebag is real, and the squat is actually pretty amazing, a giant building right near downtown, giant windows of one-way glass, so you can watch everybody walking by on the street without being seen at all. Things are back on track. Bakersfield is great. There's a lot of building to explore and everybody splits off into little groups to kind of do their thing. Me and Scott go one way, Toaster and Kayla go others. Suddenly, there's crazy amounts of banging on one of the upper floors, and we get it into our heads that some folks upstairs are having too much fun in the squat and are going to attract the cops. Scott goes one way, I'm off in another, things are a bit crazy.

I get down to the door out, and a couple of big bald dudes are standing there, bulging arms crossed, things are starting to piece together and feel really sketchy. Way too late. They ask my name. "Dameon," I say, trying to sound like I'm not shit-poundingly scared. One of them grabs my hat off my head, one I'd just started getting to feel sentimental about, holds it out to his friend and goes "You want this?"

"Give that back," I say.

"Or what?" one says.

"I'm going to take it," I say, apparently feeling suicidal, and reach for my hat.

The first thing I feel is the punch to the back of my head from the previously unknown third dude that was behind me. More punches come pretty quickly from the front, one of them's suddenly talking about how the police are probably coming from all the noise and they gotta go, a quick round of extra punches, and somebody tells me "leave town, you and your road dog are 86'd from Bakersfield." I'm down on the ground in a very WTF state.

Heading upstairs, I find Scott and Kayla, they're fine. Some of the kids have stuck around; apparently only a few of them were in on it and they're in a very WTF state too. Worse, I find Toaster, naked and beaten to a pulp, crying and asking if they were gone yet. The word narc was written with a Sharpie across his back (he's definitely not). Dude was traumatized, but luckily it was nothing sexual, nothing was broken, overall dude was in good shape for the beating he'd just taken. Apparently, one of them had heaved him up and was about to throw him over a railing to concrete floor three stories down, but one of the others talked them out of it.

Turns out, Toaster had been talking to dude's girl, and dude was head of a bald white muscle dude gang operating out of a tattoo shop next to the gallery. Toaster was basically telling her that her boyfriend's an asshole while sort of simultaneously hitting on her, and my theory is that basically led to the whole trap. That's my best theory, anyway, I never got a whole picture.

Normally, this is about when you'd get the hell out of town immediately, no stops, no second thoughts. I had my backpack, I always have my backpack, I was ready to go.

"I stashed my backpack at the art gallery and it has a bunch of journals in it from since I was a teenager and it's all that's important to me in the world," said Toaster, who I'd been getting to know over the weeks we'd traveled and gone to a Rainbow Gathering and gotten to know so well.




Knowing full well it's a pretty suicidal decision, having been unable to talk him out of going alone, I guess I'm going right to where a bunch of big muscle dudes hang out that just beat the ever-loving crap out of us and told us to leave town...after dark...with just the two of us. Scott and Kayla give a wise "hell no" to the idea of coming with us, and nobody can blame them. Goddamn motherfucking journals. Of course, the instant we're on the same street, three giant steroid dudes stop us.

"I thought you guys were 86'd" one of them says. We start whining about just grabbing my friend's pack and hitting the tracks immediately, and things are looking pretty bad; we're basically seconds away from our second beatdown of the day when a black dude steps in who seems to have some clout in the area. Turns out, it's Theon the art gallery owner's brother, encouraging them to just let us grab dude's stuff and leave. Theon's brother is saving our asses. I have to stand there surrounded by steroid motherfuckers while my road dog goes in and gets his pack with his stupid-ass journals. It is not comfortable.

Finally, we're all four at the train yard, ready to get the hell out of this crazy town. The UP yard in Bakersfield is a bit sketchy, there is a helicopter flying low every hour spotlighting the yard, but there's not exactly much choice. Walking across town to go hitch could wind up being a visit to the hospital if we run into the wrong person. Hallelujah, there's a northbound IM on the mainline, our ticket out of town, only a few hours into the wait.

Our best ride is an empty well with some fairly large holes in the floor, but not a total suicide car. To be safe, we put our packs over the holes. One of us puts our pack over a hole with the fabric actually stuffed through.

Through the night, something ripped a hole in that pack, and Toaster's journals, those journals we'd basically risked our lives over, were strewn along the tracks over possibly hundreds of miles.
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