Road Trip Day 1: Bakersfield newspaper and a hearing-impaired kit

On Day 1 of our road trip, we're going to want a Bakersfield newspaper. That's part of the fun of reaching your first road trip stop.

We're scheduled to drive from our home in Fresno to Bakersfield, California. During the two-hour drive, we pass farmland and dairies on Highway 99, savoring even the worst of the odors. A state doesn't get to be number one in virtually every agricultural category by building a bunch of tract houses in a bland, overpriced suburb of an overpriced suburb of San Francisco.

We pass through the town of Pixley, which Nick at Nite fans know as the inspiration for the setting of Green Acres. The chores. Fresh air. But we're more amused by a dingy old sign that says, "Industry Invited." Puh-leeze move your factory to Pixley.

Barely two hours after we set out, we reach Bakersfield. It almost seems too easy, but our first day's drive is finished. We timed our departure so that it would line up with our baby Mary's naptime, and sure enough, she slept the whole way down.

ROAD TRIP TIP: Consider starting your long road trip with a short day in which you set out in the afternoon or early evening. You'll knock off a couple hours of driving, which gives you a few advantages.

First, you may be able to break up the days a bit more favorably on your outbound leg.

Second, you'll distance yourself from the familiar terrain immediately surrounding your home, setting yourself up for a spectacular, thrilling, "all-new" Day 2.

And third, you'll resist the foolish temptation to drive 10 hours straight as soon as you leave your house.

We arrive at our hotel and decide to find a Bakersfield newspaper.

As we walk through the hotel lobby, I notice a giveaway magazine called B-Entertained. It carries the tagline, "Get the most out of Kern County." With two weeks of driving ahead of us, we're more interested in getting the heck out of Kern County. But I grab a copy.

At the newspaper machines, I notice that the Bakersfield newspaper is called the Californian. And why not? This - more than the beaches, the mountains, the platinum blondes and movie reels - is California.

I tuck the Bakersfield newspaper under my arm and savor the thought of lying on the hotel bed and poring over the local news and classifieds of a whole new city. Ahh.

When we reach our room, we notice a dusty black nylon bag on the table. It's not filled with complimentary champagne - it's much better.

It's a hearing-impaired kit, which a hotel staff member has thoughtfully left in the room of our hearing-gifted family. I unzip the bag. There's a telephone amplifier, telephone signaler, and door knock signaler.

There's another device that looks like a small typewriter. I plug it in and turn it on. This device has two big black speakers with rubber around them. Can I type in words and play them back? I type and hit Return, but nothing happens.

This must be something you use with a phone, but I don't get it. If this thing just displays the words of a phone call, then why does it have a keyboard? If I'm deaf, then why the speakers?

There's also a deaf alarm clock kit. It has big, bright numbers, a strobe light on top, and a disk on a cord that you can plug into the clock. When the appointed hour arrives, the disk vibrates and wakes you up.

There's a Test button. I put the disk under Mary's chubby little thigh and press. Her face lights up and she laughs. I put it behind her back, under her neck, up one arm and down the other. Every time I buzz, she laughs that big, throaty baby laugh.

When night comes, I put down the Bakersfield newspaper, place the buzzer under my pillow and sleep fitfully. I dream I'm trying to buy insurance from Carney Lansford, who played third base for the Oakland A's in the 1980s. But he's not very helpful.

To kill time, I ride my green scooter to a grocery store and wander up and down the aisles. When I return, I find Carney playing dodgeball with a bunch of kids. He looks pretty good - not like these ballplayers who quit playing and immediately start eating everything in sight...




When the bed buzzes, it's time to grab your Bakersfield newspaper and leave town. The alarm clock goes off at 6:45 like an explosion under my pillow. Judging by the force of the vibrations, I decide the disk was probably supposed to go under the mattress. I feel like I'm inside a cell phone set on Vibrate.

But I wonder, how much am I hearing and how much am I feeling? If your eardrums work, you can't not hear the buzzing. Would a deaf person find this alarm clock more obnoxious, or less?

As I contemplate my five functional senses, I figure there's a reason this kit found its way into our room. We've packed two cameras and have talked excitedly about all the sights we'll see over the next two weeks. But this dusty black nylon bag in Bakersfield has reminded us that we must never take for granted our ability to hear the sounds of backroad America.

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