The Pine Cone Inn sits on the corner of Sierra Way and Valley View Drive in Kernville. Hang on. With its Sequoias-go-to-Vegas decor, the Pine Cone does better than sit. It straddles. That is, until the music starts. Then it sash-aaayyys … kicking up its heels in sparkly two-steppin’ boots, one arm swinging a lasso, the other balancing a cocktail. The Cone, as locals call it, opened in 1955, just after the dam was built, and just before owner Roberta Piazza Gordon was born. Her parents Al and Aileen Piazza built the place, opening the cafe first and the motel five years later. Today, as a matter of fact, is Roberta’s birthday.
Roberta was the first person I met on my initial foray into the Kern River Valley about 20 years ago. She was behind the bar, I needed directions, and she kindly gave them to me. On a subsequent visit, I sat at the bar, eyes riveted to the TV screen as I watched O.J. Simpson’s Ford Bronco attempt to elude cops on the 405 Freeway. More years ticked by, and Roberta and The Cone were throwing our wedding preception. That’s the party the night before the ceremony. Marc and I figured, why make everyone wait? The band: Rare & Endangered. The party favor: a kiss from a lifesized ceramic skunk that Roberta carried about the shindig. I could go on. It’s amazing how many personal touchstone moments have occurred with Roberta in this funky room, with its eclectic paintings, dioramas, and tchotchkes representing every decade of Pine Cone history. There used to be a castle made of sugarcubes near the old buffet. Now, the sugar palace is gone, and if the ceramic skunk’s around, I can’t find him.
At tonight’s birthday celebration, we’ve been drinking champagne and eating soup and sandwiches. Half the guests sing as they play ukeleles. The other half gab. Happy birthday to Roberta and The Cone.