Thursday, December 31, 2009

Two local kids make an investment in Bako's emerging downtown arts district, and Macey Kibbee plans a homecoming

 * ... YOUNG ENTREPRENEURS: The long-term success of any city depends on young entrepreneurs who bring their energy and creativity to the local business scene, often seeing opportunity in midtown areas where others see capital risk. That's why it was so nice to hear from Yvonne Cavanagh, who along with Vikki Cruz owns and runs The Surface Gallery art studio at 1703 20th Street. The Surface Gallery is part of the downtown renaissance and emerging "art district" surrounding the historic Fox Theater. Yvonne told me Surface Gallery will feature photos of the historic Padre Hotel taken by Felix Adamo at the First Friday celebrations set for Feb. 5. Adamo is a longtime Californian photographer who has documented our community in stunning artwork for years. The Adamo show will coincide with the reopening of the old Padre Hotel, at least the new restaurants and bars. I asked Yvonne to tell me something about herself. In her words:

 "I graduated from Bakersfield High in 1997 (where I have now taught for 7 years)! I never thought I would teach at the very high school I attended. I then when to BC for two years and then off to San Francisco State graduating in 2002. I returned and earned my credential and then my MA in Education from La Verne in 2009.  My business partner Vikki Cruz went to Garces then BC then graduated from Berkeley in 2002.  Even though we have a lot in common including our close birthdays (mine is Dec. 25th and hers Dec. 23rd), we didn't meet until 2008 when we opened Surface Gallery. We wanted to be a part of the Arts District and thought of no better spot to open Surface than downtown. "

Wish these young entrepreneurs well in 2010. (photo is of Vikki Cruz on left and Yvonne Cavanagh on right, courtesy of Yvonne's Facebook page)

 * ... HE SWORE HE'D NEVER RETURN: Joel Young, who wrote me earlier how Bakersfield can grow on you like an ugly dog, shared his own story on his circuitous route home. Said Joel:
"I came to Bako in 1976 at the age of five. Left to go to school at Washington State University in 1993.  My future wife, born and raised in Bako, followed me to WSU in 1994. We moved to LA after school in 1998.  Moved back to Bako in 2002 to raise our family. We swore that we would never come back, yet here we are.  Despite the poor air quality and sweltering summers, it is a great place to raise a family."

 * ...  MACEY HOMEWARD BOUND: I was happy to hear that Macey Kibbee, the college sophomore at Long Beach State who was critically injured in a car-pedestrian accident earlier this month, will be heading home in a week or so. I have been following the 19-year-old's amazing recovery from traumatic brain injuries on the family blog (read the latest post here). Macey was hit by a car while jogging in Long Beach and has been at Long Beach Memorial ever since. When she comes home, she'll face a long rehabilitation at the Centre for Neuro Skills in Bakersfield, which has mended many of our young people over the years. Here's to a fast recovery and a wonderful 2010 for this former Stockdale High School Mustang.

 * ... HAPPY NEW YEAR: I view 2009 a bit like the uninvited guests who came for a weekend and stayed a month. By the time they leave, you've grown so weary you never want to see them again. Besides the dismal economy - and it will eventually recover, if not this year then next - I know far too many people who have encountered personal crises of health, family, relationships or employment. So let's all take a deep breath and take a moment to appreciate all the blessings we do have. My warmest wishes to everyone for a prosperous 2010, and let's never lose sight of what is really important and where we all derive our strength and purpose. Onward.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Padre Hotel restaurants will open in January and some tips for staying off the roads on New Year's Eve

 * ... MORE ON THE PADRE: I ran into Steve Uricchio this week and got a run-down on the plans to reopen the old Padre Hotel downtown. Construction delays prevented the much anticipated New Year's celebration, but Steve now says there will be a "soft opening" on Wednesday, Jan. 20. Steve is the hotel's food and beverage director and says there will be three restaurants and two bars, including a bar on the second floor which will also house a banquet facility. The ground floor facilities include a casual dining restaurant and a more formal restaurant along with two bars. He promises the hotel will be "stunning" and says the new executive chef, Darrell Jensen, has a proven track record in the Colorado mountain resort communities. There will be ample parking with the Padre striking a deal with the city for using the garage next door, plus there will be valet parking. The hotel rooms, according to Steve, will not open until February, a bit later than the bars and restaurants. Meanwhile the old Padre is getting some new awnings as workers rush to meet the new deadline. Stay tuned.

 * .. HOME DEFAULTS: While we are looking for good news, I heard that the Office of Thrift Supervision reported that second quarter "re-default" rate on modified mortgages - that means at least 60 days delinquent and three months past restructuring - fell from 30 percent to 19 percent. Good news? Let's hope so. The past year has been a nightmare in the local real estate market, with the lion's share of sales (70-plus percent) coming  in properties in some form of foreclosure. Let's all hope for a better 2010.

 * ... BAKO OR BAKERSFIELD? Local reader Stephen Montgomery wrote me about his friend who now lives in Fresno. "He regularly calls Bakersfield 'Backwardsfield,' a term that makes me grit my teeth. While I often call it Bako, as a member of the city's Keep Bakersfield Beautiful and active in pubic issues usually related to urban planning, I'm more interested in making Bakersfield a better place to live rather than dismiss it for its faults. Needless to say I took pleasure in referring to Fresno as 'Frezburg.' John didn't comment but if I think of something better he'll hear it."

 * ... THE BUZZ: With New Year's eve approaching, we all need to be diligent while driving, particularly if we have had anything to drink. If you are out and want to be safe, keep in mind a company called Designated Driver of Bakersfield Inc. that offers a terrific new service locally. Give them a call and they will not only pick you up and take you home, but also have someone drive your car as well. The base costs start at $45 but the company also offers "memberships" in which you get some rides free and others at discounted prices. Check out the company website here. It's worth considering.

Monday, December 28, 2009

JP Morgan's takover of Washington Mutual. What does this tell us about other bank takeovers

 A friend sent me a link to an amazing insider's story from the Puget Sound Business Journal of how JPMorgan Chase took over the failing Washington Mutual financial empire. A key part of the story: apparently JPMorgan executives had insider knowledge about a liquidity run on the bank, allowing them to buy WaMu for pennies on the dollar. (read the entire post here) If this is true, it makes once wonder about the deals federal and state regulators are cutting with the institutions taking over the hundreds of banks that have failed this year. It's worth the read.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Saying goodbye to a tough year, and thanking those who made a difference


* ... LOOKING BACK: I don't know anyone who wants to get older, but it's a measure of how tough a year it has been that just about everyone is eager to get 2009 behind them. Businesses struggled, thousands of local people lost their jobs and others suffered personal, emotional and physical setbacks. Recessions are odd things; it is much too easy to focus on how bad things are. But it is also time when we all reorder our priorities and focus on the things and the people that matter. I've been inspired by so many local people who have chosen to stay optimistic and plod forward, setting an example for us all. Some of those who lifted my spirits this year:
 - Local businessman Marvin Steinert, already one of our community's most generous benefactors, who had to deal with a rare illness that left him blind literally overnight. Marv responded by focusing on his faith and continuing to support our local non-profits, including writing a $50,000 check to the new children's medical center at Memorial Hospital.
 - Local community activist Wendy Wayne, who continues to show an indomitable spirit in the face of her own fight with cancer. Wendy does more for our community in a year than most of us do in a lifetime.
 - Judi McCarthy, who almost single handily kept the Kern Community Foundation going through a tumultuous year and whose sole goal is  to provide resources to help others.
 - Horace Mitchell, president of Cal State Bakersfield, who has laid out a clear vision for the university and guided it through a most difficult period. He has taken the heat for state budget cuts, but his vision has been unwavering.
 - Don Martin, the owner of Metro Galleries downtown, who kept all our spirits high by helping revive the downtown art scene through sheer will power and clever marketing.
 - All the service clubs in our community - Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions etc - whose only reason for existing is to build up our community.
 - Bernie Herman, executive director of the Bakersfield Museum of Art, and his talented staff who brought our community a level of fine arts that we have never seen and in turn made us all better.
 - Watson-Touchstone Realtor Mary Christenson and all her colleagues who somehow  managed to stay upbeat in the face of a dismal housing market.
 - We lost so many good people this year - John Petrini (last December), Shirley Ann Fiddler, Janice Jay, Lenore Carter, Donna Corum, Stan Simrin, Alton Saceaux, just to name a few - let's keep their memories alive. Their lives all enriched our community.

 * ... A FOUNDATION GROWS: Barry Rosenfeld, a former president of Bakersfield West Rotary, wrote to tell me about the success of the West Rotary Foundation. Most Rotary clubs have foundations and their generosity to local non-profits and charities is well known. Barry, who incidentally started the famous Cioppino feed fund raiser when he was president in 1993, is understandably proud of his foundation's growth. In his words:

  "When I became president of the Foundation on January 1, 2004 our balance was $140,000. Today we have more than doubled the corpus-we now have over $300,000! During this time, we have donated over $300,000, mostly to youth programs in Kern County (we have made a few other contributions, including a donation to the Rotary Polio Plus program). I share this with you, because the success we have had can mostly be attributed to the members and spouses of Bakersfield West Rotary as well as the other eight Foundation board members."
* .... BAKO OR BAKERSFIELD? Reader Virginia Smith writes in: "From a native of the East Coast:  Boston has learned to accept 'Bean Town'  Natives of Maryland much prefer 'Balto' to the soubriquet recently given to Baltimore by the NY Times:  'Crabcake Corners.'  And Alabamians were distraught by the name used for their largest city during the violence of the civil rights movement in the 1960s:  'Bombingham.'  Be happy with 'Bako;'  it could be much worse. Remember Johnny Carson?"
 Yet another reader, John Strand of Lake Isabella, hates the term "Bako" and offered me this advice: "Bako instead  of Bakersfield is like using Bean-O instead of Beene. Maybe this thing will die a natural death." Thanks John, but some of my dearest friends have called me "Bean-O" for years, and you can too. I won't take offense.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas from BakersfieldObserved: celebrating a year of living in Bako

 * ... THE ALEXANDER GIRLS: John and  Kay Alexander emailed me to let me know that their three girls - Victoria, Elizabeth, and Kathryn - all graduated from Highland High, Bakersfield College, and UC San Diego.After a post-law school stint in Washington, D.C., Victoria returned to Bakersfield to work for Clifford and Brown, LLC, and married John Trichell of the W.A. Thompson Trichells. Elizabeth deferred an acceptance to UOP Dental School to teach biology at Foothill High, where she met her future husband, Gavin Bell, a Garces grad. Kathryn, who teaches social science at West High, also married a local boy, Zak Karlen, who is a director at Bolthouse Farms. As they told me: "Lucky us: we see our children and grandchildren almost daily. Thank you for letting me add my two--or three--cent's worth."

 * ... SAVING FOR COLLEGE: Lost amid the holiday shuffle was a news release from state Treasurer Bill Lockyer urging families to open a California Scholarshare account to start a college savings program for their children or grand children. This state sponsored 529 savings account allows folks to put money away after tax and watch it grow tax free. Fidelity manages the investments. If you are a parent or a grand parent, there isn't a better gift for the children in your life to give them the gift of a college education.

 * ... BAKO OR BAKERSFIED? Reader Darlyn Baker offered a little poem for the debate over using the term "Bako" for Bakersfield. Here's her take: "Bakersfield vs. Bako in your column is fine. Bakersfield is too long. Bako saves time. Embarrassment is not the intent nor pun. When using Bako, to me it sounds like fun."
 An anonymous reader was not so kind, remarking: "The term Bako instead of Bakersfield is a reflection on the person(s) who use it, and they probably use terms like Frisco and dude and 'I'm like' quite a bit.  I think that it is an ugly term.  It is the same as saying a woman is a 'babe' as opposed to saying she is an attractive woman .. and that's my two cents!" 

 * ... RIP JAN JAY:  Was saddened to hear about the death Christmas Eve of Jan Jay, wife of Bruce Jay, the president and CEO of Valley Republic Bank. Jan had been in hospice care for several weeks while suffering from cancer. Keep her family in your thoughts. She had worked for years in the pediatric dental practice of Dr.  Daniel Launspach in town.

 * ... THE BUZZ: It was exactly a year ago that I started BakersfieldObserved as an online blog, hoping to catch some of the spirit of our community by recognizing people who work quietly to improve our town. I am most grateful to the hundreds of people who have responded and emailed, even when they don't agree with me. The themes that seem to resonate most are those that go to the heart of our self esteem: local kids who came back home when they could have lived elsewhere, nicknames for the town, and how others perceive us. Thanks to Johnny Carson and Hollywood's depiction of the Central Valley, we clearly are a tad defensive about how others view us, but one can't deny the basic goodness of the people who call Bakersfield home and work every day to improve our community. I dedicate this blog to them. Merry Christmas and happy holidays to those of other faiths.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Bako, better than "Toad Suck" Arkansas ...

 * ... BAKO SALARIES RISING: It was nice to see that Bakersfield made the list of cities where salaries are rising the fastest. This comes despite our high unemployment (north of 15 percent by most measures) and lower demographics. The survey by Forbes (read the story here) says our success can be attributed to the oil and gas industry and the need for engineers, of which there are plenty in Bakersfield and Kern County. One excerpt from the piece:

 "In fact, soaring unemployment rates did little to deter leading contenders from the top ranks. The second-best metropolitan area, Bakersfield, Calif., has an unemployment rate of 14.5 percent. However, the lucrative engineering profession has a strong presence there, along with the oil and gas extraction industries. These niches have provided a nice cushion for employees, particularly highly skilled workers and recent college grads with degrees in engineering."

 * ... DOWNTOWN CLEANUP: We take it for granted now, but it's a pleasure to see the clean up and revitalization of parts of central Bakersfield. I've lived here long enough to remember when this part of town was a scary mess, but the area (most of it anyway) is now a tribute to revitalization and renewal. I'm speaking of the zone from Truxtun to California Avenue and from N Street to S Street, including the Rabobank Arena and convention center, the new Maya theaters, the ice rink and McMurtrey Aquatic  Center, the Convention snd Visitors Bureau, Amtrak Station, Marriott Hotel and the one that started it all, the Beale Library.  There are still some pockets to go, but it's a big improvement. Now if the core "downtown" business district area can continue its progress, we'll be in even better shape. Kudos to all involved.

 * ... FRESNO BULLDOG COMES HOME: I heard from the parents of Allison Brandt Oliver,  who graduated from West High and Cal State University Fresno with a degree in construction management, that she returned to Bakersfield to work with her father Bob, building custom homes with Brandt Homes.

 * ... BAKO OR BAKERSFIELD? Reader Caroline O. Reid weighs in on the debate over the use of the  term Bako to describe our city. She doesn't like it, and agrees with contributor Sharon Milton that it's an insult. In her words: "I agree with Sharon. It's a little too 'text messagee' for newsprint. I've also thought it unprofessional and insulting. You asked. You got!"

 On the other hand, Patti Imes wrote to say Bako is "just fine" with Patti and  her girl friends and they have been using it for years. She added: "Just keep in mind that us girls did not actually make up the term Bako. I'm sure we must have picked it up along the way from the good ole' boys, ie. Cousin Herb, Merle Haggard, Buck, etc. as in 'Good ol' Bako'. You might mention that it's better than living in Toad Suck, Arkansas."

 * ... THE BUZZ:  I heard that Keith Erickson, one of the great players for the UCLA championship basketball teams and later the Los Angeles Lakers, will give the keynote address at the annual Bakersfield Prayer Breakfast on January 28 at 6:45 a.m.  Erickson played for the the legendary Bruin coach John Wooden when UCLA won the NCAA title in 1964 and 1965. He is now a motivational speaker.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Bako or Bakersfield? One person's insult is another's endearment

 * ... MATH TUTOR BECOMES DEAN: I was delighted to hear from Lee Webb, professor emeritus of math at CSUB who wrote to give me an update on his daughter, Tamara. I have my own connection with his impressive daughter: she tutored my younger daughter in math, well enough that Hannah went on to University of Michigan in no small part due to Tamara's coaching. Tamara went to Cal Poly in Fall 2000, spent a year there, but missed Bakersfield and her boy friend A.J. Clark. So she returned to CSUB, finished a double major in political science and kinesiology, minoring in math, and started teaching math at BHS in 2004. This is her sixth year at BHS, she married her high school sweetheart, finished two master's degrees, and earned her administrative credential at CSUB. She was the head swim coach at BHS, but relinquished that position and the mathematics teaching position this year to become Dean of Instruction at BHS.  Her husband, A.J. graduated from BHS, attended BC for two years, finished his bachelor's and master's in public administration at CSUB, and is an engineer for the Bakersfield City Fire Department. As the proud dad Lee said: "AJ and Tamara love Bakersfield and will more than likely finish both of their careers in this family friendly town." Now that's a happy ending.

 * ... AN ENGINEER FROM GATECH: I also heard the other day that Nikki Erickson, a local Stockdale High graduate whose parents have since moved to North Carolina, graduated from Georgia Tech this year. Nikki is the daughter of Bob and Carole Erickson, formerly of Southwest Bakersfield. Bob was a Georgia Tech engineering alumni and Nikki  followed in his footsteps.

 * ... BAKO OR BAKERSFIELD: I received a lot of good spirited feedback on whether referring to our community as "Bako" was in any way derogatory. I will occasionally run some of the responses, but here is  local resident Joel Young weighing in: "There is nothing disrespectful about using Bako. I've definitely heard worse: Bakershole and Bakerspatch for example. I think of Bakersfield as the poor little ugly dog that grows on you over time and becomes cute. What better nickname to give that dog than Bako?" 

 And Jan Hefner wrote: "Hi Richard. I love the term Bako and use it often, and I'm a Bako native. My first recollection of hearing the term was when the original Great American Melodrama theatre came to town in the early 80s. That Melodrama has its first location in Oceano and most of the actors at the start had worked in Oceano before moving to Bakersfield. The actors started using the term Bako for short hand when talking about the two towns - Oceano and Bako."

* ... THE BUZZ: I heard that Mike Allen, longtime head of the Spanish Radio Group in town, is leaving the company after almost 33 years. Mike is one of the most well known local radio managers in town and an aggressive competitor but apparently lost out in a companywide shakeup. Mike told me he plans on sticking around in town and exploring other opportunities. Something tells me we haven't heard the last of him. The stations Mike managed include KIWI, KWAC, KPSL and KCHJ.

Friday, December 18, 2009

McCarthy: Democrats err is rejecting GOP plans to curtail spending, help local businesses

 Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) submits his weekly report from  Capitol Hill. In his  words:

 "The House adjourned this week for the year and I am looking forward to spending time with family and friends in Bakersfield for Christmas.  As we celebrate, let’s not forget our brave service members who are away from their families during the holiday season.  I know that local families now have loved ones getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan, and my thoughts and prayers are with them.  Also let us remember those less fortunate, and if you can, volunteer some time to those organizations that help families during the holidays. 

"Unfortunately, this week Democratic leaders left a lump of coal in the stockings of American families and businesses.  First, they voted to increase our national debt limit -currently at $12.1 trillion - by another $290 billion.  Last week, I told you about a new bill that I cosponsored, the “CAP the DEBT Act” to stop Congress from out of control borrowing and spending.  While the Speaker did not allow this bill to the floor, the very introduction helped pressure Democratic leadership to hold an up or down vote on raising the debt limit.  However, there is still a need for a formal transparent procedure to keep Members accountable when raising our country’s credit limit because of our reckless spending.  We cannot continue down this path and as I indicated before, a first step towards a different direction would be to end TARP and pay down our debt. 

 "Hours after increasing the public debt limit so Washington can borrow more money, House Democratic leaders proceeded to pass another huge spending bill.  Democrats rerouted $75 billion in unspent and repaid Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds (from the $700 billion Wall Street bailout in October 2008) in their second attempt to stimulate the economy.  I don’t think America needs a second helping of stimulus after Democrats failed to fulfill their promise that the first stimulus would keep unemployment below 8.5%.  Going into the holiday season, Congress should be providing America with an environment that will create jobs as our communities continue to deal with double-digit unemployment.  Common sense tells us that Washington should not be spending more taxpayer dollars on proposals that Americans oppose and strategies that have failed to work.  Come 2010, I will continue to make our country’s fiscal health a priority, so we do not saddle our children and grandchildren with debt.

 "I also was able to visit with Bakersfield orthopedic surgeon Dr. Steven Shopler and his wife Robin, who happened to be in DC this week.  We talked about the ongoing health care reform debate and the need for lower costs and increased access for American families.  On Capitol Hill, the Senate continues to try to push a proposal that Harry Reid refuses to share with anyone else, which currently lacks the votes to pass.  Rumor has it that the Senate may drop the public option but not the major tax increases.  We will have to wait and see if anything comes out of the Senate this year.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Meir Brown on the Stockdale Highway traffic mess and is "Bako" a derogatory term?

* ... WHEN GOVERNMENT RESPONDS: Meir Brown, owner of the Cafe Med restaurant on Stockdale Highway, was one of the retailers who saw his business plummet when the city decided to take Stockdale down to two lanes during the lengthy widening project. Business owners like Meir were "appalled" that the city chose the peak of the holiday season to force drivers to run the gauntlet, scaring away virtually everyone save a precious loyal few, but a little pressure can sometimes do wonders. In Meir's words:

 "I have to say that at the end of the process, as I look at six lanes flowing on Stockdale Highway a full  three weeks ahead of schedule, some level of confidence in one's ability to affect change in the working of local government has been restored in me. The City Councilmen we approached - Dave Couch, Harold Hanson and Sue Benham, as well County Supervisor Mike Maggard - responded swiftly and positively. Although significant damage was inflicted on all the merchants in the Stockdale corridor, it could have been considerably worse. The process was encouraging and educational for me, as I said I did not believe we could make a difference. Also, I hope the process was educational for city officials as well and that unnecessary hardships could be minimized in the future for other businesses like ours."


* ... PACIFIC GRAD COMES HOME: I've been getting a lot of input recently from local kids who went to University of Pacific and came home. The latest is Dr. Dana L. Yeoman who graduated from West High in 1993 and went on to earned her bachelor’s degree in 1997. She was accepted to Loma Linda University School of Dentistry and received her DDS in 2003. Dr. Dana, as her patients call her, returned to Bakersfield and worked with her dad, Dr. Leland R. Yeoman, for a year before deciding to stay in Bakersfield and have her own practice as Second Smile Denture Care.

* ... ANOTHER DENTIST: The parents of Joshua Divelbiss, a Centennial High grad who went on to Brigham Young University,  proudly added Joshua to the list. He went to the University of Southern California Dental School before returning to set up his dental practice here in Bakersfield and  is now associated with Adept Dental Group. As his father Bruce Divelbiss said: "A big shout out to all our young people who bring their training and expertise back home to enrich our community. "

* ... BAKO OR BAKERSFIELD?: I enjoyed some friendly email banter with Sharon Milton who took me to task for frequently referring to Bakersfield as "Bako." I use the term loosely and as a term of endearment, but Sharon sees it as an insult and wonders about its origin. "Why shorten it?" she asked "Are you embarrassed to call our town by it's full name? This is what is disrespectful. Who wants to visit a great town called "Bako?" What is your take? Let me hear from you.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Macey Kibbee's recovery and RIP Shirley Ann Fiddler

 * ... MACEY KIBBEE'S RECOVERY: I've been following the slow recovery of Macey Kibbee, one of our local girls who was gravely injured when she was hit by a car while jogging in Long Beach. (read the previous post here). Macey, who graduated from Stockdale High two years ago, is a sophomore at Long Beach State. The accident, which happened around dusk several weeks ago, has left her with brain injuries but the family says there is reason for optimism. To check out her progress, go to the family blogsite here. Since the accident, a steady stream of friends and well wishers have visited her at Long Beach Memorial. The details of exactly what caused the accident are not clear, and the emphasis now is on her recovery. Her long term prognosis remains uncertain, but she is talking and has regained movement of her body since coming out of a drug-induced coma. Keep Macey and the Kibbee family in your thoughts.

 * ... AND THE KIDS COME HOME: The tragedy of Macey is a cautionary reminder for all the families and children on the move this Christmas. College holiday breaks began this week for most schools, and the local kids will be arriving for their annual pilgrimages to Luigi's, Woolgrower's, the 24th Street Cafe, Uricchios and all their  favorite haunts. Hats off to so many of our local retailers who have opened their payrolls to hire some of these kids part-time over the holidays. It keeps them busy, out of trouble and provides them with a few bucks to take back to school. Let's hope this holiday is a safe one for everyone traveling and on the road.

 * ... THE CLARKS OF BAKERSFIELD: Matt Clark, one of the young lawyers at Chainlaw, reminded me that both he and his wife Molly are among the growing list of folks who went away to school and then returned. Matt went to Garces Memorial, graduated from Loyola Marymount and then McGeorge law school. Molly went to Bakersfield High and earned her B.A. from Cal State Bakersfield. They lived in Sacramento before deciding to head home. Michael Clark, Matt's father, was a North High grad who went off to UCLA and Stanford, only to return with his wife, Norleen Clark, who graduated from BHS and then went onto San Diego State. Finally, Matt's sister is Amanda Meszaros (Clark), a BHS Driller who went off to Rutgers and Sacramento State who has since returned to Bakersfield as a special education teacher in the Panama Buena Vista School District. As if that were not enough, Matt added that his "good buddy Jeff Giumarra" went to BHS and then to Claremont McKenna College, returning to work for his family business. Lastly, Matt said another of his friends is Chris Ruppel, a West High graduate who graduated from New Mexico State but is back in town. That's quite a list. My thanks to Matt for submitting it to BakersfieldObserved. 

 * ... RIP SHIRLEY FIDDLER: I was saddened to hear about the death of Shirley Ann Fiddler, a longtime Bakersfield resident and wife of retired oil engineer Claude Fiddler. Shirley was active in the community and a regular guest at the downtown Rotary Club where Claude served as president. (They were married in 1955) I am always impressed by breadth of experience and travel seen in the obituaries of folks in the oil industry, and Shirley's did not disappoint. Working for Chevron, the Fiddlers lived everywhere from Hong Kong to Madagascar, Perth, Australia, Paris and Taft before ending up in Bakersfield where both Shirley and Claude threw themselves into the community. Services will be held Thursday, Dec. 17 at Greenlawn Mortuary. In lieu of flowers, the family requested donations to the local SPCA.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

A rainy night of the arts in Bakersfield brings out the crowds while the list of kids grows longer

 * ... A RAINY NIGHT IN BAKO: There were nothing but rave reviews for the Thursday opening of the new exhibit on homelessness and loss at the Bakersfield Museum of Art. A steady crowd braved the rain to see what may be one of the best shows ever at the local museum, thanks to the stunningly sober photographs of Felix Adamo and  the art of Joe Brubaker. Kudos go to curator Emily Falke and many sponsors (among them George and Marcia Giumarra) for bringing together such a diverse group of artists under a theme "From Hobos to Street People" that seems disturbingly relevant these days. Many in the crowd also took in the Aids Quilt exhibit at the Metro Galleries, another sober and impressive display. These shows always draw a diverse crowd, and among those I spotted were Dr. Javier and Laurie Bustamante, who showed up with their daughter Natalie, a Notre Dame grad now working in labor law at Klein DeNatale Goldner. Also seen were CSUB professor Judith Pratt, former school superintendent Larry Reider and wife Sandy, Sheryl and Lou Barbich, Dr. Chris Hamilton and wife Susan, Bart and Napier Hill, Pat and Terri Collins, Rogers and Esther Brandon, local artist Barbara Reid, Rod and Susan Hersberger, Wendy Wayne and Gene Tackett, MaryLee and Phil Zander and Stan and Ginny Eschner. The exhibit runs through February 21 and  the museum is located at 1931 R Street. Make sure to check it out. (One of the Felix Adamo pictures is below)

 * ... AERA BRINGS ON LOCAL KID: Craig Lincoln, the construction manager over at Jaco Oil Co., dropped me a note to let me know that his son Chase Lincoln is now working in the information technology department at Aera Energy. Chase spent four years at San Jose State University and returned to CSUB to earn a masters in information services. Meanwhile his daughter Stevi, one of the mainstays on the Stockdale High School winning girl's tennis team, is at Bakersfield College and hopes to become a registered nurse.

* ... ADD ANOTHER TO THE LIST: Sandi Souza adds her daughter, Wendi Warren Wanner, to the list of local kids who left and now call Bakersfield home. Wendi graduated from Bakersfield High School, went on to San Jose State University, interned in San Diego and returned to Bako as an occupational therapist. She is currently the director of pediatrics at Terrio Therapy-Fitness, Inc.

 * ... ADD TWO CULHANES TO THE LIST: Finally, Holly Culhane, owner of PAS Associates, said she "couldn't resist" to add her two kids to the list. First there is son Tim, a Stockdale High grad who earned a degree in business from Colorado Christian University and is now working with Fleet Card Fuels. Tim's sister Dana is a history major from Eastern University who is now press secretary for state Rep. Jean Fuller. Proud mom Holly couldn't resist by adding that another benefit of having your kids come home is when they bring a spouse, as Tim did. So welcome Holly's daughter-in-law Lindsay, a Point Loma Nazarene graduate and now a personal banker at Citibank.

Friday, December 11, 2009

McCarthy: Democratic spending out of control, Congress needs restraint

 Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) provides his weekly update to BakersfieldObserved. Feedback? Post a comment on this site.

 "Today, I joined my colleagues in introducing H.R. 4262, the “CAP the DEBT Act” to stop Congress from its out of control borrowing and spending on the backs of our children and grandchildren. This bill would help restore their future through 3 steps: (1) accountability, (2) transparency, and (3) adult supervision. First, the bill restores accountability by requiring Representatives to take a straight up or down vote on raising the debt. Second, the bill requires transparency by exposing members’ votes that raise the debt, rather than the current way of hiding them in procedure. Third, this bill restores adult supervision in Washington by requiring a two-thirds majority in the House of Representatives, which will hold members accountable for their vote and not allow them to hide behind attachments in other budget resolutions. 
 "On Wednesday, I sent a letter to Secretary Geithner urging him to adhere to the Troubled Asset Relief Program’s (TARP) December 31, 2009 expiration deadline.  I also urged the Secretary to dedicate all returned funds and other revenue to reducing the national debt.  I believe the longer the remaining unspent TARP funds and revenue remain on the table, the more likely it is that the House Democratic leadership tries to use it for unrelated spending purposes. The immediate emergency has ended, and TARP must end as well. 
 "In case you missed it, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic unveiled the Burt Rutan-designed SpaceShipTwo Rocket plane at the Mojave Air and Space Port. The unveiling drew California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.   The 60-foot-long craft’s new name: the VSS Enterprise.  This is a forward-thinking, innovative partnership with amazing results-ordinary folks can go into space.  We should be focused on federal policies to encourage this kind of innovation and free thinking, and not stifle them with bureaucracy and regulations. 
 "I finished up the week with a visit with the Open World Russian Delegation which will be heading to Bakersfield next week.   The Delegation was formed to give Russian professionals exposure to America’s democratic government and our free-market system.   In Bakersfield, they will join organizers, Brian and Kay Pitts, to continue their exchange experience.  I am sure they will receive a warm Bakersfield welcome.  To see pictures of their visit, check out Kevin McCarthy." 

Southbound: two weeks in south Georgia in the land of fried pickles and collard greens

I am spending two weeks in south Georgia to recharge with old friends, returning after Christmas. Posting on this blog will be sporadic at best. Thank you for reading BakersfieldObserved for the past year. The blog will celebrate its one-year anniversary  on December 24.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Stockdale Highway construction mess cleared up and Stinson's says thanks to its customers

 * ... THE MESS THAT IS STOCKDALE HIGHWAY: If you live in Bakersfield, I don't need  to tell you what a mess Stockdale Highway has become with the long overdue repaving and widening. The stretch from Highway 99 to California Avenue is a particular problem, and after getting caught in that mess several weeks ago, I have simply avoided it. And apparently so have a lot of other people. The businesses along that popular stretch of Stockdale Highway have felt the drop in business, which is the last thing they need in a recession. So it was nice to hear from Barry Goldner, a principal in the Klein DeNatale Goldner law firm, that the city relented and reopened most of the lanes at the appeal of local businesses. Said Goldner:

  "The problem was particularly acute at Stockdale Fashion Plaza. The irony is that the City was spending stimulus funds to improve the roads, and choking out (albeit inadvertently) the businesses that would ultimately benefit from the road improvements. At the urging of the businesses in Stockdale Fashion Plaza, the City opened up Stockdale Highway to six lanes. Now, traffic flow is restored. Stockdale Fashion Plaza is back and the roads are clear--six lanes of traffic."

  So if you're like me and have been avoiding that part of town, feel confident you can return to Cafe Med, Christine's, the Gourmet Shop, Houston Jewelers, the Outback Steakhouse and other businesses at the Stockdale Fashion Plaza without spending 30 minutes staring at your knuckles in traffic. Thanks to Barry Goldner for the tip.

 * STINSON'S THANKS ITS CUSTOMERS: I had the chance to stop by the annual customer appreciation lunch put on by Stinson Stationers at the company's 60,000-square-foot warehouse and distribution facility in East Bakersfield. Company president Ben Stinson does this every year, treating more than 600 customers to a barbeque lunch with dozens of free door prizes. The locally owned company, founded in 1947, has succeeded and held off the big box stores through a steady mantra of over the top customer service, Bakersfield style. Hats off to Ben and his crew at Stinson's.

  * ... UNIVERSITY OF PACIFIC SENDS TWO HOME: Local residents Tom and Sherry Sharp alerted me that their daughter Taryn, who graduated from Centennial High in 2000, is now back home working as a pharmacist at Sav-On Drug inside Albertson's on Coffee Road and Olive Drive. Taryn swam all four years at Cal State Bakersfield, graduated with honors and then went to the pharmacy program at the University of  Pacific in Stockton. She married Jeffrey Jolliff in 2004. He graduated from Garces Memorial and also from the pharmacy program at UOP in Stockton. He is now a pharmacist at Kern Medical Center. His parents are Terry and Eloise Jolliff of Joliff Enterprises, a long time custom home builder in Bakersfield. 

 * ... RIDGEVIEW KID RETURNS: Yet another proud mom, Victoria Martinez-Tate, tells me her daughter Alexis Olivas is back in town. Alexis graduated from Ridgeview High School, went to Bakersfield College for two years and then transferred to the University of California Santa Barbara where she earned a B.A. in history and a B.S. in biology. She worked both in northern and southern California and is now employed by Grimmway Farms as a qualify control laboratory manager. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Museum show on homelessness, loss opens this week

 Make sure you check out the new show over at the Bakersfield Museum of Art focusing on homelessness and loss. This promises to be a terrific show and includes - among other things - some startling photographs by Felix Adamo. The show opens this Thursday, Dec. 10, and runs through next February.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Whose idea of a "no burn day" is this?

  I was headed west on Truxtun Extension around noon Tuesday when I saw smoke billowing into the sky over near the Cal State campus. The sky was filled with smoke but alas, turned out to be a controlled burn over near the maintenance facility on campus. The authorities are citing folks for having a fire on "no burn" days and this is allowed?

Central Valley, Noriega Hotel get some positive ink and more kids come home to roost

* ... A TOAST TO THE CENTRAL VALLEY: It's always nice to see the Central Valley get some positive reviews from time to time, particularly given the bad rap we have with our neighbors to the north and south of us. The Valley has often been called the "other California" because we always take a back seat to our sexier neighbors in SoCal (LA, San Diego) and NorCal (San Francisco), even if those of us who live here recognize what wonderful communities we have. So it was nice to get some recognition from "Californiality," one of my favorite blogs written by Mark Lorier(read the entire thing here). A couple excerpts:

"While agriculture is king, this Valley has great cities like Sacramento, Fresno, Bakersfield, Modesto, Stockton, Redding, Visalia and a hundred great towns. High rise buildings, wealth, luxurious shopping, museums, art galleries, wineries, live theaters, concerts, professional sports, world-class dining and refined culture are all here.  It's a gigantic society with all of the amenities.

  "I hear older residents lamenting about how young people leave the Central Valley after receiving degrees from local universities.  Many of these young folks are lured away by great offers elsewhere, and why not?  They're smart, ambitious, talented young Californians with a high-quality California college education.  Anyone would want them! 

 "What these young folks may not know is that, with the way things are headed in this era, California's Central Valley will grow in importance and stature as humanity moves into a tumultuous future."

* ... NORIEGA HOTEL GETS SOME INK:  It was also nice to see the Noriega Hotel and the Central Valley get some ink in The New York Times recently. The Times did a roundup of Central Valley eateries and chose Noriega's for its Basque cuisine. (read the entire post here) Said the Times:

  "The history of the southern San Joaquin Valley can be read in its food. Old Town Bakersfield is home to a handful of Basque restaurants, a legacy of sheepherders who moved to the valley in the late 1890s, after years of working for others. According to Nancy Zubiri, author of “A Travel Guide to Basque America,” 95 percent of the sheep in Kern County are now owned by people of Basque descent. Farther north, in Hanford, Portuguese dairy farmers still make Old World-style cheese. Recent Laotian immigrants operate Thai and Vietnamese restaurants in Visalia."

 * ... A COUPLE MAKES BAKO HOME: Wayne Kress, a principal over at the commercial real estate firm CB Richard Ellis, added his newlywed neighbors to the list of kids who have come home, Chris Travis and Christina Beechinor Travis. He said Chris graduated from the University of Arizona and now works in sales for Lightspeed Systems and Christina earned her degree from Santa Clara University and now works for Aera Energy.

 * ...BULLDOG COMES HOME: Proud mom Mary Santomen, who works at Golden Valley High School, emailed me about her son Samuel Blue. He studied engineering at Bakersfield College for two years, went on to graduate from Fresno State and is now back home working for Meyer Civil Engineering Company, which had a role in the Mill Creek project development.

* ... HEAVY DOSE OF CONSERVATISM: Local attorney George Martin isn't breaking any new ground with his lineup for the next Bakersfield Business Conference, now set for next October 9. Former Bush administration White House player Karl Rove has joined the lineup, along with Dick and Lynne Cheney, Barbara Bush, Mitt Romney and event keynoter Sarah Palin. Martin is following a predictable path here, assembling a lineup that looks a lot like Fox News but one that is guaranteed to be a hit with Bako's rock hard conservative audience. The real key will be the venue, and that hasn't been determined. Martin has always provided an incredible outdoor setting for the business conference, in the past turning the Cal State campus into a lush green setting looking like the infield grounds at the Churchill Downs. He wants to land the Park at Riverwalk, but it's not yet a done deal.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A California "brain drain" and a local girl is gravely injured in a Long Beach accident

  * ... CALIFORNIA BRAIN DRAIN? Here's something new to consider: the high cost of living in California and the rising cost of a university education is leading to a statewide "brain drain" of college kids out of our state. That's the conclusion of  "The Capitol Weekly" that said for the first time since the 1980s, California sent more college kids out of state than it received from other states. This is amazing stuff and points to the  increasing cost of a California bachelor's degree combined with other factors like state and local taxes and housing costs that are sending kids elsewhere. Read the entire story here but consider this excerpt:

   " ... the state has registered a net loss of college graduates annually for many years. Whether this is attributable to cost of living or other factors, the fact remains that the state is subsidizing the education of people who contribute to another state’s economy. The ideal situation ... is to recruit people who do most of their schooling elsewhere, come to California for college or graduate school, then stay and join the workforce."

  "Nevertheless, public higher education in California is still on course to produce slightly fewer graduates, with somewhat more debt, in the coming years. And these things are happening at a time when the state needs more graduates.

* ... PRAYERS FOR  A LOCAL KID: I was shocked to learn this weekend that Macey Kibbee, a local Bakersfield girl now attending Cal State Long Beach, was in a horrific accident and is hospitalized in critical condition. Macey, a sophomore at Long Beach, was jogging last Thursday afternoon when she was stuck by a car and thrown onto the windshield. Family members say there was serious swelling of the brain and that she was put into a medically induced coma, but she is (hopefully) now showing signs that the worst may be over and at least once responded to verbal commands. This is every parent's nightmare and a scenario that you simply cannot allow yourself to imagine once you send your youngster off to school.  (Follow her recovery on the family blog here) Macey graduated from Stockdale High School in 2008 and was part of a large group of high achieving, good kids that included my own daughter. She is one of a number of local kids who are attending Long Beach State, a popular state university that draws heavily from the Central  Valley. She is now surrounded by family and friends at Long Beach Memorial Hospital.

 * ... TWO MORE WHO CAME HOME: I heard from Carol Dokolos who added her two sons to the long list of local kids who went off to college and later home to contribute to our community. Nick Dokolos is a North High graduate who earned his teaching credential at Biola University and is now teaching at Columbia Elementary  School. Brother Marcus Dokolos is also a North High grad, majoring in engineering at beautiful Westmont College and is now working for Porter and Associates Engineering. Nick is also the person behind the local Segway rentals this Christmas, having done something similar in Door County, Wisconsin, during the summers.

* ... ANOTHER FIRST FRIDAY: You missed something special if you didn't attend the "First Friday" celebrations downtown. The weather was crisp, hundreds of folks were milling about listening to outdoor concerts and checking out the art galleries, and the atmosphere was electric. These downtown events keep getting better and are at their best in a fall evening in scarf and sweater weather. Don Martin's Metro Galleries was packed and the hors d'oeuvres provided by the new sushi restaurant Enso on 19th Street were superb. Downtown has certainly had its issues and bad publicity in recent years, and deservedly so, but its revival is worth our support. I saw many local folks there, including former Weill Institute head Jeff Johnson, local artist Barbara Reid, attorney David Cohn and wife Debby, oil engineer Bob Ellison and wife Patricia of Southwest Bakersfield, local artist Chalita Robinson and many more.

Friday, December 4, 2009

McCarthy: it's all about jobs, water for the Valley and sensible healthcare reform

 It's time for the weekly update from Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield. His report from Capitol Hill

 "As we all know, our local economy is directly impacted by a lack of water as we see cropland dry and fallow.  On Wednesday, the California State Water Project announced its water allocation for 2010 would be the lowest in its history. Congressman Nunes (Tulare) and I are trying to get Congress to turn on the pumps and bring needed water to the Central Valley. This time we are using a discharge petition to force a straight up or down vote on our bill to waive regulatory burdens that restrict Delta water pumping, which would restore California water flow. 
 "During these challenging economic times that test our country’s resolve, a book I have been recommending for a historical perspective is “The Forgotten Man” by Amity Shales.  The book describes the struggles of spending programs not reaching the common American person – the book highlights the forgotten man.  Today’s scenarios involving government intervention and economic challenges we face are similar and there are lessons from this book to get our country back on track. 
 "Today’s record deficits and double-digit unemployment are unacceptable. The trillion dollar stimulus has failed to create the jobs that were promised. Our families are struggling, and we all have our own stories of the effects. Whether it is a neighbor or family member who has been laid off or someone we know losing their home, the effects are real.   My colleagues and I have crafted common-sense job creating policies that should be revisited.  Just this week, my friend and colleague Eric Cantor unveiled a no-cost stimulus that will make needed changes to help American businesses create jobs.
 "In addition to ideological bills like cap and trade that will kill American jobs, this week the Senate debate began over the Democrats’ government takeover of healthcare (H.R. 3590).  This bill could create a government-run healthcare plan that could cause as many as 114 million Americans to lose their current coverage, while raising taxes on small businesses to pay for the trillions in spending. I will continue to fight to ensure this bill does not become law.
"Tuesday evening President Obama also addressed the nation with his plan to send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan.  The President finally decided to support General McChrystal’s request to reinforce our troops and commit to the counterinsurgency strategy he laid out in April.  Whenever a tough decision is necessary to send our troops into harm’s way, I believe we must ensure our goals are clear, our strategies can work, and most of all, our troops have the resources they need to succeed.  
 "Lastly, I hope many of you were able to attend the Earl Warren Cup at Bakersfield High School. Unfortunately, I was unable to be there, but I was able to record and send in a few questions for the contestants.  Congratulations to winner, Wesley Elrich, his classmates, and government teacher Jeremy Adams for all his hard work to promote enthusiasm for constitutional knowledge. 

Sports Illustrated Tablet: the future of media?

 Check out this video of a prototype of the new Sports Illustrated "Tablet." The future of media? Just stunning. Check out the story here.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Valley tries to lure the young and talented back home, and remembering Lenore Carter

 *... LURING YOUNG TALENT BACK HOME:  I've spent a lot of time chronicling many of the local kids who have decided to return home, so I was curious to read about an organized effort in Fresno aimed at reversing the brain drain. (read the entire post here) The Fresno effort is aimed at taking advantage of a tough economy to lure back departed talent and to take advantage of the energy and creativity of these young workers. From a story in the Fresno Bee:

 "Though unemployment rates are high in the Valley, employers here say they still need educated professionals in many fields. The recession, along with family ties, may provide an incentive for some who left to return.
Along with new ideas, so-called boomerangs "also come back with a renewed interest and passion for the area," said Mike Dozier, chief operations officer of the Office of Community and Economic Development at California State University, Fresno.
 "The challenge has long been figuring out how to lure these former Valley residents -- especially those between the ages of 28 and 38 -- away from their big cities, vibrant life and higher-paying jobs."

 There is certainly evidence that a lot of local kids have made the decision that Bakersfield is a good place to live and work, although many others have opted to leave and never return, often citing the diversity of jobs and opportunities that only larger cities can provide. But the Fresno effort is interesting and worth following, and perhaps something we should consider here.

 * ... SOME DUKIES RETURN TO BAKO: Locally the list of kids who have come home grows longer every day. The latest to contact me was Ami Shugart who was a valedictorian from Bakersfield High School in 1996 and cum laude from Duke University in 2000, having "spent a good portion of the latter four years camping on mud-saturated pizza boxes in a cheap, soggy tent as a Cameron Crazy in Krzyzewskiville." (If you need this explained, you don't follow college basketball.)  Ami later attended law school, decided it wasn't for her and came home to raise her boys, now 4 and 2 years old. And she reminded me that her friend, local dentist Dr. Benjamin Lin, graduated with her at Duke in 2000. A graduate of Highland High, he apparently attended dental school in Pennsylvania.

 * ... AND THERE ARE MORE: Carol Formanek sent  me an email telling me about her son, Arin Formanek, a 2003 graduate of Stockdale High School who graduated from UC Santa Barbara. He is now working at Vintage Production CA LLC, which is a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum Corp. And speaking of Stockdale High, two more Mustang grads, siblings Tim and Toria Gooding, are back in town. Tim went to Point Loma Nazarene in San Diego and is now a financial analyst for Vintage Petroleum in Bakersfield and Toria graduated from Vanguard University and is working on her credential and substitute teaching in the Panama Buena Vista School District. Welcome home to Arin, Tim and Toria.

 * ... REMEMBERING LENORE  CARTER: Received a wonderful email from Art Sherwyn, the local artist, art teacher and former tennis coach at Stockdale High School who was remembering the life of Lenore Carter, who died last week. Lenore was the wife of Warren Carter and mother of Ken Carter, president of Watson Realty. She died Thanksgiving afternoon after battling cancer. Said Art:

 "I coached both of their sons, Doug and Ken, in basketball and football at McFarland High School in the 1970s. I was only in my 20s and their support and friendship was very well received, and welcome at a time when I was young and searching. They were outstanding role models for me to learn from; they were some of the most caring, compassionate and giving people I have ever been involved with, and their greatness as people provided me with a view that has enhanced my own life."

 What a wonderful tribute to Lenore, who will be buried Friday in Cayucos, her home away from home. A local memorial will be held at Olive Drive Church on Saturday, December 12.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Beaver is back: another busy day on the bike trail

 The Bakersfield bike trail beaver is back, as evidenced by his handiwork as seen these photos. This is a tough one: do we protect the beaver (who after all is just doing what he knows how to do) or do we protect the lovely shade trees that have grown along the bike trail behind the Park at the RiverWalk in Southwest Bakersfield? These photos were taken Wednesday morning (Dec. 2) by Jim Pappe, a bicycle commuter who works at Lightspeed Systems downtown as a software engineer. Thanks for sharing, Jim.


Museum show to feature homeless photos by Felix Adamo

 I have already plugged the upcoming show on homelessness, loss and isolation at the Bakersfield Museum of Art that runs from Dec. 10 through February 21, 2010. Here are two strong photos by Californian photographer Felix Adamo to give you a taste of the show. I think this will be a strong show. The first one is titled simply "1816 18th Street" and the second "Steve and Queenie." Enjoy.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

More kids decide to call Bakersfield home, the obesity epidemic and the museum puts the spotlight on homelessness and despair

 * ... FROM NIAGARA TO BAKO: I received a nice email from Michele Magyar, who added her son Zak Brown to the growing list of local kids who went off to college and chose to return to Bakersfield. Zak graduated from Garces Memorial, went to Bakersfield College for two years and then transferred to Niagara University on a partial swimming scholarship. Niagara, a Division 1 school, is 15 minutes outside of Niagara Falls and 30 minutes from Buffalo, N.Y.  His mother added: "He was fortunate enough to have Greg Gallion (CEO Houchin Blood Bank) as a business mentor and did an internship in the marketing department of Kern Schools Federal Credit Union the summer before he graduated from college."  Zak is now the Senior Marketing Officer/Insurance Specialist for the credit union at the administrative offices on Ming Avenue.

 * ...  ONE COMES HOME TO TEACH: I also heard from Jenell Mahoney who told me proudly about her daughter, Amanda (Mahoney) Isaac, who graduated from Centennial High in 1998, went on to Chico State and is now teaching elementary and middle school vocal music for the Norris School District. Her other daughter Megan is now married and living in Perth, Australia, but is hoping to move to back to Bakersfield with husband Ben next year. As Jenell says, "then we'll have another bird back in the nest!"

 * ... HOW FAT ARE WE? Read with interest the Californian story this week showing just how out of shape Kern County school children are compared to state averages. Only 24 percent of fifth graders and 31 percent of seventh graders passed all six areas of a state physical fitness test that is less than demanding. This is our collective shame as we pump our children full of fast food and set them up for a lifetime of disabilities, obesity and Type 2 diabetes. The obesity epidemic is alive and well locally, thanks in part to fast food that is priced more cheaply than nutritious foods and parents who don't do enough to instill good eating habits in their children. Surely we can all do better than this.

* ... ANOTHER FIRST FRIDAY: It's time for another "First Friday" in the downtown arts district. Don Martin, owner of Metro Galleries and one of the guiding forces behind the revival of the arts downtown, told me this Friday will  kick off a "Concert in the Alley." Each month a different band or solo performer will stage a concert in the Wall Street Alley. This Friday, from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., will feature Joel Jacobs and his band. (Bakotopia magazine is one of the concert sponsors) In addition, Metro Galleries will be kicking off Abstract Impressions, contemporary paintings by New Orleans artist Karoon, local artist Johnny Ramos and modern pottery by Dan Slayton. There will be live music, hors d'oeuvres and a no host wine bar by the new Enso Japanese Restaurant. Of course Metro Galleries is just part of the downtown scene. There will also be live music at Dagny's, a wine tasting and appetizers at Little White Dress, art on the streets and horse drawn carriage rides.

 * ... HOBOS TO STREET PEOPLE: Given the economic funk and record unemployment we are all living with, could there be a better time for an art exhibit on homelessness, loss and isolation? That's the theme of a show coming to the Bakersfield Museum of Art that appears - at least in my view - as one of the most promising exhibits ever at the museum. It's called "Hobos to Street People" (click here for the full lineup) and it features photographs by Felix Adamo, paintings by Pat Berger, sculptures by Joe Brubaker and art by James C. McMillan. This is really powerful stuff and I urge you all to consider taking in all five of these exhibits. The show will run from Dec. 10 to Feb. 21, 2010, and will feature the works of 30 artists "working over the last 75 years to document the tragedy of homelessness."