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Don't mess with X-Mas 

How the Downtown Association exorcised the Ghost of Christmas Consumerism

A rivulet of sweat poured off my forehead and onto the icy pavement as I labored up a back way gradient near Mission Prep. Cresting the hill on the west side of downtown, I caught sight of the float party. They were nearing to go on.

An all-out sprint tested the structural integrity of my well-aged road bike. The sales banners and advertisements attached to the frame whistled in a strong headwind, perspiration streaked my makeup, and the limitations of cycling in square-toed Kenneth Coles and a padded sport coat at once became painfully apparent. One block away.

A sudden congestion of parade traffic slowed my advance and I watched the float and my comrades in it disappear down SLO's retail corridor.

My efforts scuttled, I embarked back toward the staging point. A queue of polished floats lined up along Chorro Street, obsequiously twinkling and radiating like a department store display touting third-world sweatshop wares. Soccer moms and church ladies broke from their warm-up soliloquies to usher me by with unified scorn.

"Oh, you motherfucker," a nearby voice crackled. I looked back to catch the disdainful gaze of a middle-aged woman sitting on the upper terrace of a motorized platform the word "Candy Land" illuminated above her in fluorescent splendor.

In retrospect, I don't know what reaction I expected, but perhaps I should back up.

Three days before the Court Street Suites Holiday Parade, I received an e-mail from an acquaintance organizing a float for the Downtown Association's big holiday happening. I learned that the local retail cabal likes to slap rhinestones on this already-seemingly Potemkin village once every December in honor of a certain biblical figure who clearly loved garish displays.

Not being terribly fond of generic holiday pageantry, I opted to grandstand instead, and the Ghost of Christmas Consumerism issuer of obnoxious retail decor and the prognosticator of February foreclosures was born. I imagined an undead mongrelization of Bing Crosby and Gordon Gecko a regular yuletide-conscious hedge-fund-slinging Reaganite to set Scrooge back on his rightful path.

San Luis Obispo, it seems, has no sense of humor when it comes to Christmas.

I arrived at Mission Plaza in time to rendezvous with the parade, despite some bunk road closure info from one of SLO's finest. A few puzzled looks and snide comments aside, the response remained subdued. With time to spare, I booked down Palm to the New Times office to apply the finishing touches to my costume. As with Jason and the Argo, however, the trouble began on the return voyage.

Instantly upon returning to the crowd, the scoffs and jeers commenced. I responded in good humor at first, until three prep linebackers independently made the same eyeliner comment.

"The living require makeup to look like ghosts," I halted to explain. "This is a fact of life."

They appeared dumbfounded. I would never reach the parade at this rate.

The tail end of the procession curled up along the west leg of Nipomo, and here I decided to ford the river of holiday cheer. Waiting for a healthy gap, I jolted across the street with two other crossers. A parade organizer, whose stare I caught from the opposite curb, singled out the Ghost of Christmas Consumerism with barks of protest.

"With all these people around you should get off your bike," she snapped. "To walk through would have been the smart thing to do."

At no point did a pedestrian come within 8 feet of frame or spoke.

Approaching the parade checkpoint, I could see my float two or three spots behind the launch and a clear intersection ahead of your narrator.

"I'm sorry, I can't let you go," uttered a stern-faced woman holding a clipboard. Her eyes dodged about to avoid making contact while a cop sauntered up in quiet authority. "You're not dressed in the spirit of the event."

I raised a voice to argue but she pretended not to register the complaint. Now the intersection was filled with a column of moving parade floats. Frustrated by the dead end and harried by time,

I decided to wing a dogleg behind downtown

and try to flow into the procession from the launching point farther east on Chorro, where the story began.

Still reeling from my encounter with the gumdrop shrew, I watched in disbelief as Candy Land kicked into full operation and Millie Vanillied its musical number down the street. A mall Santa jived in the caboose and some nuclear family types jubilantly danced about the platform as if to ask, "What's wrong with being an affluent white heterosexual in San Luis Obispo?

"Nothing, motherfucker."

Staff writer Patrick M. Klemz would like to remind all Slobispans that putting Santa hats on the homeless doesn't fool anyone but tourists. Call him a party-pooper at [email protected].


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