Tuesday, August 21, 2012

the friendliest place in Bakersfield

My friend M. and I road-tripped down to far away San Juan Capistrano over the weekend, to hear the legendary Dick Dale on his alleged retirement tour (Dick D. seemed in top form, so enjoying performing and so very good that I suspect true retirement is not going to happen).  We decided ahead of time to break up our stay on the way back, rather than do the practically-the-full-length-of-California drive twice in one massive effort.  M. found us a charming hotel in Bakersfield, about halfway between S.J.C. and old S.F., ahead of time.

Once we found our lovely hotel in Bakersfield, we had a bit of trouble as our reservation had been mistakenly put into the system for the night before, and we'd been already charged as no-shows.  According to the very sweet desk clerk, this happens all the time with online reservation websites, and because those websites don't pass on to the hotel the customer's phone number, the hotel can't call to see if you are truly a no-show.  We were tired from our drive and from the heat (we Bay Area girls find the SoCal heat delightful yet draining), and we were pleasant despite this expensive screw-up.  The desk clerk wanted to be kind to us, and after M. said, "I just want to check in so we can have a drink" sadly, she asked "How many drinks do you ladies want?"  "Maybe four," said M. judiciously, and the clerk surprised us with four buy-one-drink-get-one-free certificates for the hotel bar.

Readers may not be surprised to learn that this gift was welcomed.  I'd planned this night to be my night off on my diet competition, and we intended to relax with some alcohol before soaking in the hot tub.  After we found our room, we headed to the bar.  "Do you have the certificates?" I hissed.

"Yes," M. hissed back.  "I haven't let go of them.  They haven't left my hand!"

Down at the bar, we found the jukebox painfully loud.  The side of the bar away from the jukebox was packed solid, so we were forced to sit on the louder side.   The young, female bartender took her time coming over to take our order, and gave us the impression that making drinks for us was the last thing she wanted to do.  M.'s inquiry about a margarita was greeted with the gleeful news that no blender drinks were available (you'd have thought she'd asked for a kidney).  Stalwart as ever, M. insisted we would accept our margaritas on the rocks and that they be made with Patron.  "We might as get expensive ones if we're getting free ones," she whispered.

Eventually the drinks turned up, and the bartender took great bureaucratic pleasure in explaining to us that we couldn't use our wealth of free drinks.  "Only one a visit," she said gleefully.

"Okay then," said M.  "We're going to have a drink, go to the pool, and then come back.  We'll make several visits."

"Only one per visit to the hotel," said the bartender, with even more joy at denying us.

After she bustled off to ruin someone else's fun, we conferred. "Obviously the desk clerk meant for us to drink all these tonight!  How can she do that?"  I figured out that surely we must each be able to use one of the cards.  We were two people, after all.  How could the bartender even know we were in the same room?  We could be in separate rooms.

That argument seemed to make the bartender even happier, giving her another chance to deny us.  I offered one of the cards to a very wrinkled old man sitting near us, but he said he'd used one already and would, like us, be denied.  Happily this man, who turned out to be named Don, joined us in excoriating the poor customer service of the bartender. "It's not like anyone would know that she'd taken more than one from you" he said.  "And you'd tell everyone to come here.  It would be better for the place."  He went on at length, and we nodded.  The bartender avoided our corner.

We did eventually get more drinks, and although it was not easy, we managed to order some crappy bar food.  Getting a glass of water from the bartender was particularly hard, and M. was a bit bitter that only one glass of water came (I offered to split it with her).  We confirmed that we intended to leave an uncharacteristically crappy tip.

The one joy of our evening was that M. put a lot of money into the jukebox.  "I played every rock song they had," she said happily.  "We're gonna hear a lot of Led Zeppelin."

The four deeply sunburnt young men playing pool were not pleased when M.'s jukebox selections started playing.  "What the fuck is this shit?"   They convened by the jukebox, staring at it.

Our margaritas had taken some effect, and we found this funny.  We whispered to each other.  "What is song?  What play this?  Where come from?"  Our joy was over, though, when the pool players moved the jukebox out of the wall laboriously and unplugged it, so all the Led Zeppelin M. had paid for was not heard.  Instead terrible, crappy country music rang out again, and the four very sunburnt scruffy men congratulated each other loudly.

A sign on the wall stated, in large letters, that this bar was "the friendliest place in Bakersfield."

"If this is friendly, I don't wanna see antagonism," I bitched.  We agreed that only Don, also passing through was friendly.  A woman passing through the door slammed it in my face as I headed out of the bar.

Once we left the immediate environs of the Friendliest Place In Bakersfield, things picked up.  Some men relaxing near the hot tub were eager to show us how to turn the jets on.  The weather was beautiful.  We remembered the kindness of the desk clerk and resolved to report to her that it was no good giving out those free drink cards.  

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