As we reopen our local and state economy following a rough 15 months of restrictions applied to small businesses, and everyone for that matter, due to the pandemic, we ask: What makes Tehachapi special?

It is really very simple: Tehachapi is unique because of who lives here. Our community is special. We are made up of hardworking, grounded, passionate, friendly people who chose to live here for a better quality of life for themselves and their families. Some have grown up in Tehachapi and have always called it home; some grew up here, moved away and have returned; others like me grew up in or near major cities and wanted a grounded sense of normalcy in their lives and the same for their families.

What is that sense of normalcy? It's driving down your neighborhood streets and waving to your neighbors. It is knowing your neighbors’ names. It's walking down the street and making eye contact with someone and saying hello. Granted, over the past 15 months, it was a little more challenging wearing a mask, but we still said hi or waved.

One thing I learned during the past year is that you can tell when someone is smiling at you while they are wearing a mask. The slightest change of a person’s eyes takes place when they smile; the same can be said when someone is feeling stress or anger, but let us stick to the smile for the purpose of this conversation. Boy, did we ever get a chance to put that to the test, ordering food via drive-thru, takeout, being socially distanced from one another and having to communicate with each other wearing a face covering in almost every aspect of our lives. I am thankful we can see our neighbors’ faces again, smiling, talking without asking them to repeat themselves because the masks muffled the sound of their voice.

Again, why is Tehachapi special? Well, when our community needed help early on during the pandemic, community groups were created to help those that were in the most need through social media groups that put their keyboard warrior abilities into real-life assistance by collecting items of need stores could not keep in stock. They distributed those goods with community volunteers. Our nonprofits, civic organizations and faith-based groups stepped up, helping to take care of senior citizens and distressed families that were facing hard times as well.

Tehachapi became stronger as a community. Tehachapi embraced the spirit of neighbors helping neighbors. We all live in Tehachapi; we shop in the same businesses. We as a community decided to support local, small, independently owned businesses to keep our neighbors employed.

Tehachapi is special for many things, some listed above. We each could add to this list easily and those who live here understand it, those who visit Tehachapi can sense it, and those who drive past without stopping missed something special. Tehachapi is a special place we call home.

Key Budge is the community engagement specialist for the city of Tehachapi.