BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - For this pass-through city, long a favorite target for jokes from late-night comedians, the small stuff turns out not to be small at all.
Highway 99 races through almond groves and oil fields here, then bend north toward Fresno and the flat croplands of the Central Valley. This high-speed vantage provides the blurry view of bobbing derricks, fuel storage tanks and fast-food billboards that have defined the city for Californians and tourists traveling between the sunny coast and the Sierra.
There's a relatively new side-of-the-highway sign that now notifies drivers that maybe, just maybe, there is something more here than the freeway vista offers. It reads, "Bakersfield - Next 13 Exits," a kind of invitation to a large and growing city once shorthand for a place to avoid.
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