TOWER OF POWER: Fiesta was full of odd surprises, like Loreto Plaza erecting huge “Do Not Park” signs and posting spotters to ID noncustomers who parked and then trotted across the street to the jam-packed Mercado.
One spotter stood guard on a tall tower. A tow truck was on hand. “We towed 20 last year but far fewer this year,” Jim DeLoreto told me. “The tenants really appreciated it.”
City Councilmember Frank Hotchkiss, apparently never advised not to wave his hat while on a strange horse, got a surprise when his mount tossed him on his ass in the grass before the Old Spanish Days parade.
My biggest surprise came years ago when a herd of Texas longhorn cattle came plodding up State Street during the big parade. Mothers grabbed their children, fearing they’d be hooked and tossed into a heap of cascarones.
“Have no fear,” a cowboy told me. “They’re gentle as lambs.” And they were. But that was the first and last time they were in the parade.
It may be hard to believe, but not too many years ago, traffic on Highway 101 was stopped so the parade could cross. (Pre-underpass days.) Try to do that now, and there’d be a riot. Cars were rerouted through town. The CHP finally called a halt to the madness.
In those days, the governor used to ride in the parade. That was also when there were stop lights on the freeway. Newcomers, you missed those precious minutes when you could apply your makeup or eat a quick breakfast while waiting to join the great flow of the 101 as it rolled through town.
It was also a time when Freeway Emma patrolled among hitchhikers gathered at the stoplights, Bible in hand, beseeching the young and the restless to mend their ways.
Which, upon reflection, were in no way as sinful as what goes on in the nightclub party zone these days on lower State. Emma cut quite a figure, in her print dress, sensible shoes, maybe a hat. One time someone punched her. (Not everyone thumbing a ride wanted Emma at their elbow.) The hitchhiking kids loved the parade, though.
All in all, it was also a more fun-loving, irreverent time. Merry pranksters in the Santa Barbara News-Press newsroom delighted in chronicling annual Fiesta adventures of the Farquahar family of Camloops, B.C. We’d write daily updates on their doings, complete with quotes like, “Marge, look at all the silver on those horses. How can the city afford it?”
The Farquahars arrived in an RV, of course, gobbling meals at the mercados while expressing cries of joy at every event and each taco. I think little Mary Ann got lost every year, so Marge had to yank Hal out of the bar to find her.
It was all made up, of course. Just a little spoof on Fiesta. After a few years, the editors caught on and banished all mention of the Farquahars. We weren’t supposed to be writing fiction.
It was a time when you could drink openly on the street, leading to quite a weeklong boozefest. Marriages galore were threatened. But one Fiesta, I think during the 1970s, a battle erupted between the margarita-challenged and police, and it was nasty, complete with bottle throwing. That ended the open-drinking era and for the better.
EMPTY MANSIONS: An advance copy of Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune just hit my desk (ballantinebooks.com). Ace reporter Bill Dedman’s book about the late multimillionaire is to be published September 10, one week before the beginning of a New York trial to decide who gets her $300 million fortune. And, incidentally, whether Santa Barbara will get an art museum at her hilltop mansion on East Cabrillo Boulevard and whether her maid gets $30 million.
HAVING A BALL: The Fox on the Fairway, up at the Circle Bar B Dinner Theatre, is just as silly and laughable as my former forays on the fairways. It’s a farce, complete with slamming doors, wives and ex-wives bursting in at inopportune moments, and boy-gets-girl-boy-loses-girl-boy-gets-girl. (Through September 8.)
WINNER: Santa Barbaran Brier Random just won The New Yorker’s weekly best-cartoon-caption contest. It shows a guy with a paper bag over his head, with just cutouts for his eyes. The pretty woman next to him at the bar says, in Random’s winning words: “You have really kind eyeholes.” His prize: A signed print of the cartoon.