01 October 2007
Squeezing Out A Memory
Mother and one aunt lived in Los Angeles, one aunt in Fowler, two aunts in Fresno, and the last of the six Pifer girls in Chowchilla: A sisterhood chain down Old Highway 99. Their children (the cousins) migrated up and down that road every summer almost at will to mix and match, occasionally by bus or train, but usually by car driven at speeds unheard of today except by cars being chased by police while TV station helicopters whirr overhead.
Going north, you climbed up the grade from LA to Gorman and then started the long twist of the grapevine hitting the great drop above Bakersfield where it was pedal to the metal on an empty road, only slowing down for the tinier three block main streets equipped with stop signs and cruising through Bakersfield to look at the bridge that it recently took Buck Owens to save.
With that drop came the heat in an age when auto air conditioning was high speeds and open windows. When the heat became too great we started looking for them. The great orange blobs dotting the landscape and the howls would start: Stop, please stop .... oh please, please, please.
In the searing summer heat of the San Joaquin, those orange blobs had an elixer of such heavenly proportions as to make children weep when without halting one faded in the rear view mirror. When you stopped there was the flimsy wooden Mammoth Orange with a window. It meant shade, a glass filled with ice and fresh squeezed juice from oranges that had been on the trees just that morning. In the blazing sun and rural valley dust, it was the most remarkable drink ever served with just the right acid bite to quench thirst.
It is over fifty years later now. But every once in a while you will see one of the giant oranges dusted and boarded up. Only a few still exist, and almost too late there is a move to preserve the few that remain in museums, while a couple are still trying to stay open for business, just in case you find yourself in Chowchilla or heading over Pacheco Pass to Los Banos.
To this day, when I order a breakfast juice or a champagne Mimosa for breakfast or brunch, I judge the quality of a restaurant by one question, "Is your orange juice fresh squeezed?"