Bakersfield, CA: Breaking pie on Galentine’s Day

I remember the first time we met. It was the second day of fashion week in Los Angeles, and we’d been called over to stand in line and wait for our turn to interview one of the designers post-show. The hall of the automotive museum was buzzing with people discussing the looks they’d just seen on the runway, cramming in close for selfies and some scurrying off to the next show. But all I could focus on were Kristin’s shoes — a pair of brand spanking new black loafers, embellished with a gold-toned double G and a row of pearls lining the heels. “I love your shoes,” I blurted out. Her face broke into an ear-to-ear smile. She told me they were a Christmas gift. I might’ve not expressed it then, but the little person in my head was definitely double finger-gunning, thinking: Killer wish list, girl.

Though our conversation was brief, we ended up exchanging social media contacts, which, in Los Angeles, is akin to sharing business cards. But just like business cards, promises to “stay in touch” or “get lunch sometime” oftentimes get tossed out the window. Weeks went by, and gorgeous photos of Kristin traipsing around Downtown Los Angeles kept cropping up on my Instagram feed. I noticed that, just like myself, Kristin was drawn to architectural gems, old-world glamour and of course, fashion. Back then, she lived in the heart of downtown, an area I was still new to. So, when I spotted a photo of hers inside the NoMad LA soaring, gold-wrapped lobby, I messaged her. 

In Los Angeles, it’s really rare that small conversations effortlessly evolve into full-blown friendships. But that just so happened with us. The first time we met face to face was at The Dior Backstage Pop-Up in Beverly Hills. (I wrote a piece about the event for this blog, and it’s always such a trip to go back to some of my older stories and read my then pre-pandemic thoughts and feelings.) It had the trappings of the perfect first-friendship-date outing — makeup to fawn over, a string of stores to wander in and out of, and some pretty cool bistros to hunker down for a cuppa and an afternoon treat. From then on, the rest was history. 

Of course, you probably know and have experienced this to some extent: friendships are not all too easy to maintain during the pandemic. Folks who are technology averse fall out of social circles. That person who “doesn’t do text”? Well, he, she or they have to either adapt or find a new method of communication. Luckily for me, most of my friendships, even before the pandemic, typically lived and thrived in the digital void. Having moved around country to country and state to state, my friends and family are scattered across several different parts of the world. By now, I have the whole time-difference math thing down pat. I’ve already dealt with all the tech mishaps most people had to wrestle with. 

But Kristin and I have always based our outings on exploration. The locations — the historic buildings, the coffee shops, the city we traipsed around — were just as big of a part of our friendship and shared interests as the conversations were. The added challenge? During the pandemic, Kristin snagged a job at a station in Bakersfield, which put more distance between our already socially distanced life. 

Over the course of the pandemic, we hosted many Zoom nights and even formed a quarantine pod. One idea that has been floating around “and that infectious disease epidemiologists think might be a smart way to balance mental health needs with physical safety — is to create quarantine ‘pods’ or ‘bubbles,’ in which two or three families agree to socialize with one another but no one else,” according to the NY Times. So, once every few months, after quarantining for the week, we meet up for a gal’s day out. (This time around, I had taken a Covid-19 test a few days earlier for an extra layer of security. The science of it will never be perfect, but we try to keep a balance of staying safe and tending to our mental health).

So, on a cloudy Saturday morning, I schlepped over to Kristin’s neck of the woods, and we did what we do best: explored the city’s architecture on foot. The six-story bell tower of the historic Fox Theater, the Italian Renaissance Revival structure of the Californian, the vitrified brick façade of the Old Standard Oil Co. building. And of course — one of our favorite spots — the imposing Beaux Arts-style building of the Bakersfield Masonic Temple. With its lions’ head details, acanthus leaf patterns and decorative scrolls under the eaves of its roof, the Masonic Temple is something we never miss whenever I’m in town. 

In the afternoon, we hunkered down at Cafe Smitten, a cute little place that slings not only some fine coffee, but also a hodgepodge of other healthy-ish bites and most importantly, a variety of pies. (We ended up scooping up a slice of the Mexican chocolate as a Galentine’s Day treat.) Though Anton and I have been cooking a lot at home — all incredibly delicious meals — it was nice to eat at an exotic location for a change. Somewhere new, in a city I don’t frequent often, with a dish I didn’t make or pick up in a takeout box. 

The outdoor garden patio of Cafe Smitten was spacious enough for proper social distancing, and I imagine in the summer, it would be the sunny place to hang out for a post-work dinner or a weekend outing. But with the weather erring on the chilly side that Sunday, we were grateful for our spot in front of a fire pit. “This is so pretty,” I gushed about the place as I tore through an over-easy egg and let the yolk run into the mound of veggies in my quinoa bowl. The pie was just as delicious — dark and dense with just a touch of bitterness, and tucked somewhere underneath all that, a flirtatious heat. When the fork met my mouth, I made a little happy noise. 

It had just rained, and that earthy scent, the rich chocolate, the warmth of the fire and the familiar company sent a little frisson of excitement through me. I’m pretty sure my lips were turned up in an involuntary grin the whole time. I never thought that a simple meal with a friend would be something I’d miss so much. For close to an hour or so, everything felt back to almost-normal. The conversation only hovered on COVID-19 for barely a few minutes. Instead, we regaled each other with talks of fashion, love and family. It wasn’t ideal of course. We had to, after all, slap a mask on and go back to the “real world.” But it was, in more ways than one, as love-ly as could be.