Biggest Heart on State Street
A Big Heart: Audrey Hilliard had the biggest heart on State Street. No one left Little Audrey’s eatery hungry, even if he or she was down and out. Audrey knew they’d pay. The tiny shop she and husband Joe ran in the 700 block smelled wonderfully of hot pastrami and hash browns and eggs sizzling on the grill. Audrey was never seen without a coffee pot in her hand. Cops and bankers rubbed elbows while Audrey and Joe worked 12-hour days, seven days a week. Cops, it was said, paid a buck for their meals. (Audrey had a soft spot for cops; her first husband was one.)
Audrey’s, back in the 1960s and ’70s, was a virtual social club, jammed with retired FBI agents, News-Pressers, City Hall types, transients, and a millionaire and bank president or two. Preschool Head Start kids from low-income families would troop in to carol at Christmas and get hot chocolate and cupcakes. In the 1970s, the shop moved a few blocks up State; more space, but to me, it was never quite the same.
Audrey was just a tiny thing, a bundle of work ethic. “I’ve been a waitress my whole life, since I was 12,” she explained in my 1990 book of columns, Barney’s Santa Barbara. “I come from a very poor family.” She was one of a dozen brothers and sisters back in Pennsylvania.
Little Audrey’s is long gone from the State Street scene and now Audrey is gone, too. She died Friday at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital at 82, after years of loving care by her family. “Little Audrey’s customers were and always will be an extended part of our family; she wasn’t just our mother, grandmother, or friend, she considered you all her family, and we quickly learned we had to share her,” wrote daughter Bonnie and granddaughter Brandy. A memorial service will be held Friday, April 23, 11 a.m. at Santa Barbara Cemetery Chapel. There will be a gathering afterward at the Eagles Lodge, 923 Bath Street. The public is welcome.
Why Elect? The other day I sat down and wrote a check for thousands of dollars to Bernice James, a woman I’ve never met. Most people here haven’t either, but if you’re a property owner in Santa Barbara County, you’ve surely sent her big bucks for years.
James is the county’s treasurer-tax collector-public administrator, and when you pay your property taxes, you don’t write the check to “County Tax Collector.” You write it to “Bernice James, Treasurer-Tax Collector, County of Santa Barbara.”
And before James was elected eight years ago, checks were supposed to be made out to her predecessor, Gary Feramisco. I’ve always wondered about the name business. When you pay a parking ticket you don’t write the check to “Cam Sanchez, City of Santa Barbara Police Chief,” do you?
A minor thing perhaps, but then I also wonder why we need an election to fill what is basically an administrative job? It’s of course a vital part of keeping the county running efficiently, but isn’t the tax collection aspect just basically balancing the county’s checkbook?
Right now there’s an unnecessary election campaign to replace James, who is retiring after two terms, and years of experience before that as assistant treasurer and assistant treasurer-tax collector, etc. As things stand so far in the race, you’ll probably be writing next year’s checks to “Harry Hagen, Treasurer-Tax Collector,” etc., who’s been her second-in-command for 14 years. He is being challenged by Greg Gandrud, former Carpinteria city councilmember and county GOP chair ; and Michael Cheng.
Not being challenged in the June primary are incumbents in two other county offices which also seem to me likely candidates for becoming non-elective jobs: Recorder-Assessor Joe Holland and County Clerk-Auditor-Controller Bob Geis. These are administrative jobs. Why should they be politicized?
Look, I’m no smaller-government zealot, but can we pare some jobs off the ballot?
Oprah: Oprah Winfrey, Montecito’s richest woman, finds herself in the crosshairs of bio-queen Kitty Kelley’s latest warts-and-all book. Except that Oprah, ever guarding her privacy, refused to cooperate. Oprah has told me and others much about her inspiring rise from Southern poverty and abuse to her present $2.4 billion. For those who hunger for more, Kelley’s Oprah serves it up.
BevMo!: Turns out that Jerry Vigil, who’s leading the battle against the proposed Beverages & More! store on Upper State Street, works at a nearby liquor store, Plaza Liquors. Conflict of interest by battling a big competitor? “I don’t think it’s a big deal or a conflict,” said Vigil, who lives a few blocks from the BevMo! site.
DA Debate: Compared to last week’s accusation-filled debate between contenders for the District Attorney job — Josh Lynn and Joyce Dudley — Monday night’s session produced only a few fairly soft verbal elbows. Both candidates came off well. Retired DA staffer Gerry Franklin revealed that he has donated around $12,000 to Dudley’s campaign.
Glass Menagerie: It’s easy to see why The Glass Menagerie is on the list of the 10 most-produced plays in the last decade. The Ensemble Theatre Company’s stage is choked with emotion, pity, and pain as we watch Tennessee Williams’s autobiographical family squirm. Sara Botsford is excellent as Amanda, the overbearing mother who doesn’t realize what damage she is wreaking on her children.