It’s mid-afternoon Wednesday, and I am seriously high.
No, really. I’m also dripping yellow paint and reaching over to finish the final, uncolored edge on a 12-foot jester hat. The eight-foot ladder I’m on shakes a little, but I move onward and take the last swipe. The brown papier-mâché is freshly coated with yellow paint. Success.
It’s not every day that I climb a 12-foot jester hat or paste a seven-foot monkey, but at the Solstice Parade workshop, it’s part of the job. The parade’s theme this year is “Carnival,” and the preparation at least lives up to expectations.
The Solstice Parade is this Saturday, and 631 Garden Street is pumping with energy. Different music blasts from every corner; at one station you’ll hear rock-and-roll while classic symphonies thrum 20 feet away. The workshop includes everything from eight-foot skirts to eight-foot sea horses, and the ground is a mosaic of concrete, glue, and glitter. Still, the floats and costumes are hardly the most colorful part. The workshop is filled with scores of people from different cultures, backgrounds, and ages all working together to put on one of Santa Barbara’s most beloved traditions.
I report to Danielle Clenet, or as I like to call her, Dani. She’ll be a high school sophomore this year while I’ll be a college junior, but she’s recruited me to be in her float, so she’s my boss.
“Being a boss is kind of stressful,” she laughs, and it’s understandable: she and her friend Alexandra Mauceri had to design and bring to life three five-foot Venetian masks, but there’s few better suited for the job. Dani has worked at the parade for 10 years, and she admits, “Everyone here is like family right now.”
Not everyone’s had 10-year experiences though. For me, this is my first year, and I’m certainly not alone. Leona Marie, who’s lived in Santa Barbara for 40 years, says, “This is my first experience ever, ever, ever.”
And if the work experience here is different, the schedules vary even more so. Some work a 3 to 7 p.m. shift like me, some get here at 9 p.m., some leave at 12 a.m., and those last two statistics aren’t mutually exclusive.
People aren’t even here for the same reasons. Victoria Chandler does it for a Santa Barbara High art program, and Gloria Liggett works this year with kids from the Housing Authority. Others offer less committal reasons.
“I’ve been in it for eight years, and my dad’s been here for 25, so it’s sort of a habit,” admits Anabelle Forster. One of her teammates, Maia Sutton shrugs, a sheepish smile on his 10-year-old face. “We just felt like it.”
Patricia Green has a different point of view. “I love to help the arts,” she claims enthusiastically. “It’s the only thing I really care about.”
My own reasons, originally? My grandparents wanted me to work, and I wanted to get a tan.
But there is one thing that people have in common. As I talk to Joan Melendez, a register this year and a makeup artist since the parade began, she switches from English to Spanish as a friend walks through the gate and asks him how he’s doing. He mentions something about trabajar, or work, but despite my lousy understanding of Spanish, the smile on his face is clear and luckily typical. He’s happy to be here just like the rest of us. We’re all having fun and feeling carefree.
“You can do whatever you want to do with whomever you want to do it with,” says James Paul, who runs the pyramid float his sixth year in the Solstice.
“You come here and have a good time with your friends, and no one here will criticize you,” agrees Waldo Damaso-Figueroa, a high school student who designed the jumbo jester hat.
Perhaps the feeling is best epitomized by Olivia Bourke, Dani’s friend who has worked with me on the Venetian masks. “You can be totally weird, and it’s no big deal,” she grins.
I look at my shirt. It’s soaked with yellow paint, and I don’t care.