Following the bouncing ball-Priceless

After writing about my experience serving jury duty in Bakersfield, I heard from several readers recounting their Bakersfield stories. My favorite was from Malibu musician/singer/songwriter John Roquemore, who sent me a CD of his song about a Bakersfield girl who is just “Too Bakersfield.” Hilarious.

This week I had another Bakersfield experience. It started when I saw in The Bakersfield Californian a photo and feature about the Harlem Globetrotters doing a clinic for local kids before their scheduled performance at Centennial Gardens.

I’ve been taking my grandson the past few Saturdays to a basketball clinic in which he has excelled, moving up the second week from the 7-year-olds to the 9-year-olds team. The first week had been more about ball handling, passing and dribbling, than shooting baskets and scoring.

So I thought, what better way to stimulate his interest than to watch the undisputed masters of ball handling at work?

But first I had to get tickets. What a nightmare! The telephone number listed in the paper was a local (Bakersfield) number, with no 800 prefix.

That means it will cost me, but I’m assuming I will be speaking to the box office. Wrong. After five minutes in a holding pattern with bad music (it didn’t twang, so I knew it wasn’t Bakersfield), I reached someone with a suspiciously Southern accent. Not as far south as Georgia, but equally difficult to understand. I gave her the name of the event or artist, as requested, and the name and location of the venue. I knew I was in trouble when she asked what state Bakersfield was in, and then what city is it near. I told her it was halfway between Los Angeles and Fresno. I could have been more specific and said 10 miles north of Pumpkin Center and 12 miles west of Weedpatch, but she was in enough trouble already.

Finally, she found it in her computer and informed me, I think, that the tickets were from $12 to $50, but couldn’t give me the price for specific seat location. Then, talking really fast for a Southerner, she slips in the bit about a $6.50 “convenience fee.” Excuse me. How convenient is it to spend 15 minutes long distance with someone who never heard of Bakersfield and can’t tell me what seats I’d be getting for my $50, which I would then have to stand in line at the box office to pick up? Forget it.

I then called Centennial Gardens. The recorded message gave me all sorts of information I already had, but also that I could not reserve seats over the phone. I could, however, drive to Valley Plaza shopping mall, where I could look at a seating chart and at least know approximately where my $50 seat would be.

Since I had to drive to Bakersfield to get the ranch truck smogged anyway, I decided to chance it. Valley Plaza is the behemoth of shopping malls, and I had as much trouble finding the ticket place as the Virginia telephone voice had finding Bakersfield in her computer. The furtherest [Bakersfield lingo] store from the main entrance is Robinsons-May and in the furtherest corner of the top floor, cleverly disguised in Customer Service, is, you guessed it, the ticket meister. At least this representative spoke an intelligible dialect and had a seating chart of the Garden. The $50 seats were on the floor, where a 7-year-old would most likely see nothing but legs and feet. For $25, I chose what appeared to be fairly good seats. The good news was that if I used my Robinson’s May charge card, I would save $5.55 per ticket. The bad news: that old “convenience fee” of $6.50 eclipses the savings. Oh well, they gave me the actual tickets, so no waiting in line at the box office. At $55.10 total, this is beginning to seem like a bit of a bargain.

The event was not exactly as I remembered it from my childhood, but awesome nonetheless. They still warm up to “Sweet Georgia Brown” and pass and shoot from improbable spots, and generally make the Lakers look slow.

Devon sat transfixed on the edge of his seat throughout, grinning broadly at the sheer grace and speed of the moves.

At half time, we troop to the merchandise window and pony up $20 for a T-shirt and $25 for a red-white-and-blue basketball, regulation size. This keeps Devon occupied dribbling and spinning while we wait in line for a $3.50 pretzel and $2 nachos, which I carry back to our seats so as not to interrupt the ball bouncing. He thanked me at least a dozen times, unprompted, and, I would learn later, wore the shirt and took the ball to school for show and tell. More than $100, still a real bargain.

After a long wait to have the ball autographed by a player whose name he doesn’t even know, we hiked back to the car with Devon bouncing, spinning and feigning jump shots all the way. Priceless.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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