Bakersfield is the inspiration for the book within the book (THE TOM JONES CLUB) called Breakfast in Bakersfield. In fact, that was one of the titles I pondered using for THE TOM JONES CLUB, as it’s the subplot driving the main plot.
For those of you not familiar with this area, Bakersfield is a popular place to eat, well, breakfast, when you’re doing the L.A. to the Central Valley trek, although the old landmarks have disappeared.
Like the people in The Grapes of Wrath, California’s Central Valley was settled by those from Oklahoma and Arkansas during the Dust Bowl, including my dad’s family and my step dad’s family (my step grandma thought the movie was too harsh on the real people, although my grandma says it was pretty accurate). Still, you will feel that influence in the Central Valley today. In some places, it’s like time stopped. For example, my step dad’s family settled in this area and remain there today. So when my hubby dared to step foot in Aunt Betty’s kitchen, she was all alarmed and said, “There’s a man in the kitchen.” This was rather shocking for my Jersey Shore hubby who enjoys cooking. lol!
My step dad charged out of the Valley and headed for L.A. when he was still a teen. He longed for bigger horizons than what the valley offered. But we used to do the breakfast in Bakersfield thing on our way to his old hometown to visit his family about twice a year – usually once in the summer during the grape harvest (his sister’s husband’s family owned a vineyard) and once over Christmas.
We’d leave our home in Orange County (just south of L.A.) at about 5 a.m. and arrive in Bakersfield in time for breakfast at one of those roadside cafes with a “Let’s Eat” sign blinking on top – it was the highlight of the road trip. And that experience inspired me to write the “Breakfast in Bakersfield” scenes in THE TOM JONES CLUB, excerpt below.
Los Angeles, September 1973
Breakfast in Bakersfield
The Los Angeles traffic at that time of the morning back was practically nonexistent. They sailed through the hushed city, over the mountains, and to the crest of the Grapevine where they could see the entire valley below as the sun was starting to rise in the east. Matt pulled over at a rest stop so they could all stretch their legs.
At a long and lean six feet two inches, Matt and his Levi-encased legs seemed to be the only one needing stretching. He pulled out a Lucky Strike from his blue-buttoned shirt pocket, lit it with the lighter he carried in his left Levi jacket pocket, and exhaled quietly as he seemed entranced by the view. Red, Syd, and Mona stayed in the car, Red’s head leaning against the window as if she was snoozing while Syd watched Red, and Mona watched Matt.
Matt seemed to disappear inside himself as his gaze never left the valley below. He never said a word. He extinguished his cigarette, got back in the car, and kept driving until two hours later when he pulled up in front of a small shack with a large, red-lettered sign displaying “Let’s Eat” on top of the weathered building.
(THE TOM JONES CLUB, available on amazon.com.)
And this reminds me of the Dwight Yoakum/Buck Owen song, “Streets of Bakersfield.”