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Metropolis / So SoCal

The Presses Are Rolling in Bakersfield

January 20, 2002|LESLEE KOMAIKO

Jenny Gia-Briggs admits to having a love-hate relationship with Bakersfield. "It's typical of natives," says the 34-year-old elementary school teacher. "I used to just complain and complain. My husband said, 'Stop complaining. Do something about it.' " So she did.

A little over a year ago she founded BAMS, the Bakersfield Alternative Movie Society, screening campy B movies on her garage door and then at a local cafe, now closed. And in October, she put out the first issue of the Blackboard, a free alternative monthly named after a historic Bakersfield honky-tonk destroyed last year by the wrecking ball. Topics covered so far include masked wrestling at the city's Dome Arena, the jungle-themed artwork at Palms Sub-Bourbon Liquors and the life of a local dominatrix.

Gia-Briggs got the idea to publish after visiting Portland, Maine, last summer. "There are only about 60,000 people there and they have this great little alternative news weekly," she says. "Bakersfield has a quarter million. It was one of those lightbulb moments." Besides, she adds, "I was going to be a journalist for a long time. Instead I picked the other low-paying profession--teaching."

A half dozen or so writers contribute to the Blackboard, and Gia-Briggs writes under two pseudonyms. She does the layout herself on a personal computer and spends about $150 each month to print several thousand copies, which are distributed at local bookstores, tattoo shops, restaurants and libraries. She even left a small stack on the doorstep of the big local daily, the Bakersfield Californian.

Does she worry that exposing the city's hip side could make Bakersfield the next Silver Lake? Not at all. "Tell all the hipsters to come to Bakersfield to stay," Gia-Briggs says. "It's dirt cheap to live here. In pollution we're second to Los Angeles, so you'll live a couple more months."

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