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Highway 99 races through almond groves and oil fields here, then bends 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 has 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.