This is an excerpt from “How I Met Mick,” a chapter in my memoir Mi Chaos: A Chola Love Story. It is about two Santa Barbara girls — my best friend Victoria from childhood and me — and how I met William “Mick” Caceres, a Los Angeles boy I’d end up raising four children with. It takes place in 2001, in a Santa Barbara of 20 years ago.
Mick died at the age of 37 in August of 2019. Victoria Vaccarello was hit by a train in Montecito eight months later, in April of 2020. This is a tribute to her teenage self, not the Montecito hairdresser she was when she died. And it will make a joyful connection to those who knew the young her.
I wrote the story prior to their passing, but offer it in their honor.
‘How I Met Mick’
“Let’s go!” Victoria yelled.
“Why do we even pick this bitch up, she always fucking lags.” I said.
It was always a wait, was Green Eyes, still sneaking out? We were 18 already who still needs to sneak out?
It was dark and we were parked in the driveway of the West Side apartments. They had a name on a wood plaque but it was too hard to see. It’s funny to think Santa Barbara has a ghetto. When we moved here from Los Angeles all I saw was oceans and palm trees, and here, next to Victoria’s car window, two blocks from the West Side Projects, there was another palm tree.
I think it is because Santa Barbara is so beautiful, that when you add an apartment building it fails in comparison to the mansions and becomes “ghetto.” Pick this block up and drop it in South Central, though, and they would think you built a resort. Finally coming down the pavement near the dumpster, it was her, Green Eyes. She got in, we were ready to hit Santa Maria for cruise night, Lowriders, cholos, and a fun night awaited us.
We pulled up to the Arco gas station on the corner of Mission and State. Victoria didn’t even need gas.
“Hello ladies,” said a short, chubby, round-faced guy, white shirt thin enough to see his undershirt through, pants baggy but not creased.
“Hi?” Victoria and I said together and then continued what we were doing.
“So what’s the plan, can we hang out with you ladies? I’m Oscar.”
Who was this guy? He said he was up from LA with a friend visiting his grandma.
Funny thing was, they didn’t need gas either, they needed directions on how to get the freeway, but then changed it to directions on how to get us.
“We’re going to a cruise night in Santa Maria, follow us.”
“Beer? Where can we get some?”
“Nah, but I have a fake ID.” Oscar smiled.
“Follow us.” We drove them to a shady liquor store downtown, Mac’s Grog and Grocery. Oscar came out carrying a 12 pack.
“Here, take as many as you would like,” he offered, pushing the box into my window.
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A call from Victoria’s boyfriend changed our Santa Maria plans. Victoria left and we took the LA boys to Kids World, the biggest park in Santa Barbara. It has an actual castle made out of wood, with towers and slides and benches inside. They had never seen a park like this before.
“Santa Barbara has castles at their parks, damn rich people do some crazy shit.”
Me and Green Eyes just laughed and led them into a bench inside the castle. We sat in dead silence till Oscar, who was turning out to be a funny guy, looked at Green Eyes.
“You can call me Pooh Bear.”
“Is that your nickname or something”? she asked
“Yeah, because one thing Pooh always gets is the Honey, and I want to get you, Honey.”
It was the corniest line I have ever heard.
Me and Oscar’s friend, who wore sunglasses at night and was silent until that point, laughed simultaneously, then he pulled out a pipe, took a hit and passed it to Oscar who passed it to Green Eyes who then handed it to me.
“I don’t smoke weed.” I reached out my hand to give back the pipe.
Oscar and Green Eyes looked shocked, like it was criminal to not smoke weed.
“You know that shit will kill you, but this won’t?” Mr. Silent referenced my cigarette. A light came up the street, I looked back, cop car. I didn’t say anything I just grabbed the pipe and threw it behind the benches.
“What the…” Mr. Silent started yelling so I put my hand over his mouth and said “Don’t move!”
The cops slowed down probably because they had seen two cars parked on the street. They used that big old spotlight they have on top of their cars and flashed the park a few times. We all stayed still as stone. The light moved over our faces, but the castle walls blocked us from view. The cops left, I whispered, “They’re gone, we should go before they come back.
“I said I don’t smoke, but I’ll help you find the damn thing.”
“Toker, that’s my name.
I rolled my eyes as we walked towards the car. Oscar was dancing around it, paranoid as all hell, waiting for us.
“Don’t you all have a beach in Santa Barbara? Let’s go there. This spot is hot already,”
We took them to Shoreline. Oscar showed us pictures of his daughter who was actually Toker’s daughter, Jazmine. He had her at 14. And Toker’s name was really William but everyone called him Mick. I showed pictures of my daughter also, Salina I had her at 15. On our first date Mick was a complete gentleman, opened doors and gave me flowers.
I told my mom, “That’s going to be the man I marry.” We never did, marry, but that’s another story, a longer one.
Gabrielle Vignone is a graduate of SBCC and CSUCI, and is currently working for a non-profit.