BAKERSFIELD AND THE CORRECT PATH TO MINIMIZE TIME (1999)

by

I can feel a pinch deep in my solar plexus as we crest the Grapevine, heading north on I-5, just a few markers shy of the Highway 99 junction. The closer we get to Bakersfield, the tighter the tug upon my very psyche, id, and spirit. In the basin below lay the wide expanse of the San Joaquin Valley, encompassing Bakersfield, a gearhead’s Garden of Euphony, and its corollaries of honky tonks and greasy spoons, many of which were demarcated by gaudy tubes of neon: Zingo’s. Milt’s Coffee Shop. The Wool Growers.

The wind is hot and stinks of oil, dung and oxtail soup. It smells of history. It summons the taste of too many cold ones in Oildale. Lefty Frizzell on the local AM radio station owned by Buck Owens. Merle Haggard growing up in a converted railroad boxcar. Famoso. Nitro. AA/Fuel Dragsters. Friggin’ Nirvana.

Blazing past the “Rain for Rent” billboard that graces the east side of the 99 in Oildale and the radio is on. A female country singer that I didn’t recognize burbles that:

“A girl must live by the light in her soul… The world is spinning out of control…”

“That’s what I love about proper honky tonk, BZ. Three or four chords and no bullshit. There is some greater existential truth in the simplest lyric. Nothing convoluted, straight to the point, like a drag race. Or a ray of light.”

“Do you really think a country singer knows anything about the path to the truth?” He reaches over and turns down the radio. “The difference between mankind and a molecule,” he explains, “is that a ray of light knows the correct path to minimize the elapsed time between Point A and Point B.”

He goes on to explain how on a quantum level, the quickest path between points are two straight lines connected and bent at a pivot point… the folly is in ignoring the pivot point… he then goes on about the convergence of parallel lines, etc…

“I still think this song is right, BZ. She’s saying if you follow the light in your soul, you too will know how to minimize time.”

“Ahh, but is minimizing time actually maximizing time? By minimizing time do you gain a glimpse into the infinite and the eternal?”

I turn the radio off altogether. Sometimes the truth can only be expressed in action not words. Still I have to ask.

“So what is Infinity?”

“I don’t know what is infinite, but I do know what is finite. What is finite is our time on this planet.” He pauses. “Life is not only finite, it is also rather mundane and fucked up. We find a way to get passionate about things — like these men who dedicate their lives to conquering the Land Speed Record — as a means of not only getting through Life, but of getting a glimpse into Infinity.”

I turn the radio back on. In all its simplicity, country music would provide a respite in the conversation, and an opportunity for me to digest the philosophical implications of Infinity.

BZ would not wait for me to catch up. He was having none of this. He was on a roll. His response was to riff on the notion of infinities within infinity, something that is constantly being debated in higher mathematics and string theory…

“There are infinite points in spacetime — from the Big Bang until the Big Crunch and the constant tug of war between gravity, dark matter and Einstein’s cosmological constant which has created ‘events.’ Moments in spacetime have definite signatures, definite markers.” He takes a beat. “But what about the moment between each moment? That, my friend, is infinity. The moments between the moments, which can be chopped into never-ending and finer hash marks…”

I struggle to keep up with BZ’s riff about the infinities within infinities and how therein lies Infinity. I tune it out for a half a minute as I realize that each attempt at the Land Speed Record was somehow analogous to the watershed moments in spacetime that BZ mentioned. But I knew this whole trip was about seeking the moments between the moments: Infinity.

When I came back into the conversation, he has wired his notions of Infinity into a discourse on particle physics.

“On a quantum level,” he says, “there is a point where a wave becomes a particle and that point can be quantified. Beyond that, there are potentially infinite sub-particles or strings that vibrate and resonate within each particle. It is mind boggling how infinitely small you can slice this stuff upon which everything — jet cars, beer cans, and the radio waves that carry the sound of country singers — is built on.”

I look out the window and stare at an oil derrick slowly and methodically cornholing terra firm. It looked like a perpetual motion machine fueled by the entropy of the Universe.

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