My wife and I made our annual trek to Tehachapi for the Mountain Festival weekend, something we have done every year since we moved out of the area in 1998. Coming back here reminds us of why we lived here during the decades of the 80s and 90s, and allows us to catch up with old friends, as well as check out what has changed since our last visit.

One thing that never seems to change are the welcoming smiles and easy hellos from just about everyone you see. To this point; my wife and I were leaving the third floor room we had stayed in the previous evening. As the elevator announced its arrival at our floor, another guest showed up at the elevator. So, there we were; me, my wife, our luggage cart, and this large black gentleman, all waiting to get into this not-so-roomy elevator. Initially, the other man, with a simple hand gesture, offered up the elevator to my wife and me. I thought we could all fit, albeit a bit cozy, so I offered for him to join us. My wife steps into one corner, the man into another, I push the luggage cart straight in, and, hoping my calculations were correct, follow the luggage cart in. The door closes behind me with a whoosh and about two inches to spare. A game of twister could have ensued.

Now, an elevator ride from the third floor to the first floor probably doesn’t take more than about 30 seconds. But, in that time, we had an interesting chat with our elevator companion. He had also come down for Mountain Festival, and, as it turned out, his mom lives in Tehachapi. We told him briefly about the time we spent living there; how, back in the early 80s, there were no signals in town. We mentioned that every business was family owned, and that sometimes you went to four different grocery stores to pick up everything you wanted; no "chain" stores or restaurants would show up until later in the 80s. We told him that here, only a couple hours north of bustling L.A., we had found small town America and the charm that Tehachapi had to offer.

This gentleman mentioned his desire to move to Tehachapi when he retires in about five years. Even though the town has grown tremendously in the 18 years since we moved away, it still has the ability to cast a spell on visitors. The door chime dinged as we landed on the first floor. Before we parted to go our own ways, our new friend said he refers to Tehachapi as "Mayberry" whenever he talks to people about this enchanting little town.

I don’t know if this elevator encounter would have turned out the same way in L.A., or, for that matter, any of the other places I’ve been to. But, this is Tehachapi, where welcoming smiles and easy hellos are always plentiful. See you next year, Mayberry.

Kirk Smith,