Hail Mary and all the saints, I’m glad to be done with my Christmas shopping. The other night, my husband and I accidentally went to Christmas Preview.
When we were young, we used to like to go to events Downtown. We used to take our kids Downtown for Halloween, it was a very family friendly event then. We’d get all costumed up, go down to see what the other folks were wearing, then head for a window seat at Malvina’s to watch the parade down the sidewalk. That’s where we were headed one night when we saw this kid dressed in a robe made of sheets with a tall white pointy hat. He said he was supposed to be the pope, but my husband told him flatly – you look like a Klansman. The kid laughed – later that night, he was stabbed by a couple of guys who didn’t think it was so funny. That was the end of Halloween Downtown for us, it got uglier every year until city council and the cops put a stake through that holiday.
We attended one Christmas preview, oh, about 1997 or so. It was a real turn-off, so many people bumping and jostling on the sidewalks, you just had to give over to The Stream and hope for the best. I slowed down to look at something and was immediately separated from my husband and two toddlers, and then it really started to suck. I just stayed in the flow and kept my eyes peeled, started describing my family to the folks who were handing out the treats. At Zucchini and Vine a woman handed me a platter of fudge and said she’d just seen my family, they weren’t too far ahead of me, so I started worming my way through the backs and butts until I saw familiar clothing. I hate being stuffed into a crowd, elbows in my sweet spots, people stepping on my feet. One woman elbowed me so hard in the tit I was certain it was going to turn into breast cancer.
I think the worst thing about these events for me – I never see anybody I know, just strangers upon strangers upon strangers. My husband reminds me that our population has about doubled since we bought our first house in Chico. There are all these new subdivisions on the outskirts of town, bringing people from all over California, looking for this now-mythical Chico lifestyle that was essentially bludgeoned to death by overbuilding about 10 years ago.
All these years, watching our town grow like a bloating goose, my family has made note of these “community events”, and carefully avoided even the outer borders of the Downtown area, not only during Christmas Preview, but during any kind of Downtown event. People get crazy, you should see how they behave in the Rite Aid parking lot, trying to stash their cars so they can walk in. Almost as bad as those dummies who find themselves in their car, in the merry-go-round of the Downtown traffic circles, trying to figure out how to get into those perfectly empty parking places, over there! In a situation like that, parking Downtown is like one of those little games where you try to get the plastic balls into the little slots. You can see the empty parking spots, over the sea of moving cars, but you can’t figure out how to get there before somebody else nails them. What will Smart meters do for this situation?
Sunday afternoon my husband and I realized, we’d been doing a bunch of tiresome chores, and we didn’t feel like hustling up dinner. We don’t eat Downtown too often since Malvinas has been gone, but on Sundays, Downtown restaurant Grana offers a 10 percent discount if you show up on your bike. I love their soup, especially the mushroom. You can get a soup and salad big enough to share, with drinks, for about $25. My husband usually orders a pizza, by the time we get out the door, we’ve dropped about $40 or so. We add our bicycle discount to the tip, so everybody’s happy.
Sunday evening we dressed up in layers, with a big wool sweater and hat and scarf and gloves, and set out through the park for Downtown. It was already darkening at 4:45, and what air got on my face was burning cold. The park was misty and beautiful, the pathways were empty except for a few dog lovers. As we bounced along toward the bridge on Camellia Way, we came over the rise to see a regular lemming march toward town. My husband realized immediately – Christmas Preview! We pulled up on our steed, and I prepared to turn around, go to Safeway, get some meat for the bbq and call it a night. But my husband reeeeaaaally likes that carnivore pizza at Grana, so he talked me into it. We forged ahead.
The sidewalk was like a conveyor belt, filled with people, all of them seemed to be pushing strollers loaded with kids and all kinds of heavy wraps for later. They didn’t talk, they just walked quickly toward the city center. My husband and I sailed past them, with a steady stream of cars to our left.
Grana opens at 5pm, so we were just in time. We arrived ahead of the people stream, were able to lock our bike to the outside fence off the patio, and get in the front door ahead of a mob strolling up for some free pumpkin cookies. It was sure cold, but they have those big propane heaters on their patio, so we sit outside, in the fresh air. It only took a couple of minutes before I felt comfortable enough to tug off my beanie, scarf and heavy wool sweater. All the while, people filed by the fence in an ever increasing stream.
The service is great at Grana, they have it down to a science. They have pretty cheap prices, really, so they have to keep people moving, it’s great. I hate sitting around a restaurant, but I don’t like being rushed. These guys have got the pace just right, in fact, they ask you how fast you want to go. They know us now, so they don’t even have to ask. It’s amazing how fast they can cook a pizza, with that wood oven.
It was so nice to sit on that quiet patio and watch the mayhem outside. The sidewalks were completely overburdened at this point, while the streets were absolutely swimming with cars. It was like watching snow melt, it just kept coming and kept coming, more and more people.
By this time the restaurant was filling up, but not with folks off the street. It was mostly folks just like us – people who knew the place and had come just for dinner and the show. One big group muscled their strollers onto the patio, but their kids got so fussy they had to leave without ordering. Christmas Preview isn’t fun for kids, I don’t know why anybody would think a lemming mess like that would be fun with a stroller.
I frankly don’t think people know what they’re getting into when they come down to Christmas Preview. They think it’s going to be this pleasant little amble, looking into shop windows and getting free cookies and punch – then find themselves in this crazy face-to-shoulders conga line – wondering, “where the hell did I leave my car?” It turns into a forced march, hurry hurry, don’t look too much just MARCH!
We finished our dinner and took our leave – rolling right past a line of cars, trapped in some kind of go-around – I wondered how many of them were just trying to get through Downtown on their way somewhere else and got caught up in the mess.
We felt lucky when we got home to our warm house, 6:00, bellies full – and they were playing that old Pink Panther movie – A Shot in the Dark – on tv. Topped off the perfect evening.