Old Spanish Daze: While heading off to eat my way through De la Guerra Plaza Wednesday, words of last year’s el presidente rang in my ears. “You must meet Marc Martinez, down at the Carriage Museum,” insisted Roger Perry. Marc, Roger said, practically lives down there getting Friday’s big Fiesta parade ready to go.
I was starved, anxious for a taco, but instead Sue and I headed for Pershing Park. There I found Marc and Donna Egeberg working away; he’s the float honcho, she’s the flower chairperson.
By tonight, over 1,000 volunteers will be swarming a line of floats and carriages. “It’s a magical event,” Marc told me as a truck rolled in loaded with flowers donated or bought from local growers, beautiful cut flowers at cut-rate prices.
“Everyone knows one another. It’s the best unknown party at Fiesta. I grew up with Fiesta. My father worked for Old Spanish Days as float master. I use the same hammer that he used. I’ve been vice float chairman since 1989 and chairman since 2000.”
Dal Pozzo has long been providing tire service for Fiesta and this year installed steel-belted radials on all the floats,” Marc said. “They gave us a heck of a deal.” Added Donna: “I have 100 members of the Newcomers Club who come and help decorate the carriages.” The Castro family, which has had a float in the parade since it began in the 1920s, was nearby working on its entry.
A cheerful Ronda Hathaway emerged from a truckload of flowers. She works for Florabundance, a Carpinteria flower shipper, which donates her time to seek flower donations from other growers, which she picks up on Fiesta week. She’ll be hauling in three or four huge truckloads.
“It’s fun,” she said. “I enjoy it.”
Staggering with acute hunger, I arrived at De la Guerra Plaza and made a beeline for my annual taste of goat tacos. Raul Gil was taking orders at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce booth for chivo (male goat), chicken and beef tacos.
Sue and I shared three of the chivo tacos and although I didn’t have time to get to all the booths, it was by far the most savory treat I gobbled. No, the meat is not gamy or tough. It’s soft, shredded and cooked in a wonderful spicy sauce and topped with cilantro and onions, with a lime on the side.
Then Sue and I spooned on some special pico de gallo sauce laced with tender cactus slices. Sensational.
The longest lines forming around noon were at the Casa de la Raza torta booth and the Old Spanish Days booth vending carnitas shredded pork tacos and burritos, a favorite every year.
Alas, the OSD line was too long for my ravenous appetite, so I moved on to where Jim Buckley (no, not of the Montecito Journal family) was taking orders for tamales, a benefit for Holy Cross Church youth activities. Jim, by the way, is the voice of the Foresters semi-pro baseball team, which is heading out to Kansas for the world series.
People say Fiesta never changes but I noticed some new food booths at the Plaza. One was Cities BBQ, offering Kansas City pork ribs, burgers and barbecued pulled chicken. Nearby, Larry Cook was roasting beef ribs over an open oak fire. “We haven’t raised the price in 10 years,” he told me. One order for $3, a larger order for $5. It’s a benefit for Masonic youth programs.
And no oak trees were cut down to cook the ribs, Larry told me. “They’re from fallen trees, donated to us.”
Back in my Panama days I loved arroz con pollo, chicken and rice. But when I order it here, it just doesn’t taste the same. I noticed that the United Latin American Pentecostal Church had it on the menu for $3, but I opted for enchilada combo meal for $6. (I’ll be back.)
Over at the Vietnam Veterans of America booth, Bill Stewart, always decked out neatly in his Navy uniform at patriotic events, wore a fuzzy black bear hat as he took orders for corn dogs and lemonade.
There was more, much more, so I’ll have to make a return raid.
(Tomorrow: a culinary report from El Mercado del Norte at MacKenzie Park.)
Barney Brantingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (805) 965-5205.