The Mean Streets of Oildale
...like a Blur
This is another story I have written about Oildale, CA. For those of you who have seen my other pieces concerning this community, or live here, I want you to realize that I understand that this article might have some negative connotations and that it isn't my intent to upset or offend.
In the future, I plan to talk to some other local groups or agencies and provide other perspectives.
However there are some realities about this area which I am trying to explore: the underworld of drugs and other related industries, the economic disparities, the criminal element including police contact and the nefarious subcultures that move through this area.
Many people have shared with me the unique elements centered in Oildale and it seems to me that although similar troubles can be found in other cities, everything here seems to be a bit more magnified.
Through my own writing, I hope to explore, inform and hopefully gain an understanding about some of the problems found in this Bakersfield suburb. As well, I want to share this with other people, in hopes that by sharing, I can encourage compassion.
Please feel free to offer any comments - positive or negative - that you may have concerning my story.
I am definitely interested in other perspectives: community activists, law enforcement officials, the criminal element who might be here, residents trying to survive....I will keep your confidentiality and am looking for true stories.
My contact tonight is a woman I will call Hyacinth and has lived in Oildale for about twenty years. When she first came to this area from southern California, she found an office job which she really enjoyed.
"Unfortunately, they did not have a drug use policy compatible with my lifestyle," she quips, explaining that her relapse into substance abuse, led to her firing.
Since then, she has been off and on the streets, sometimes living with friends or relatives, making an occasional visit to a local correctional facility.
Hyacinth shares her own experiences with me and a few stories about the community: the drug use, the crime, and what she refers to as the police corruption...among other topics.
One of the things I learned as a student in an English class is that the reliability of the narrator must always be a factor to take into account. Hyacinth seems pretty sincere and her perspective is as close to some of the action as you could want from a speaker.
Point of view must also be an issue to consider because often the perception of reality depends upon which street corner you are standing on. By this I mean, I understand that her story is one of many, and that there are other truths to be heard as well.
Some scenes from the streetClick thumbnail to view full-size
One of the phrases I have heard many people use to describe parts of the Central Valley area of California is post-apocalyptic.
At times they could be referring to the vast, open areas of the desert tundra that is a part of this regions topography. Coupled with the high summer temperatures, you might be under the impression that you're on another planet or someplace that greatly resembles Death Valley.
Other areas in the cities in this region of California have architecture which was designed in the 1940's and 1950's, but still remains. If you trek through parts of Fresno or surrounding areas such as Mendota, you will understand that there are places where time has stood still. You might think you're in a scene from the movie Fandango or some other film set in an anonymous and remote region.
Hyacinth explains that Bakersfield is like some "government experiment that everyone ditched and left". All the people that stayed became confused zombies that wandered into Oildale.
Certainly it is unfair to label the entire community this way, but there are aspects of her observations that ring true. A local crime watch board continuously warns residents of tire slashers, thieves that steal street signs, or walk up to yards and take patio furniture.
"The drugs breed crime which breeds more drugs," Hyacinth shares. Her personal poison of choice is heroin. For most people though, the ones that are strung out and wander the streets and turn to crime, methamphetamines - crank, crystal, ice - are the preferred intoxicant.
"A friend of mine came here once and said that she didn't know there were so many responsible, single fathers here in town." Hyacinth explains that her friend was referring to the grown men who pull baby carriages with their bicycles. "There aren't any children in the baskets," she had to tell her friend. "They're carrying all their stuff they need to sell or steal".
Laws concerning drug selling, possession or use should be:
On (almost) every street
The economic downturn of Oildale is apparent in many segments of the city. Abandoned shopping carts, boarded up windows, makeshift garbage dumps can be found all along Chester Avenue, Norris, and Roberts - the city's main thoroughfares.
Beardsley, McCord and Oildale Avenues, fare much worse. A short trip down one of these streets and it is easy to see how this once prosperous town has obtained its notorious reputation. Many of the people walk around like living zombies, in search of some nourishing chattel or an amusing distraction from the dusty boredom.
Odd bicycles for transportation or decoration; heavy equipment, boards and wire cords. Many of these objects decorate the curbs or fences of the dilapidated houses, many of them designed with corrugated plastic walls and rooftops.
Hyacinth explains that she was once pulled aside by the local sheriff and driven to a remote area.
"I thought they were going to shoot me," she says. "I was on parole and scared."
Instead they offered her an option.
"They said," she tells me, "'would you like to work off your probation the easy way?'"
She laughs and makes a remark about a personal favor of a sexual nature. It turns out they were not looking for that from her.
They wanted me to become a resource, she explains. "He told me, 'maybe you can give us some information. Help us out. Help us out and we help you.'"
Of course, she declined the option. People who provide information to the police, CI's (which stands for Confidential Informant) as they are known, have very short life expectancies on the street, once found out. This could be a death sentence. In the parlance of the criminal they are referred to as rats - and are soon exterminated.
Besides it would be hypocritical to turn other people in - many of them in her own circle - for doing things that she was doing.
Will ending poverty cure other social ills? (ie homeless, drug abuse, crime, etc.)
Hyacinth relates a story about a situation she once saw in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant.
"He took out his stick and started hitting him" she says, relating an incident involving a uniformed officer and a man on a skateboard who had rode up to investigate why there were police cars in the parking lot of the McDonald's.
The man, probably in his twenties, should have thought twice about approaching law enforcement while they were doing their job.
"He ended up with a compound fracture," Hyacinth says, her eyes far away. "He didn't do anything and his arm was twisted in an odd angle. They accused him of trying to steal afterwards, but with his arm like that he couldn't."
Hyacinth talks about some of the other incidents she has noticed about the police. "If you want to be left alone here, you have to be weird," she says.
Hyacinth describes a scene in front of a convenience store where there was a shirtless man sitting on a bench with a knife, skinning some wire. Next to him sat a three hundred pound woman with a flashlight on top of her head sorting out clothes on the sidewalk. A man against the wall behind them was smoking a cigarette and drawing invisible paintings on the bricks with his fingers.
"The cops pulled the man headed to his truck with a cup of coffee," Hyacinth says. "They jacked him up. If you look like you're doing something normal here, you stand out. They want to talk to you."
I thought about that for a minute and it reminded me of the scene from the movie Men in Black where the character played by Will Smith goes in for his test and during the target practice activity shoots the little girl carrying her books instead of the menacing looking aliens.
If you look normal, you don't fit in. You don't belong.
Some more scenesClick thumbnail to view full-size
As we drive up toward the northern end of town, there are more open spaces. The streets are a little better lit. You don't see as many boarded up windows or pedestrian traffic. There is a Walmart which is new and some houses with large yards, clean lawns and roofs caressed with elegant tile shingles.
"Royaldale," she tells me. "They call this place, Royaldale."
"There are a few places with the -dale ending here," I say to Hyacinth.
"Yes. Rosedale is nice, we're in Royaldale now and then you have Oildale."
They call themselves Dalians, I've been told. Although many of them shy away from that name because it has disparaging connotations.
"This place wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the drugs," she tells me.
Once the area was prosperous and filled with happy people who worked in the Oilfields. A bakery here once cooked 2,000 loaves a day to feed the hungry community.
"Everyone has to worry about their stuff. A lot of boredom," she says. "A lot of swingers too and x rated things going on."
Hyacinth relates to me some encounters she has had with couples, insisting she doesn't like women and definitely prefers men. "There are couples who swap here though," she says. "More so than other places. A lot."
We talk briefly about the Sabrina Limon incident which involved an older married woman, who encouraged her young lover to murder her husband. Both were sentenced to prison, but the unfortunate young man was in his late 20's and enamored with the much more mature and experienced woman, ended an innocent man's life.
The murder of Limon's husband gained some notoriety and was even the subject of an investigative journalist show. This wasn't the sort of attention Kern county would look for when it comes to being famous.
"I don't know what could stop it," Hyacinth says. "It's like I said before, this area is a government experiment where everyone involved left everyone else behind. They moved on and we got stuck here."
We pull into a parking lot where there is one of those underground casinos that are illegal but still manage to stay off the radar, probably by operating out in the open. "There was one near Airport that one of the cops was supposed to own," she says before stepping out into the night air. Airport Drive connects the 99 Freeway to the city's air terminal. Highway 99 will take you to Los Angeles or to Sacramento, the state capital.
It is close to midnight now and I look at the parking lot, crowded with people and see folks milling around and moving towards the entrance. I find it hard to believe that there are this many people coming to small strip mall, at this time of night.
A security guard approaches us.
"If you're going to smoke, you have to move along to the end of the sidewalk please," he says politely and we comply....
Inside (and then out)
As I look around the room I see large collection of people standing around what are known as "fish" machines, because the object is to shoot underwater creatures with imaginary electronic weapons activated with the push of a button. Or in the case tonight, several intense pushes, in rapid succession. Those patrons under the influence of stimulants are often gifted with focused game playing skills.
The fish machines are the most popular and seem to be Japanese in origin: the imagery includes symbols that resemble the Kanji alphabet, panda bears and large Koi that swim about, in an underwater atmosphere, projected on a large screen. Each device accommodates 6 to 10 players and they are usually filled. The object from what I can gather is to destroy the "enemy" underwater creatures before they can connect with your ray gun which guards your cavern.
I see the young people about me in the room and I can discern from the expressions on their faces, that an excursion to an amusement center such as this one, is routine. They are in familiar territory and enjoy it. Most of them know each other and I know I am a stranger who stands out.
Many are dolled up in a way you would expect from teenagers who are designing themselves up for a visit to the mall. This is quite an odd anomaly when you realize that most of them are in their thirties or forties, probably old enough to have teenagers of their own.
A few shake their heads and prim their hair. A young man steps back from his machine so the female attendant can open a metal door and mark down his "score" - in other words, winnings. Most everyone has tattoos and a few stare around the room angrily at imagined adversaries.
Most smile and appear friendly to each other, but I sense something just under the veneer of the false facades.
Something a bit solitary and distant that I cannot quite explain.
For a few moments I almost believe I am in the video game section of a pizza parlor, we are all ten years old, and that it is someone's birthday.
Only there is no smell of pepperoni and certainly will be no cake.
We are not ten years old anymore and these are not games we are playing. At least not for amusement.
Would you want to live in Oildale, CA?
Did you enjoy the article?
Questions & Answers
I would challenge you to the same type of article off Cottonwood in south Bakersfield. Every neighbor has neglected and decrepit areas. I would now also like to see you do an article of what is working in Oildale, highlight the positives. Do you plan to go back with fresh eyes?
Well, I am hoping to do that. Of course. I think there has to be a positive spin on what is working and I know that a lot is.Helpful 3
What is the geographical area in which you are defining Oildale?
I consider Oildale basically to be north of the River and between Chester and Airport Drive and then North to China Grade Loop or a little further North. I know some people say Roberts or the tracks and that it goes a little further East and West.Helpful 1
© 2018 Finn Liam Cooper