:: Article

Bakersfield Synchronicity

By Barrett Dylan Brown.

I tried being a hobo for a while when I was nineteen. I got a big frame pack together with all sorts of crap I wouldn’t need; walkman, tapes, books, different clothes, an ebony walking stick, a harmonica, and more. I would later learn that the first rule of train hopping is to travel light.
I had my friend drive me up to the Stockton train yard and I sat around waiting. I’d done a little research on the Internet about what sorts of freight trains were available for riding and the best way to catch them. It was the middle of the day and I walked around the yard trying to figure out which train would take me south. Eventually I saw a yard worker and asked him, he was very nice and pointed me in the right direction. I hopped on the back of a parked grainer and hid in the built-in hole, waiting for the train to get moving.

It took several hours, but eventually it left. Boy, that first ride was beautiful. I had my Walkman tuned to NPR and there was this bluegrass show on, I was drinking my whiskey and soaring past the countryside, alone and free. After the train got rolling I crept out of my hole and sat on the back platform watching the landscape. The first thing I noticed was how different the scenery was from freight train. There were no McDonald’s, no billboards, no cars or freeways. Just miles and miles of farms, mountains, and houses. Truly beautiful, pure Americana. Many hours and train yards later I was getting pretty sore and bored. We stopped in Bakersfield and I decided to disembark for the night.
If you haven’t been to Bakersfield, let me assure you it is the lowest pit of hell I have ever experienced. Having been in jail there a year earlier I should have known better than to set foot in that hellhole again. Bakersfield used to be an oil town in the sixties, but it mostly dried up and what was left was a lot of desert, abandoned farms, and white trash country bumpkin crank freaks. But I was tired and at least I was familiar with Bakersfield, so I got off. It was early night. I took the remains of my money and went to a small bar nearby that was inside a shoddy hotel lobby. I was too tired to notice that it was filled with men and if I had noticed probably wouldn’t have cared. I got funny looks from a couple of guys, noting my brand new backpack and walking stick. The first one approached me.
“Hey what are you doing?”
“I’m just passing through town, riding freight trains to New Orleans.”
“Do you have anywhere to stay tonight?”
“Um…no.”
“Have you ever seen a dead body?”
“Um…no.”
“Do you want to?”
He ran a small mortuary in town and invited me back to his place. The idea certainly intrigued me, but no thanks. The second man was portly with a loud red Hawaiian shirt and beard, his boyfriend tall and thin with a mustache. He told me they were having a barbecue and invited me to join them. Okay. We drove to a store for supplies, then back to their place. The fat one seemed a little too aggressive with his questions and whatnot, but the slim one was nice enough that I didn’t worry about it. They lived in a cute little apartment complex with a courtyard out front. The fat guys place was small but quite richly furnished, actually packed with gold trinkets and baubles, the thin one lived next door but I didn’t see his place.
We sat outside by the fountain and tiki torches. Eating my steak and drinking margarita’s I had to admit the whole hobo thing was going pretty well, god was good. Toward the end of dinner the thin one seemed to be getting kind of nervous and hinting at the fact that maybe I should sleep at his place instead. Fat Guy was pretty persistent though, so I didn’t think anything of it.
I wanted to sleep in the living room, but fat guy didn’t trust me understandably, so I had to sleep on the floor next to his bed. It wasn’t the first time I had slept at a stranger’s house and I wasn’t stupid. I lay in my sleeping bag with my hand on the heavy ebony cane I had. I regulated my breathing to sound like I was asleep and counted his breaths until I was sure he was asleep.

At some point I must have fallen asleep. I awoke with a start in the dark. My sleeping bag was unzipped and the great hulking fat man was looming over me. His hand on my crotch. I jumped up wielding my cane over my head and screaming fiercely.
“How dare you! I’m gonna fucking brain you!”
He backed off and looked at me sheepishly, like a child caught stealing a cookie. I regret to this day that I didn’t beat him, rob him, or even extort money out of him. I felt so sick I simply grabbed my stuff and left. It wasn’t until later that I discovered that he had gone through my things and stolen my Walkman and tapes. It was about three in the morning and I was already sick of Bakersfield. I headed back to the train tracks to try and wait for the next southbound. I sat against a wall and tried to doze as I waited. Every time I would fall asleep a train would come barreling by and wake me, but none stopped. It was a pretty sorry night.
The next morning I finally found a train and tried to hop on, but the train bulls caught me. It was my first offense, so they logged my name and told me that next time I was caught I would go to jail. Shit. I walked the tracks looking for other hobo’s and trying to figure out how the hell to get out of Bakersfield. I learned a little more about train hopping in subsequent conversations. Apparently there were two different lines of freight trains; the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) and the Union Pacific Southern Pacific (UPSP). The BNSF, which I had ridden down there, moved mostly Federal cargo. They had nice fast trains and smoother lines, but also more cops. The UPSP was the choice of the discriminate hobo, the ride was bumpy, the cars sucked, but they weren’t watched very closely. So off I went to find a good place on the UPSP line to catch out from. I found the yard and waited all day. The thing about train hopping is that sometimes you have to wait days for the right train, or you have to walk for miles to find the best spot to get on from.
While fallowing the tracks I was getting pretty hungry when I saw this chain link fence. Through the fence I saw a small patch of green green grass, filled with happy bums. It was like looking in at homeless paradise. One bum called over to me through the gate and asked me if I was hungry. I sure was, so he directed me around the building to the other side. It was some kind of homeless shelter and I had arrived just in time to feed.
One way or another I ended up spending a couple of weeks at the shelter. Bakersfield is just like that, it has a stale, rancid energy that sucks people down into it. My days were not all bad days, rather boring all in all. I’d go to the library and read until noon, then eat a sandwich at Catholic Charities. In the afternoon I would find some way to get a beer or a joint and hang around the shelter talking to all the other hobo’s and bums. I’d been meaning to read some Kurt Vonnegut, whom I’d never read, so one day I went to his shelf in the library and picked a book at random. It turned out to be Breakfast of Champions. Even if you have read Breakfast of Champions, it is vital to my story that I remind you of several portions of the book. You will see the relevance later.
The book is said to be fiction and takes place in a small town. A few details are given about the town throughout the book; One, there used to be a sign by the railroad tracks which read “No Niggers after Sun down.” Two, there was a park with a waterfall in the shape of a cross that was tourist attraction. Three, it was an ex-oiling town in the desert. Four, the town was full of used car businesses. Five, the town had a local Mafia contingent run by a seven foot tall man named “Dante,” who was named after Al Capone’s right hand man. Remember these details, as they are the fundamental reason for my writing this.
Now, one day while I was hanging out with the old, crusty bums, a beautiful young woman walked into the shelter yard and started hanging out. Firstly this was odd because there were no women at the shelter, and secondly because there were no beautiful people at all. She was about twenty years old with clear coffee skin and dark hair, I would later find out she was American Indian and Mexican, ouch. I really wanted to talk to her of course, but I was incredibly intimidated, so I just watched her. Apparently she was the girlfriend of one of the young Mexican workers there and they were having a fight. She ran out of the shelter crying. My friend there told me not to fuck with her as her boyfriend was incredibly jealous and such, but I didn’t listen.
I don’t remember what was said between us, but she invited me back with her to a place she stayed at sometimes. The owner of the house was a man who called himself White Wolf and he was nice enough, if a little slow. He was about fifty years old, with white hair surrounding his bald dome, and a friendly demeanor. He had been a karate champion at one time and would talk about it forever, if you let him. How the girl met him I don’t know, but she had her own room there and he treated her as a daughter. That night we fucked and I didn’t have a condom. It isn’t wise to fuck girls who hang out at shelters unprotected, but I was desperate and she was sexy.
The next day she took me over to meet some other friends of hers, a couple. They lived in a small apartment on the third floor of a run-down building, on the next block from White Wolf’s. The woman must have been three hundred pounds; pregnant, acne-ridden with thick red glasses, and chain smoking. The man only two hundred, maybe two-fifty; bald, genial, wrestling fanatic, chain smoker. Her name was Julie and I think his name was Kurt or Larry or something. Their story went something like this; She had a huge trust fund from her family and he delivered newspapers for a living. I think he was only engaged to her for her money. She smoked while pregnant because she had done it before and it never hurt the baby, even though her first had ended up dying later.
I don’t very clearly remember the next sequence of events, but it went something like this. My girl had this ex-boyfriend who used speed, did black magick, was mean to her, and lived two houses down from White Wolf’s.
The first night I was with her he left an evil sign and letter on her doorstep. I’m no stranger to magick, so I handled it. The second night I went over to his house and knocked on his door, asking him if he had a condom. I am such a smart ass; I just can’t help myself sometimes. But, he actually gave me one. The next night he came over to White Wolf’s with two other boys and baseball bats, but White Wolf scared them off. Then Mr. Boyfriend went to jail
and my girl was happy. Then, somehow, I went over to Fat Julie’s house and she informed me that not only was Mr. Boyfriend out again, but the girl had gone back to him. I think I even saw her again there and she had a new tattoo with his name on it, I think it said “Jeremy.”
Oh well, I had some great free pussy and Julie was nice enough to let me stay at her place anyways and this is where the story gets weird. The whole time I was at Julie’s house she kept talking about her family. Her last name was Belladore, you see, and her trust fund came from the mob. Anyways, she kept talking about her older brother “Dante,” and how he was the head of her family’s business in Bakersfield. I never really made any connection until she told me how he got his name. He was named after Al Capone’s right hand man. I still didn’t make any connection until her fiancé, Larry, was talking one night and mentioned an old area of town that used to have a sign that read, “No niggers after sundown.”
That was when my mind started to click. I asked him if there was a waterfall in the shape of a cross and sure enough there was. It was all too weird. Allow me to point out the number of impossible factors that led to this, reminding you that it really happened:
One, I thought Breakfast of Champions was completely fictional. Two, I picked the book randomly from the shelf. Three, I met a girl who led me to a relative of a character in the book. Four, Julie and friend just happened to mention things that made me realize the truth. Adding these things together I come to this: What are the mathematical chances that I could pick the only book Vonnegut wrote about Bakersfield, while in Bakersfield? What are the chances I would figure out it was Bakersfield? What are the chances I would meet a relative of a character in the book and figure it out? And what really bugs me, how did Vonnegut know so much about Bakersfield?
This is just one of the many things which has happened to me in life that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is a higher power. It is totally inconceivable to me that all these coincidences could happen in such a short amount of time. If this were one isolated incident it would be easier to discard, but as it is just one of many, it stands in good company. Believe me or not I don’t care, but if I were going to write a fictional story with the same point as this one, I certainly wouldn’t have picked Kurt Vonnegut as the impetus. I don’t even really like him that much.

bdb.jpg
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Barrett Dylan Brown
was on television when he was eight years old and got admitted to SAG when he was nine. Started writing when he was twelve, went to UC Berkeley studying Neurology, Egyptology, and Arabic when he was fifteen. Started shooting speed when he was seventeen. First time in jail at eighteen for possession of LSD. Started hacking computers and telephones when he was twenty. Made 50k a year when he was twenty-one working for a credit card company. A homeless heroin addict at twenty-two. Did three months in Oakland County Jail at twenty-three. Hitch-hiked, rode freight trains, and was homeless around eight times. Smoked a lot of DMT and studied African Anthropology at UC Santa Cruz when he was twenty-five. Now he’s twenty-eight years old and feels like he is going on ninety. Two articles on computer hacking in 2600 magazine, a few articles on politics in Because People Matter and Sacramento City College Express. His true passion is the stories of his life and poetry. He play damn good blues on the harmonica and lives in the Santa Marti homeless shelter in San Francisco, spending his days hanging out at the library and trying to get the true stories of his adventures published.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, July 10th, 2008.