Transplant cross-Californian smartasses into a historical celebration of small-town history, and see if they come out earnest and giddy.
That’s not a rhetorical challenge. They very well may.
Upon first approach, my smartass friends and I were greeted with a multi-colored electric tram, patronized by small children – who would prove to be a festival leitmotif – and driven by a glaze-eyed blonde woman in a gray sweatshirt. The vehicle let forth a blat that sounded like a cross between an airhorn and a fire alarm, which we soon realized to be a warning. As in “Boy won’t you guys be embarrassed when you get run over by a train with a top speed of 2 miles per hour.”
We entered the environs of the festival proper – held in Goleta’s Girsh Park (aka That Field Near Costco) – an beheld a massive aisle of birdhouses, tri-tip, vases, fairy wings, cowboy hats and assorted white people wandering around aimlessly with mugs of beer. There was, however, nothing resembling a lemon to be seen at the Goleta Lemon Festival.
We made a beeline to the hat stand. Mel sells hats, and boasts prominently on his poster-boards that he shapes them, too. “You can look like Kid Rock,” he said, “or Dwight Yoakam.” I told him I wanted to look like Mickey Rooney before realizing that I actually meant Mickey Rourke.
As the amplified sound of a live band channeling Sam and Dave through Pat Boone filled the air, I bought a hat that, surprisingly, really did make me look more like Mickey Rourke than I did before.
Hats, in fact, ruled the afternoon. A quick cross-section: a woman in a tipsy McCat in the O’Hat hat, a woman wearing three red Sophia Loren hats, many people wearing intertwined-lightning-bolt wreaths, Goleta Lemon Festival visors galore and a solitary Goleta Lemon Festival visor worn backwards (Go-leta muthafucka!).
Aside from the small local vendors, there was an appreciable corporate presence at the festival, none of which seemed to have anything in common with lemons. What do T-Mobile, KTYD, Venoco and Cox have in common? Apparently, lemons have sold out.
The dance floor, however, was still as pure and O.G. as a dance floor presided by a thirty-something Caucasian singing Edwin Starr’s “War” can be. Among the revelers were an old woman boogieing with her wheelchair (she later admitted to being a Nexus fan), a bunch of punks cutting a rug, someone who must have been someone’s mom doing something that was inarguably risquŽ with her hips, and, of course, countless small children.
In fact, the small children were everywhere, and they were having the times of their lives. Mysteriously, they even failed to get on my nerves. Everything was terribly precious, and not in a condescending sort of way; rather, it was precious in a … er … precious sort of way.
Children, students, mothers, old people, punks, smartasses – everyone seemed excited in spite of the total lack of lemons. And then it hit me; this isn’t the Goleta Lemon Festival, it was the Goleta Lemon Festival.
As we left, straight-faced and giddy, we passed the tram operator. She made eye contact with us, her eyes pleading as if to say, “Help me.”
I shot back a look of my own which, I hope, said, “Help yourself, sister.” Maybe she didn’t realize what a favor she was doing for Goleta: helping it be Goleta.