Every Thursday, school-age children make their way to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Park, anxious for the weekly bike polo games. They run up to the rec center checking for Patrick and Jon and the trailer full of helmets and mallets. Patrick Orozco, 20, and Jonathon Moo, 21, are Bike Bakersfield’s current Safe Routes to School coordinators, and they are responsible for putting on bike rodeos and demos at city schools, for providing support for the park’s kids-only bike workshop, and for teaching kids how to play bike polo.
The center is already a hub for children in the neighborhood, many of whom come from single-parent homes. “They are left to entertain themselves at the center,” Orozco says. “There are families that use it as a daycare, so when you give them attention and you hang out and play with them, they have fun. They love the attention, and I don’t mind giving it to them if it’s going to keep them out of trouble.
“These kids are not in the highest [income] class so they don’t have access to vehicles; they rely on bikes, and alternative methods of transportation—and their bike-handling skills are insane. These kids can literally haul ass into a pole and then miss it and haul ass again.”
Bakersfield sits equidistant from Sacramento and Los Angeles and is the metropolitan hub of the San Joaquin Valley, a major agricultural zone. The area has more clear days each year than most North American cities, with early springs and mild autumns, but it also trumps most of the nation in violent crime, robbery, poverty, obesity, unemployment, and pollution. It’s a city where more than 60 percent of children live in poverty, where gang membership has continued to