I was fighting it, my lids heavy, eyes tired from getting up at three thirty, four o’oclock in the morning for a couple of days. I was snapping out of it, on the highway, out around Blackwell’s corner and the San Andreas fault and a lot of nothing out west of I-5 coming out of Paso Robles. Maybe it was the fish sandwich at Foster’s Freeze. The girl said the fish sand at McDonald’s scared her, no way she ate that stuff. ‘I make my own tartar sauce,’. Do it, I said. It was good. Maybe it was cruising Paso Robles looking for a Chevron station and settling for an Exxon. What’s the difference? Out past the wineries and vineyards and new housing projects silenced in mid-form, out into the dust and empty hills, heading towards Blackwell’s corner and Lost Hills. Didn’t want to do a James Dean. Didn’t want to find some chasm in the San Andreas and become a fossil for someone to pick up a million years from now and speculate. Hmmm…maybe he was driving one of those gas powered vehicles they used to drive. Right here, in front of the oil derricks pumping crude out of the ground, strung together with pipes and electric poles with cord running all through the patch and big steel locusts like insects sucking blood. Stay awake, stay awake.
Blackwell’s corner is in the middle of nowhere. No trees. No signs, no motels, a big steel warehouse, they’re putting in gas pumps and a big parking area on both sides. Air conditioned, snack bar, aisles of almonds in all sizes of plastic zip lock bags. Walnuts, pistachios. Roasted, raw, lightly salted, Cajun style, jalapeno, onion and garlic, get your almonds any which way and suck ‘em on down with a splash of your favorite soda.
From a distance the oil wells in Lost Hills look like a construction project putting up skinny frames of black steel, way off, a couple of miles maybe, just structure, an outline, low lying scatter in some early form of organization, and you’re looking for a sign or something announcing the development, for-sale, call this number for information. There are a couple of pickup trucks parked near the dirt road entrances, little white square signs announcing Chevron Field 29, guys sitting in the front seats behind the wheel with the door open wearing white hard hats, hell of a job, I think. No chance to take some photos without getting run off so I head on down the straight blacktop.
If you’re going to devastate a few square miles of land this is the place to do it, I’m figuring. Nobody tills this land, no one for miles. I don’t see any almond orchards in sight, no walnut trees, nothing, just dried grass making the land golden but it’s the crude that makes the dough, here. Not almonds and beer and gas stations. Lost hills is a stop light of two-story sand colored apartments and a bar or two and a Mexican restaurant and that’s the life, I guess, you go on in to Bakersfield for some real fun.
I wonder what it will be like when we drill in ANWAR. I’ll never be up there, I don’t think. I’ve been to Alaska and there’s a lot of open space but it’s pristine, majestic, mountains and streams and eagles flying off the trees next to the rivers in big looping beats of wings making their own wind, snow cap peaks and glaciers and there’s no room there for sucking the ground. I know we need oil. I know.
I pick up two one-pound bags of roasted, unsalted almonds for six ninety-nine, a couple of bucks cheaper than Von’s, and I’m good. Drinking a coke in the car to wake up and on down past the enclave of Lost Hills and I’m pushing out on to I-5 south with the trucks and cars and the funneling of effort down to the grapevine and the rush to get over the hills.
I’m back now, home. My sound system sounds better, the air conditioning cools down the house, I put away some groceries and steam some vegetables and eat some food and settle in. Out on the San Andreas the earth shifts, little by little, and we pull out what we think we need from down below. My air conditioner shuts off and I turn on the television. I need some ice in my drink.