CoffeeBeer >> Double Shot Buzz >> 2 Bakersfield Cafes


Things have been quiet on the CoffeeBeer website, but that's because finally, for the first time since the beginning of the Covid lockdowns, I had the chance to fly over to America for a few weeks for a visit. Sadly my Long Beach-based mother had passed away during lockdown, so what's left of my tiny immediate family has relocated up to the Central Valley to the city of Bakersfield.

When I was a kid in Long Beach, we used to think of Bakersfield as nothing more than a hick cowtown that my family drove through on our summer vacations. We would be on our way out of the LA Basin and up to the Sierras, or else taking the fast route to the coast of Northern California or Oregon. We may have stopped on occasion at a roadside burger joint in the area for lunch, or even just a cold soft drink, because it was usually hotter than hell on that stretch of Highway 99 and worth a break from our non-air-conditioned car. But I really never knew anything about Bakersfield--until this year.

Originally inhabited by the native Yokuts people, the area didn't change much until the discovery of gold in 1848, at which point settlers of all kinds flooded into Kern County. The original settlement was washed away in 1861 by floods from the Kern River, but by 1873 it was finally incorporated as the City of Bakersfield, named after lawyer and former colonel Thomas Baker. By the 1890s the city had attracted quite a few more migrants who worked in the oil industry. Today it's one of the fastest growing cities in California, with over half of the population being of Latin descent. The city's industry is relatively handy to the ports of Los Angeles and Oakland. It boasts the world's largest ice cream plant, and it's famous for the Bakersfield Sound which was popularised by local legends Merle Haggard and Buck Owens.

So I guess we were being unfair, as there aren't that many cows. There must have been quite a few sheep during the Gold Rush, though, because a lot of Basque shepherds moved to the area, and there are currently more Basque restaurants in Bakersfield than anywhere else in the country. And I did see a few cowboys while I was there, especially at Ethel's Old Corral, but that may be more of a style than anything else. I don't know, I could be wrong. I was there for only three weeks, so I still have a lot to learn.

But I do know that today Bakersfield is a surprisingly up and coming city, with plenty of things to see and, of course, there are a few coffee roasters. The morning that I said goodbye to my sibling group and took off for a coastal road trip with my good friend Mistah Rick, we first stopped for breakfast at the Bakersfield Roasting Company, which is located on the southwest side of town. To get there we drove through a vast network of industrial parks, past supercenters and auto parts dealers, finally parking just outside the Calvary Chapel, which is located next door to the coffee roasters. Walking carefully through the correct door, we found ourselves in the main room of the coffee roasters, with a view of a front patio. Off to one side of the room was what looked like a dark conference room with long tables. Only one person was sitting in this room on this bright and sunny Sunday, and of course he was madly buried in his laptop. (Was it the free Wifi?)

There was nothing savoury available in the deli case for our breakfast snack, so we both went for a slice of sweet zucchini bread. The coffee menu lists all kinds of intriguing speciality drinks, including a Velvet Elvis and a Dirty Hippie, but being coffee purists I went for a much more simple cortado, and Rick opted for a cappuccino.

My cortado was extremely smooth, a bit too smooth for my taste. I felt as if it were sitting in the dark corner of a cafe bar, wearing dark glasses and a beret and looking so cool. But if you removed its shades, you realised it had fallen asleep. The coffee is quite good, but I would have liked something a bit more assertive: perhaps a Thelonius Monk-inspired piano riff thrown in.

There are 13 different coffee roasts for sale, two of them dark (Italian Roast and Smokey Joe), and in that range are two different light Ethiopian coffees. They also offer around ten teas. Perhaps I may have preferred the Smokey Joe. I wonder if he plays a mean sax...

Before we left we visited the toilets, which are back through the Conference Room. When I walked in I half expected to find a growing group of people glued to a PowerPoint presentation called "Using MS Teams to Achieve More Sales", but the laptop man was still by himself. When I walked into the Ladies, the room seemed to be exactly the same whether I walked through a door into a cubicle or out, which was confusing. (And no, I hadn't had any psychedelic coffee, particularly not the Dirty Hippie. Was there something in the zucchini bread?)

To go along with the confusing theme, the exit doors on all three sides of the place all lead out to their own car parks, and the building is angularly symmetrical. Fortunately we managed to find our car, as it would have been difficult to continue on our journey without it.

A couple of weeks earlier, I had the chance to see a bit of downtown Bakersfield. I went with my sister-in-law Carol and her friend Diane to meet up with another friend at a popular coffee shop. Founded in the mid-1990s, Dagny's is bright and cheerful, with windows all around, and some tables outside on the shaded pavement. As we walked in my nose was greeted with a wonderful smell, so I immediately ordered a macchiato. My drink was all right but seemed a bit weak, as if not enough coffee was used. Carol's iced chai with almond milk was very good.

Because we were early, Diane and I decided to take a quick walk around downtown Bakersfield, passing old art deco buildings, classic cinemas and hotels, lots of murals, and a surprising number of Chinese cocktail bars. When we got back to Dagny's, Saffron had arrived, so we sat down for a chat. I didn't feel like another coffee, but I was pretty hungry. Sadly they didn't have much available, with the only nonsweet food being a choice of either a turkey sandwich, a vegetable frittata, or a broccoli cheddar quiche. Carol and I both went for a slice of the quiche, which turned out to be unbelievably atrocious. The crust was hard as a rock and impossible to eat, especially with the provided plastic fork, and the tasteless filling was sort of a neon yellow-orange and the texture of a dry cellulose sponge. It bore no resemblance whatsoever to quiche, much less to anything I've ever known which has been called "food". I must say it was the worst quiche I've ever had. And Carol said that the last time she had it here, it was delicious. So what was going on today? Perhaps they were understaffed because of Covid, and they'd had to hire a goldfish to bake the quiche, and the barista who made my weak drink hadn't had any sleep. I really hope it was just a very bad day for Dagny's as far as the food and the coffee drinks were concerned.

Speaking of goldfish--and also thinking about inedible things like baseballs--reminds me of a double-subject email conversation from earlier this year with my Bay Area friend:

Have you heard that scientists at Ben-Gurion University in Israel have trained a goldfish how to drive a car? And it took only ten days for the goldfish to single-handedly (or single-finnedly) become adept at driving an FOV, or "fish-operated vehicle", as they call it. So if the goldfish goes for a driver's license, will it be a limited one for FOVs only?

In other news, I ordered a back issue of the wonderful MacGuffin journal, created just for imaginatively curious people like ourselves, with each issue being devoted to a particular theme. This issue is all about balls. There's quite an interesting article on all of the different balls used in sports. For instance, for the past 75 years Wilson Sporting Goods has been the sole supplier of balls for the NFL, and of course Spaulding has been the same for basketball. (I think all of us American kids had Spaulding basketballs when we were growing up.)

But I was most intrigued by the supplier of baseballs for the National and American Leagues. The only factory in the world that is authorised to make them is Rawlings, which is located in Costa Rica. Every single ball is made by hand out of white cowhide, with exactly 180 stitches of red New Zealand wool yarn sewn in a figure-8 pattern. This fastidiousness is necessary, because baseball "invokes the precise movement of a ball through the air by someone pitching, often at great speed and distance, and the tiniest alteration to a ball or a player's experience handling it can make a huge difference."

Another interesting fact about major league baseball is that "every single ball used in a MLB game will have been rubbed by a ball boy or an equipment manager sitting in a small room with a jar of mud. Each pot of the mysterious dirt, called Lena Blackburne Baseball Rubbing Mud, is sourced from the same secret location somewhere on the banks of the Delaware River and is said to add friction to the ball and aid a pitcher's grip." I wonder if Elon Musk will look into using trained fish to finish the push to Full Self-Driving mode in Teslas. (Would it be Fish-Enhanced Self-Driving mode?)

That's very interesting about the baseballs. It doesn't surprise me that they are hand-stitched by Rawlings workers in Costa Rica, but the fact that every baseball has to be prepared for use on site at the stadium by rubbing it with a single-origin mud seems a best-kept secret of something about this sport that is actually interesting. I found a report from CNN about the "magic mud". They report that Chris Van Zant, assistant manager for the Atlanta Braves, rubs balls for his team, mixing mud with his spit. "Working up the spit to rub up nine dozen baseballs a game is no easy task, so he makes sure he has plenty of gum and soda on hand." I found that you can order a small jar online for $19.95. The perfect gift for Valentine's Day!

I knew that during a game the umpire occasionally asks for a new ball to be put into play, but it's astonishing to think that 100 balls may get used up during a game, and a million balls in a season. Where do they all go? Obviously, quite a few end up in the hands of fans after frequent fouls and occasional home runs. Now and then a player throws a ball to a fan after catching it. (I recently heard about a play in 2009, when Cubs outfielder Milton Bradley caught a fly ball, paused to pose for some pictures, then threw the ball into the stands , forgetting that was only the second out of the inning and the Twins had two men on base, one of whom was allowed to score.)

But what happens to all the other balls? Recalling your prior message about the wart comb jelly with its transient anus, I wonder if, after the fans leave a stadium, some sort of transient wormhole anus might be opening behind home plate to excrete the excess balls into another dimension.

Add to this the fact that the typical ML baseball is only in use for about two pitches before being replaced, the average major league team goes through up to 100 balls in one game, and the entire league can use up to a million baseballs in a season.

So where do all the old baseballs go? Are they recycled somehow? Or is there a massive baseball cemetery somewhere?

I'm so excited about all of the things that the James Webb telescope might discover in our universe. Maybe at some point it will detect a galaxy in a parallel universe where there is an entire planet made up of former baseballs expelled, through a wormhole, from the anuses of wart comb jellies.