The flashing yellow sign saying “Accident, Freeway Closed at Hwy 138, Prepare to Stop” was not ideal on July 19 as I returned to work from a trip to Redlands.
This explained why the navigator application on my phone kept trying to push me to Interstate 10 instead of the I-5 and why the closer to the Central Valley I thought I was getting, the more drive I seemingly had left.
A Lucinda Williams song poured out of my car speakers as I reluctantly took the detour east on Highway 138 to Lancaster. I listen almost exclusively to the Outlaw Country music station on Sirius radio because it’s pretty much the only rock-n-roll music left.
I just bought a new Toyota Corolla and it has features my old 2004 Pontiac Grand Am never lacked. Around 3:15 a.m., as I headed toward Lancaster, my dashboard beeped and I got a message that included a rendering of a coffee cup that said: “Would you like to take a break?” Uh, why yes I would – just point me toward a Starbucks that’s open at this godforsaken hour.
I had to settle for some gas station java at an AM-PM in Mojave. It was there and from a later KTLA report I learned an Arco tanker on the southbound I-5 collided with a car and then crashed over the center divider and into the northbound I-5 at 9:34 p.m. Tuesday night. Bummer.
Onward, I pushed in the middle of the night, through the High Desert of Southern California. Having worked down there for years, some of the city names were nostalgic – Lancaster, Mojave, Tehachapi, etc.
Lancaster is the home of the JetHawks of the California League, which I covered for eight years. The JetHawks had these hideous uniforms that were like purple, scarlet red and yellow. A colleague at the San Bernardino Sun once visited all of the California League baseball stadiums and ranked Lancaster’s No. 5 and San Bernardino’s No. 3, even though both ballparks were constructed from the exact same blueprints. That didn't please the front office types in Lancaster, but I’m sure they’ve gotten over it.
Tehachapi is home to the Tehachapi State Prison, which is mentioned in a song by rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson. Wanda toured with Elvis Presley in the 1950’s and briefly dated him. She is known for a string of hits that all seem to have “party” in them – “There’s a Party Goin’ On” and “Let’s Have a Party” and “The Party Ain’t Over.” Apparently, Wanda liked to have a good time. The rock group Little Feat also mentioned Tehachapi in a tune called “Willin.”
Winding my way up Highway 14, I saw a freeway sign for Bishop. Confusing, as I thought Bishop was way north of Kings County. Would I be nibbling on Bishop's famous shepherd’s bread by breakfast?
Pressing forward, I saw hundreds of 18-wheelers, SUVs and pick-up trucks, as I’m convinced I drive the last passenger car in the world. I was also on the road for deejay Paula Nelson’s entire work shift and may have heard Lucinda Williams’ entire catalog of songs.
Finally, I reached Kern County and breathed a sigh of relief as I read freeway signs for Rabobank Arena and Buck Rogers Boulevard. The Central Valley was close.
I love the names of the cities near Highway 99 – Famoso, Pixley, Wasco, Tipton, Earlimart and McFarland. By 6 a.m or so, I had reached Tulare and could not have been happier if native son Bob Mathias had been there to greet me.
A half hour later, I was on Highway 198 and headed toward Kings County. Hanford looked as good as a Miss USA as I moved across its city limits, my gas tank now teetering on empty.
A warm feeling washed over me, as if I’d finished a marathon. Then I remembered I had to go to work.